Trump's Supreme Court announcement triggers pricey ad war
The ad wars around President Trump's Supreme Court nominee have already begun.
Mere minutes after President Donald Trump announced Brett Kavanaugh as his nominee to be the next U.S. Supreme Court justice, a television advertisement from the conservative Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) flashed across screens around the country.
"Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is the best of the best. His life has been defined by hard work and excellence," the ad begins, praising Kavanaugh as a "star student at Yale Law," and ticking through his rise to become a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"Strong and independent, he applies the Constitution just as it was written," the ad continues. "Like Neil Gorsuch, he’ll be another great justice. Confirm Kavanaugh."
At the same time the ad touting Kavanaugh's biography aired, a coalition of liberal groups that included Demand Justice, which has already launched a $5 million SCOTUS-related ad campaign, gathered on the steps of the Supreme Court voicing their strident opposition to his nomination.
"Are you ready for the fight?" Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. asked the crowd. "Are you ready to defend Roe v. Wade?" the former Democratic presidential candidate continued, referring to the Court's landmark 1973 decision on abortion.
"There are people that want us to give up, but I will never stop fighting for our rights," Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said.
Demand Justice responded within minutes of the Kavanaugh announcement, releasing an ad of its own, painting him as an "extreme nominee," that will overturn Roe and reverse the court's decision that upheld the Affordable Care Act.
These moves are the opening salvos in what promises to be a lengthy and expensive messaging battle around perhaps the most consequential appointment to the Supreme Court in decades given Justice Anthony Kennedy's position as the key swing vote on a host of culturally heated issues like abortion and LGBTQ rights.
Kennedy's retirement announcement late last month reshuffled an already contentious and chaotic midterm cycle where control of both chambers of Congress is in play. Both parties see the vacancy as a chance to boost turnout and animate their political bases ahead of a confirmation vote that will likely take place close to the November election.
JCN's ad boosting Kavanaugh is part of a $1.4 million national cable and digital campaign, in addition to targeted ads in the state of Alabama, Indiana, North Dakota and West Virginia -- home to four moderate Democratic senators who figure to be key votes in the upcoming confirmation fight: Doug Jones, Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp and Joe Manchin, respectively.
"Judge Kavanaugh is a home run. Like Gorsuch, Judge Kavanaugh is brilliant, fair and independent, committed to following the law and honoring the Constitution," JCN's Chief Counsel and Policy Director Carrie Severino wrote in a statement Monday evening accompanying the ad. "I look forward to the confirmation of another great justice."
The buy brings the group's total spending on the fight over Kennedy's seat to a total of $2.4 million, a figure that will no doubt grow in the coming weeks. In 2016 and 2017, JCN spent a combined $17 million to both block Merrick Garland, then-President Barack Obama's nominee to succeed Antonin Scalia, and boost Trump's eventually confirmed pick, Gorsuch.
Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the conservative group funded by brothers Charles and David Koch, pledged seven figures to paid advertising and grassroots engagement in support of Kavanaugh's confirmation.
"President Trump promised to nominate a Supreme Court Justice of the highest caliber -- one who would interpret the law as written, defend the Constitution, and not legislate from the bench. In nominating Judge Kavanaugh, he has kept that promise," AFP's Vice President of Judicial Strategy Sarah Field wrote in a statement Monday.
The rally of liberal groups kicked off a "Week of Action" in coordination with groups like MoveOn, NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood. Demand Justice and NARAL began running ads in Alaska and Maine last week pressuring moderate Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins in their home states.
On Tuesday, NARAL went up with a six-figure ad buy in Alaska, Maine, Colorado, Nevada and Texas specifically targeting those states Republican senators to reject Kavanaugh as a Justice that would vote to end Roe v. Wade.
Ilyse Hogue, the President of NARAL, and Brian Fallon, the founder of Demand Justice both conceded they will likely not be able to outspend groups like JCN and others, and will focus on mobilizing members of their organizations as well as other progressive groups like Indivisible and Moveon.org.
"We will be seeing NARAL members and others in conjunction with Indivisible visit Senate offices today and we will have a steady drumbeat of activity throughout the hearings and into what we have called for as a 50 state mass mobilization day of action on August 26th, which is Women's Equality Day," Hogue said in a call with reporters Tuesday.
"We go in this clear eyed about the fact that we'll be outspent," Fallon said, "Our goal is to prevent ourselves from being wiped out on that front, and to hold our own on that front, it's not to match them dollar for dollar. Our belief is that this fight is going to be won via mobilization, it's going to be won on the ground, it's going to be won by the other groups...that have memberships that will be mobilized in the coming weeks."
Protect Our Care, a coalition of groups focused on combating GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, held Supreme Court-related events in Alaska, Arizona, Maine, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee on Monday and is gearing up for a long-term fight.
"Make no mistake, President Trump had at least two litmus tests for Judge Kavanaugh to become his nominee for the Supreme Court: overturn Roe v. Wade and overturn America’s health care, by gutting protections for those with pre-existing conditions," Brad Woodhouse, the executive director of Protect Our Care, wrote in a statement following President Trump's announcement.
Other liberal groups are planning events following Trump's announcement, some in an attempt to ramp up pressure on other Democratic senators to deny the President another seat on the nation's highest court.
The Feminist Majority Foundation, a group focused on abortion rights, is holding events Tuesday at the state offices of Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine and are urging the two Democrats to delay the appointment until after the midterm elections.
"Abortion rights are just the beginning," Kelli Musick, the national program coordinator for the group wrote in a an e-mail to supporters Monday before Trump's announcement. "If Trump's nominee is confirmed, the Trump Court will set out to gut the Affordable Care Act, LGBTQ rights, affirmative action, protections for workers, access to birth control, and voting rights, among other hard won gains. This is the fight of our lives."
Aside from spending from outside groups, both political parties are preparing for the fight over Kavanaugh's confirmation to spill over into many key midterm races.
Within minutes of the Kavanaugh announcement, both the Republican National Committee (RNC) and Democratic National Committee (DNC) had weighed in on the nomination.
"Judge Brett Kavanaugh has proven his commitment to protecting the rights of all Americans through a distinguished career on the D.C. Circuit and his lasting service to our nation," RNC Chariwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel wrote in a statement. "Judge Kavanaugh is the best choice to succeed Justice Anthony Kennedy and Senate Democrats must put partisan politics aside and vote to confirm him to the Supreme Court."
"Judge Kavanaugh should not be allowed anywhere near our nation’s highest bench," DNC Chairman Tom Perez wrote in a statement released Monday night, "Let’s be clear: a vote for Kavanaugh would be a vote to rip health care from American families and deny women their constitutional right to make their own health care decisions."