It was obvious from the moment Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) began her speech Friday that she’d announce her support for the nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. And so she did — in a performance that was saturated in misdirection and bad faith, making it the perfect capstone to the Republican treatment of this whole affair.
Collins condemned Democrats for having their minds made up before Kavanaugh was nominated (as if Republicans did not), expressed dismay at misrepresentations of his record (though not his flood of deceptions), and decried the “dark money” mobilized to oppose him (the dark money mobilized to back him didn’t seem to annoy her).
Meanwhile, her treatment of the Christine Blasey Ford affair was so shamelessly disingenuous that it is hard to avoid the conclusion that her call for an FBI inquiry was really about gaining the cover to do what she intended to do all along. Hearing her speak, it seemed she regarded the biggest injustice in the whole saga to be the fact that Ford’s charges were leaked, putting Republicans through the inconvenience of having to deal with them.
Just after Collins announced her support, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) confirmed that he will vote for Kavanaugh as well. So it’s done: Kavanaugh will be seated on the nation’s highest court.
Should Democrats have any regrets about having engaged in this fight with the intensity that they did?
In the past week, we saw emerge on the right a new argument about Kavanaugh, a variant of the “This is why we got Trump” that conservatives often throw at liberals. It goes like this: Look what you did, you dumb Democrats. You fought against Kavanaugh and treated him so unfairly, and now Republican voters will rise up in righteous fury and beat back your blue wave. You have no one to blame but yourselves.
There was at least some evidence to support the empirical claim that Republicans were suddenly more energized about the midterms (though Nate Silver argues persuasively that the battle is roughly where it was before the Kavanaugh controversy). Now, with Kavanaugh poised to be confirmed, we’re sure to hear an updated taunt: Not only did you stupid Democrats not stop Kavanaugh, Republican voters are so mad they’re going to flock to the polls.
Of course, these days every event generates its own backlash, and Kavanaugh’s coming confirmation will likely make Democrats, particularly Democratic women, even more angry and motivated than they have been up until now.
So it’s possible that Kavanaugh’s confirmation will guarantee a Democratic House in the fall. But even if that weren’t true, this battle would have been worth fighting.
There are multiple reasons why a party and an ideological movement might take on a fight like this one. They can do it simply because it’s the right thing to do. They can do it in the hopes of winning a short-term victory or a long-term victory. And they can do it because the fight itself — the process we go through before the outcome is decided — changes things for the better.
When we look back on the Kavanaugh controversy, we’re probably going to say that as painful as it was, it accelerated vital societal change. The contrast between Ford (poised under great stress, seemingly sincere in her posture that she had come forward to help the country) and Kavanaugh (angry, unhinged, resentful at seeing his ascension challenged, sneeringly contemptuous of opposition lawmakers, especially female ones such as Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)) will be burned in our minds forever.
As a measure of how much of an impact the hearing had on those who were siding with Ford, note this: According to an aide to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, it raised around $400,000 from emails and texts about Kavanaugh from the end of the hearing through the next day.
Beyond this, the hearing — and this whole saga — surely will have a major cultural impact. More and more women are coming forward to tell their stories of harassment and assault, in many cases trauma they’ve kept silent about for years or decades.
Of course, this debate also revealed how ferocious the backlash can be in the face of this sort of ferment and agitation. Who can forget the paroxysm of rage that Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) flew into — not at children being separated from their parents or thousands dying in Puerto Rico — but at the idea that one rich white guy might not get the lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court to which he was entitled?
Then there’s the role of President Trump. From the outset of this whole affair, his aides pleaded with him to lay low and not attack Ford. But of course, he could not maintain that posture for long and finally let ‘er rip at a rally, mocking not just Ford, but the very claim itself. Friday Trump tweeted this:
This perfectly captured the Republican closing argument for Kavanaugh, which was basically that Ford’s charges should never have gotten the full examination that they did end up getting, that the huge swaths of America who were deeply moved by her willingness to carry this banner can be brushed aside, as Trump did with a contemptuous tweet, and that the real victim in this whole affair was (naturally) Kavanaugh. Republicans had tried to keep this subtle — the sugar coated version was that of course Republicans take the charges and the broader issue seriously, but, hey, Kavanaugh was also equally credible, and this whole thing is unresolvable, so it would be equally wrong to derail him over it. As always, Trump ripped off the mask.
Indeed, this whole debate, while no doubt emboldening sexual assault survivors to come forward and forcing a national reckoning around the issue, also revealed the power of the forces arrayed against change. Now Kavanaugh’s ascension probably means those forces will succeed in taking a shiv to women’s reproductive rights.
Collins on Friday assured us up and down that this will not happen. Well, her speech will make for fun viewing in a couple of years. Oh, by the way, Collins is up for reeleection in 2020. Are you angry about what’s happening? Then don’t forget about it. Organize, organize, organize for the next two elections — and beyond. Vote. And get as many people as possible to vote along with you.