On Sunday, when Christine Blasey Ford went public with her charge of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh, I wrote that the confirmation hearings had turned into a melodrama ripped from the pages of an Allen Drury novel. Then on Thursday we moved into the realm of horror movies or science fiction — or perhaps just a cheesy daytime soap opera. Those are all genres where doppelgängers are common plot devices: X wasn’t the killer — it was his evil look-alike!
That Kavanaugh is the victim of mistaken identity was the implausible theory put forward by Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington. On Thursday night he posted (and now has deleted) a long series of tweets, complete with links to Zillow and Google Maps, arguing that Ford had indeed been assaulted — but by a friend of Kavanaugh’s who looked a lot like him. And then he proceeded to name the friend and post his picture. In the long annals of American politics, a lot of people have done a lot of irresponsible things, but for sheer callousness and craziness it’s hard to top an accusation of sexual assault against a specific individual based on, essentially, nothing. This is McCarthyism redux — and if Kavanaugh is revealed to have any connection to the propagation of this loathsome falsehood, he should be voted down overwhelmingly by the Senate.
It tells you how far the right has descended into madness that this vile accusation did not come from an anonymous blogger on some online bulletin board or from professional conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. It came from someone with sterling establishment credentials: Whelan is a Harvard Law School graduate who has served as a clerk to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a Senate Judiciary Committee staffer, and a deputy assistant attorney general in the George W. Bush administration. He is also friends with Kavanaugh and with Federalist Society executive vice president Leonard Leo, and has been involved in efforts to confirm Kavanaugh.
That someone so seemingly respectable was spreading this cuckoo conspiracy theory gave it instant validity: “Fox and Friends” aired it to a national audience Friday morning. Amplified by Russian bots, this theory went viral on social media, because it fit so neatly with what so many conservatives were already saying. As former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy wrote in National Review, “[T]he unverifiable sexual-assault allegation against Judge Brett Kavanaugh bore ‘all the hallmarks of a set-up.’ ”
This makes no sense: Why would Ford “set up” Kavanaugh when the cost of doing so is to have her name dragged through the mud and forced to flee her own home to avoid death threats? If she is setting up Kavanaugh, why would she take (and pass) a polygraph test and insist on an FBI investigation, knowing that lying to the FBI is a federal crime? If she was setting up Kavanaugh, why would she place his friend Mark Judge in the room, knowing that his testimony could contradict hers? And, why if this is a set-up, did she relay the sexual assault allegation to her marital therapist in 2012? Did she intuit years in advance that Kavanaugh would be nominated to the Supreme Court — but fail to foresee that, like every other woman who has made such allegations against a powerful man, she would be subject to character assassination?
The claim that Ford had simply mistaken Kavanaugh for his evil twin was marginally less offensive but even more crazy. Ford immediately shot it down: She said that she knew both Kavanaugh and his doppelganger and “there is zero chance that I would confuse them.”
By 8:38 a.m. on Friday, Whelan had recanted. “I made an appalling and inexcusable mistake of judgment in posting the tweet thread in a way that identified Kavanaugh’s Georgetown Prep classmate,” he tweeted. “I take full responsibility for that mistake, and I deeply apologize for it. I realize that does not undo the mistake.”
Give Whelan credit for at least being more honest than the man who appointed Kavanaugh: President Trump has never apologized for all of the deranged conspiracy theories he has spread, from claiming that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States to claiming just last week that the death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane María was concocted by Democrats to embarrass him. But Whelan is right: His apology, however welcome, does not undo the mistake.
There are a lot of people who will believe his conspiracy theory, despite the recantation, because they are predisposed to believe it. Much of the right has taken leave of its senses. They are willing, even eager, to believe in “alternative facts,” to quote Kellyanne Conway’s infamous phrase, if by doing so it will advance their agenda. Any sin, no matter how grave — even maligning an innocent man on sexual-assault charges — is justified in the name of political expediency. And there is no higher imperative for the right than the confirmation of conservative judges.
Conservatives need to ask themselves a version of Jesus’ question: What shall it profit them if they gain the Supreme Court and suffer the loss of their souls?