The nation’s road ruts

bob_franken_c“Country roads, take me home,
To the place I belong,
West Virginia, mountain mama,
Take me home, country roads.”

If John Denver were to write that song these days, its lyrics might become “Trump country roads.” After all, Donald Trump won West Virginia by a margin of more than 42 percentage points over Hillary Clinton.

And West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin’s “mountain mama” didn’t raise no fool. Sen. Manchin is fighting for his political life, doing whatever he can to make sure the state’s voters don’t take him home from Washington, D.C., and replace him with a member of Trump’s party.

It’s one of those tacky little games they play in Congress. When facing a really tough issue, particularly during a campaign, a member will tell his party leaders: “I’ll be with you if you absolutely need me, but if you don’t, then I’ll avoid making the unpopular decision and go with the politically expedient one. No sense endangering my re-election chances for nothing.”

Manchin waited to commit until after it was clear Brett Kavanaugh would have the senate majority votes necessary to be confirmed. Therefore he didn’t have to make that dangerous choice between antagonizing his party or antagonizing a huge chunk of West Virginia’s fanatic pro-Trump majority. By the way, recent polling shows Joe Manchin leading his GOP opponent by about 9 points.

Heidi Heitkamp is another story. She’s a Senate Democrat running to save her skin in North Dakota, which Trump won by whomping Hillary Clinton by a more than 32 percentage point margin. Unlike Manchin, Heitkamp is badly trailing in her race, by about 12 percentage points. Also, unlike Manchin, Heitkamp decided to vote her conscience and oppose Kavanaugh. That could doom her chances, but she did it.

Hers also was a wasted effort, because Republican leader Mitch McConnell was able to make Judge Brett Kavanaugh into Justice Kavanaugh, finally pulling off the ultraconservative takeover of the Supreme Court that should last for decades. The hard-right-wing Supremes now outnumber the hard-left 5-4.

Already there is hand-wringing about the credibility of the nation’s highest rung in our judicial system, where legal disputes can go to be ultimately decided. The damage will become apparent over time. But here in D.C., we are preoccupied with what effects the bizzaro developments might have in the short run, specifically the midterm elections less than a month from now.

Pick your poison: Either the Brett Kavanaugh snit storm benefited the GOP Trumpsters by inflaming their passions over their perceived unfairness of uncorroborated accusations against him. Or, it will push the buttons of the antis, particularly women who have embraced the grievances accumulated over eons of sexual oppression.
Who will show up at the polls next month on Election Day? Will those who were loudly demonstrating during the Kavanaugh debacle? Will they be outnumbered? Will all of this really make a difference, or will we and they be distracted by some other government fiasco or outrage?
Let’s face it, the Democrats as an organized party are easily befuddled. Donald Trump is a master befuddler. What’s yet to be seen is if he can be stopped before he takes the country further down the road to disaster.

(Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN.)
© 2018 Bob Franken

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.