The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans have a strategy to save Kavanaugh. It exposes Trumpism at its worst.

(Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has emerged as the contorted face of right-wing rage at the very idea that Christine Blasey Ford’s claims should merit a serious and thorough examination, has done it again. On Fox News on Monday night, the South Carolina Republican showcased what is emerging in some quarters as the last-ditch strategy to save Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination — a strategy that exposes Trumpism at its ugliest.

“This good man should not be destroyed,” Graham told Sean Hannity, speaking about Kavanaugh. Graham warned that if the Senate does not confirm Kavanaugh now — say, if two GOP senators end up opposing him — it will “end up legitimizing” the “destruction of a good person” by a “horrible process.” Graham argued that if Kavanaugh goes down, President Trump should renominate him, and push for another vote by barnstorming in states that Trump won. In other words, Trump should whip his voters into a rage over the profound injustice of such an outcome.

Graham’s basic claim is also at the core of a big new campaign to rescue Kavanaugh. Politico reports that the conservative Judicial Crisis Network is spending $400,000 on ads pressuring red-state Democrats — Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, both states Trump won — to back Trump’s nominee.

But note the message in the ads: They show footage of Kavanaugh describing the process as “search and destroy.” A narrator says liberals are trying to “ruin a good man with smears,” intoning that “Kavanaugh fought back, clearing his name, defending his honor,” and calling on Democrats to “stand with President Trump” against the liberal smear merchants.

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In other words, at the core of the final push to save Kavanaugh is the idea that the real stakes in this affair turn on whether the destruction of a good man will be legitimized. If Kavanaugh is not confirmed, we will have destroyed him, and that would be terribly unjust.

But what this argument really means, inescapably, is that Ford’s claims should never have gotten the examination they are now getting. Note that Graham is claiming this whole process has been deeply unfair to Kavanaugh. The ads on his behalf claim that Democrats are trying to “ruin” him with “smears” — but what they’ve really done is insist on a fuller inquiry than Republicans wanted.

Brett M. Kavanaugh's truthfulness must be credibly vetted. (Video: The Washington Post)

Unfair to Kavanaugh?

The question for Graham and those who agree with him is: What would a fair process for Kavanaugh have looked like? Republicans have answered this for us, by telling us what they wanted throughout. And that was the absolute minimum inquiry they thought they could get away with at each given point. Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) at first wanted Ford to be heard only via private calls with senators. Republicans then caved and set a hearing, but only if Ford attended on their timetable. When that proved untenable, Republicans pushed back the hearing, but agreed to serious public questioning of only Ford and Kavanaugh, and no one else.

Republicans almost pulled that off, but then Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) forced a reopening of the FBI background check. The White House and Senate Republicans conspired to place tight limits on that inquiry. But now we’ve learned that the White House relented under Democratic pressure and directed the FBI to mount a fuller inquiry.

The most charitable interpretation of all this is that for Graham and others, a fair process for Kavanaugh was on display with the Judiciary Committee hearing last week. We all know the idea that this constituted a genuine examination of Ford’s claims is a complete sham. Some Republicans — Flake, as well as Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — knew this, which is why they insisted on the reopened FBI inquiry. (In fairness, these Republicans and some others appear to be insisting on a more serious process than Graham is.)

So how, then, has this process been unfair to Kavanaugh? In some ways, it certainly has been unfair to him. There are still legitimate questions about how Democrats initially handled the allegations upon learning of them. Ford wanted them to remain confidential, and someone on the Democratic side leaked them. That is unfair to Ford and, one could argue, to Kavanaugh, since there might have been a way for the FBI to reopen the background check privately.

As a result of all this becoming public as it did, Kavanaugh and his family have been through a horrible ordeal. His recounting of this at the hearing appeared heartfelt. And if Kavanaugh did not do any of the things he is accused of, which is very possible, and goes down anyway merely because of those charges, that would be deeply unfair.

Trumpism in the raw

But this isn’t the sum total of what Graham and others are arguing. They are also claiming that what has happened since Ford’s allegations became known — that is, the public examination of those charges — is deeply unfair to Kavanaugh. Yet once the country learned of them, how could we not seriously examine them? What would it say to the large swaths of the country who take seriously these claims — and sexual assault generally, as many are survivors of it — if we did not? This is what the two women screamed in Flake’s face in that viral elevator video, and he plainly found it persuasive.

Graham’s argument can mean only one of two things. Either he claims to know Kavanaugh didn’t do what he is accused of — and Graham does not know this — which renders the current process unfair to Kavanaugh. Or Graham admits he does not know, but believes the current process is unfair to Kavanaugh, anyway. Either way, the real injustice to Kavanaugh is that Ford’s charges against him are now getting that fuller airing.

Trump has made versions of this argument himself on numerous occasions. It is Trumpism at its ugliest — we should presume in advance that the real victim is inevitably the one who is being subjected to an effort at accountability. By coincidence, that person often turns out to be powerful or privileged, just like Trump himself — indeed, Trump empathizes, if that’s the right word, with Kavanaugh on precisely this basis. And that effort at accountability can only be about tearing that powerful, privileged person down. This whole affair is messy and terrible, with no easy answers, but if there’s one argument we should all reject, it’s that one.

Read more:

Paul Waldman: All of Brett Kavanaugh’s lies, distortions and absurdities

Andrew Manuel Crespo: Brett Kavanaugh, take a polygraph

Hugh Hewitt: The Kavanaugh hearings were another rumbling of the volcano. And the left can’t hear it.

Jennifer Rubin: So many lies, so little time to investigate

Christine Emba: We are all Christine Ford. Or Brett Kavanaugh.