I’ve heard, or seen on Facebook, a number of people talking about how the Democratic Senators on the Judiciary Committee overplayed their hands with the Ford/Kavanaugh controversy. They were too hostile and too accepting of Ford’s claims at face value, goes the argument. And it backfired on them. They didn’t get their way. Kavanaugh will be sworn in to the Supreme Court today.

There’s another way of looking at it: incentives work.

I have in mind the incentives faced by 3 of the Democratic Senators: Dianne Feinstein, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris. Consider them in order.

  1. Dianne Feinstein. Feinstein is running for reelection this year. She faces a challenge in November from a Democrat to the left of her: Kevin de Leon. (That’s because of the unusual law in California according to which the two highest vote getters in the primaries, regardless of party, are the only 2 on the ballot in November.) So it made sense to her to run with the Ford letter accusing Kavanaugh even if she had doubts. She needed to energize the left wing in her favor. She could tell them that she fought the good fight, even if she lost the fight, which she did.
  2. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. Both are thought to be considering running for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. To win that nomination, they have to appeal to the Democratic base, which is left. So both will look good to that base.

In short, we need to distinguish between what’s in the interest of the Democratic Party and what’s in the interest of the particular politician.