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The Supreme Court fight and a 'different level of intensity'

Two months ago, senators were struck by the lack of public interest in the Kavanaugh nomination. By last week, everything was very different.
Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.

On July 28, about two weeks after Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, the Washington Post published a report on progressive activists' efforts to persuade senators to vote against him. At the time, the lobbying campaign did not appear to be going especially well.

The article specifically focused on Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), not only because of their perceived moderation, but also because both opposed their party's health care crusade last year. If any Senate Republicans were willing to balk at Kavanaugh, it seemed likely these two would be at the top of the list.

But as the Post  reported at the time, the GOP senators said their phones weren't exactly ringing off the hook.

In separate interviews, Collins and Murkowski said constituents view the health-care debate and the Supreme Court very differently."The protests are similar, the media campaign is more aggressive this time, but the constituent involvement is less. And I think that's because health care is so personal and affects everybody," Collins said."A different level of intensity, a different level of intensity. What I was hearing at home were very personal stories," Murkowski recalled of last summer's interactions with constituents. "Literally people in tears. The level of just emotional outpouring that made it just -- intense is the best word -- is different than it is now."

The article added that the "reduced constituent engagement" made the Supreme Court fight more difficult for the left. Indeed, as of late July, Senate aides said constituent outreach was greater during the confirmation battle for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos than for Kavanaugh's nomination to the high court.

I think it's safe to say that by last week, a little over two months after that article ran, no one was talking about "reduced constituent engagement" on Kavanaugh. I also think it matters that the Kavanaugh fight featured a spirited moment of civic awakening.

As votes on the Supreme Court nominee neared, the outpouring of opposition reached an extraordinary level of intensity. There were protests. There were marches and demonstrations. There was an avalanche of communications from the public to Capitol Hill offices. Polls showed Democratic voters prioritizing the judiciary in ways they generally have not.

It reached the point that Donald Trump and his allies felt the need to start delegitimizing the activism as the result of some kind of conspiracy. The president told reporters late last week, "When you hear those screamers in Congress today, the screaming that – you see how orchestrated it is, how phony it is." Echoing the White House, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) added that Republicans wouldn't be swayed by "paid protesters."

Putting aside the irony of this line of attack -- the only prominent national politician who's been caught paying people to appear at events is Donald Trump -- the fact that Republicans are going after Democratic activists like this is evidence of progressives capturing the attention of GOP officials.

In 29 days, those activists will have another opportunity to show that their commitment to their principles isn't "phony."