Douthat: They are an extensive exercise in senatorial grandstanding, defensible only on the grounds that days and days of stupefying boredom might somehow prompt a judicial nominee to break down, Colonel Jessup-style, and scream, “You’re goddamn right I’m going to overturn Roe v. Wade!” But Brett Kavanaugh was genetically engineered by mad scientists working in the Federalist Society’s basement to never, ever, break down, so I suspect he’s going to breeze right through. I had a number of reasons to prefer Amy Coney Barrett, a federal appellate judge and former Notre Dame professor whom Trump reportedly (though who knows) was considering as a more base-pleasing alternative, but the purely journalistically self-interested one was that something random and interesting seemed likely to come up around her nomination, before or during the hearing. Kavanaugh, though, was a boringly safe choice (nothing against the man himself), and there’s every reason to assume that his hearings will be boring (and therefore useless) as well.
Bruni: Because Kavanaugh’s confirmation is a virtually sure thing, these hearings are instead about the midterms. Democratic senators are going to use their questioning of Kavanaugh, overtly and subtly, to make the case that the nation is heading too far down a dangerously Republican and conservative road, especially in terms of putting abortion rights, voting rights and social-justice progress in jeopardy. And they’re right to make that case. The question, as you note, is whether it’s persuasive enough in its urgency to turn voters out for Democratic House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates on Nov. 6.
Douthat: Yes, and on the Republican side, precisely because of their likely tedium and semi-assured outcome, the hearings probably won’t be as politically useful (in a base-galvanizing way) to Trump as a more contentious nomination might have been. Indeed, if Kavanaugh is confirmed smoothly, it might actually be a kind of permission slip to a certain kind of reluctant Trump voter (I’m especially thinking of pro-life women) to say, well, we got the nominations we wanted from this White House, so it’s O.K. to stay home on Election Day.
Bruni: These hearings are also about the 2020 presidential election. It’s worth noting that at least three potential Democratic presidential contenders — Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris — will get to ask Kavanaugh questions. Which means that they won’t really be asking questions per se. They’ll be swept up in an audition, a preen-a-thon, “American Idol: Democratic Nominee Edition.” For those who want to skip it, I can give you an oxymoronic advance recap: Kavanaugh dodges question; Klobuchar delivers rousing soliloquy; Kavanaugh punts; Booker wows the room with fierce words; Kavanaugh sidesteps; Harris’s voice rises high.
Douthat: If one of them can get Kavanaugh to lose his cool, that senator will be the Democratic nominee by default — though really, I half expect Michael Avenatti to crash the hearings and try to effect a citizen’s arrest of Kavanaugh, at which point he’ll be handed the Democratic nomination by acclamation.
A little more seriously, I don’t think the hearings matter for Democratic turnout because the courts never seem to matter for Democratic turnout. Antonin Scalia’s death loomed large among Trump’s reluctant Republican supporters and Trump made it clear he knew it; Merrick Garland’s pocket-vetoed nomination was about 17 talking points deep in Hillary Clinton’s list of reasons to vote Democratic. And likewise today: Sure, there’s part of the Resistance that’s ready to link Kavanaugh to “The Handmaid’s Tale” and show up in red dresses to protest him, but in general Democratic enthusiasm centers on Trump and his awfulness, not a conservative court and its potential works.
Bruni: I agree that while many elections should turn on the high court, they don’t, but I’m not sure it’s as neat and clean in this case. I think the prospect of Roe being overturned — the idea that it is indeed vulnerable — is one of many forces combining in incalculable ways to energize women voters in 2018.