The day after Christine Blasey Ford testified about the sexual assault she says she suffered at the hands of Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump told reporters, “I thought her testimony was very compelling … she was a very credible witness.” It was one of those moments when what his aides had begged him to say was obvious: Don’t attack her, sound sympathetic, but make clear that you believe Kavanaugh. They might have even thought they could keep him in check all the way until a vote is taken on the nomination.
It was a silly hope — this is Donald Trump we’re talking about here, Mr. “grab-em-by-the-p———y,” who has been accused of various kinds of sexual misconduct by a dozen women. That he could keep that act up for a day was a miracle; a week would have been impossible.
So inevitably, on Tuesday at a rally in Mississippi, Trump let loose with an attack on Ford. But this might not be just his feelings outrunning what any sensible person would advise. Trump might know exactly what he’s doing.
First, here’s what happened:
President Trump mocked the account of a woman who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh of assault and told a Mississippi crowd that the #MeToo movement was unfairly hurting men.
Trump, in a riff that has been dreaded by White House and Senate aides, attacked the story of Christine Blasey Ford at length — drawing laughs from the crowd. The remarks were his strongest attacks yet of her testimony.
” ‘I don’t know. I don’t know.’ ‘Upstairs? Downstairs? Where was it?’ ‘I don’t know. But I had one beer. That’s the only thing I remember,’ ” Trump said of Ford, as he impersonated her on stage.
The crowd laughed gleefully.
It’s always questionable to attribute what Trump does, particularly what he does in front of a crowd of supporters where everyone is luxuriating in their resentment and contempt, to some clever and carefully planned strategy. But if he was trying to alienate the senators he’ll need to get Kavanaugh confirmed, then mission accomplished. Jeff Flake called it “kind of appalling.” Lisa Murkowski said, “The President’s comments yesterday mocking Dr. Ford were wholly inappropriate.” Susan Collins said, “The President’s comments were just plain wrong.” Even Sen. Lindsey Graham, who channeled his own righteous rage at the supposed mistreatment of Brett Kavanaugh, said he would tell the president, “Knock it off. You’re not helping.”
Let me suggest something crazy: That might be okay with Trump. It might even be okay with him if Kavanaugh gets voted down, because he could fill the seat with someone else (perhaps in a lame-duck session after the election but before the new Congress is seated), and still manage to fuel the backlash among men that he is plainly trying to promote.
As Trump looks over the political horizon, there are three major events on his mind. The first is this nomination, the second is the November election, and the third is his reelection campaign. If you’re Donald Trump, you want all those contests to turn on the politics of backlash.
That, after all, is how he became president. Other Republicans believed that their party needed to become more conciliatory, to reach out to Latino voters and young voters, to present a less angry face. Trump did exactly the opposite: He promoted resentment and fear, on the theory that a backlash against immigrants and women like Hillary Clinton and cultural change could get him to the White House. And it worked.
Since then, he has made amply clear that he isn’t going to become a president for all Americans. He sees political division not as an unfortunate reality but as his ticket to success. He wants voters angry and afraid, because if they are, that means they might support him.
But there’s a flip side to the politics of backlash. Trump has watched as a backlash against him, especially among women, has pulled down his approval ratings and taken us to the brink of a historic Democratic midterm victory. But now he sees his chance to create a backlash to that backlash. So he’s riding the twin vehicles of anger and fear: anger at women like Christine Blasey Ford who have the gall to accuse a man like Brett Kavanaugh, and fear that now every man is a potential victim of some screeching harpy who makes a false claim against him. Here’s part of his speech from Tuesday night:
This is a time when your father, when your husband, when your brother, when your son could do great, “Mom, I did great in school I’ve worked so hard. Mom, I’m so pleased to tell you, I just got a fantastic job with IBM, I just got a fantastic job with General Motors. I just got— I’m so proud. Mom, a terrible thing just happened. A person who I’ve never met said that I did things that were horrible and they’re firing me from my job, Mom. I don’t know what to do. Mom, what do I do? What do I do, Mom? What do I do, Mom? It’s a damn sad situation. OK. And we better start as a country getting smart and getting tough and not letting that stuff right back there, all those cameras, tell us how to live our lives.
Imagine it: Deserving men reduced to helpless whimpering saps, crying to their mothers because some woman they’ve never met made a baseless accusation against them and ruined their lives. If that doesn’t make you both angry and afraid, then you’re not a red-blooded American man.
Trump might understand that nothing would make that case better than Brett Kavanaugh being voted down by the Senate. I’m not saying Trump absolutely wants that to happen, but he probably realizes that if it does, his chances of creating his own backlash rise considerably, which would certainly be of great benefit to him this November and two years hence.
I could be wrong, of course. But I’m sure about this: Fear and anger got Donald Trump where he is, and he’s going to do everything he can to stoke them both as long as he’s president.