MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
OK, let's go back to that moment when two women confronted Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator on Capitol Hill about the sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Look at me when I'm talking to you. You're telling me that my assault doesn't matter.
KELLY: After that confrontation, Flake insisted on an FBI investigation, prompting some to praise the moment as evidence that protest works. Well, protests continued. Here's this past Saturday.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Hey-hey, ho-ho, Kavanaugh has got to go.
KELLY: People rushing the doors of the Supreme Court as Kavanaugh was sworn in. But what some see as constructive protests others, including the president, call a mob.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You don't hand matches to an arsonist. And you don't give power to an angry left-wing mob. And that's what they've become.
KELLY: The president speaking at a rally in Kansas shortly after Kavanaugh was confirmed. Well, he is not the only Republican talking about mobs, using that word, prompting us to wonder whether a new Republican strategy might be taking shape right before the midterms. Well, Whit Ayres is a pollster who has advised Republicans for years. Welcome back to the program, Mr. Ayres.
WHIT AYRES: Good to be here.
KELLY: So we just heard the president there talking about a left-wing mob. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called the protesters a mob. Senator Marco Rubio has been tweeting. He tweeted over the weekend saying, imagine what the cable news coverage would have looked like if an angry mob of conservatives had stormed the steps of the Supreme Court. So what do we think is going on here?
AYRES: The Kavanaugh confirmation battle united the center-right coalition unlike any event during the Trump presidency other than the Gorsuch nomination. And part of the reason for that are the loud protests. So the tactics of the left ultimately undermine their cause.
KELLY: Just take a step back with me for a minute. We all talk about the lack of civility in Washington these days. A direct question, but does calling one's political opponents a mob help?
AYRES: I think it is symptomatic of the politics of our age.
KELLY: Is it the president's responsibility, leading the entire country, to try to rise above the politics of our age even four weeks out from the midterms, to find some way to try to bring Americans together and not divide?
AYRES: Mary Louise, there is no way I can answer that question...
KELLY: (Laughter) Why not?
AYRES: ...Without getting myself in trouble.
KELLY: Let me put it to you this way. There are practical consequences of hardening battle lines. And while no party is blameless in Washington these days, it makes it harder and harder to cross party lines and actually get anything done.
AYRES: Yes, it does. And in order to actually get something done, we're going to have to have people like our clients in the Senate - Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham and Lamar Alexander and John Kennedy - who will reach across the aisle and form bipartisan coalitions - these are all clients of ours - as our clients have done repeatedly and will continue to do.
KELLY: You mentioned Lindsey Graham is one of your clients.
KELLY: He had quite the turn in the Kavanaugh hearing where he came out about as angry as I've ever seen him.
AYRES: Yep, me, too.
KELLY: Yeah. How do we square that with the politics of getting re-elected, the politics of doing the right thing in terms of the country?
AYRES: I don't think it's any more complicated than the Kavanaugh hearings bringing out intense emotions on all sides.
KELLY: And I guess this circles us back to my original question of, have the Kavanaugh hearings coalesced into a different strategy as Republicans look at these last four weeks before Americans go to vote?
AYRES: No, I don't think it's coalesced into a different strategy. What it has done is unite the various parts of the Republican center-right coalition in a way they were not united before.
KELLY: Whit Ayres, thank you so much.
AYRES: It's my pleasure being with you.
KELLY: That's Republican strategist and pollster Whit Ayres. He's president of North Star Opinion Research. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.