The Post reports that “in the case of federal judge Brett M. Kavanaugh — whose Supreme Court nomination is suddenly endangered after a woman accused him of sexual assault in high school — [President] Trump on Monday was uncharacteristically muted.” For once, Trump took the advice of White House aides. Why was he a model of discipline and self-restraint on this topic but on no others, including and especially the Russia investigation?
For one thing, the result is out of his hands and uncertain. Kavanaugh’s nomination is not a done deal, and smarter White House aides know it. As The Post noted, “The president’s comments underscored the hesitation inside the White House to rush into war on Kavanaugh’s behalf.” While White House counsel Donald McGahn and Federalist Society guru Leonard Leo (who put Kavanaugh on the list and would be humiliated if his nomination failed) were gung-ho, some “urged a more restrained approach, at least at first, preferring to watch the process play out before Trump inextricably binds himself to a problematic nominee.” In other words, Trump might need an out.
It’s not hard to see why Kavanaugh could be in deep trouble. It’s not simply that Kavanaugh must be convincing — most likely copping to apparent excessive drinking but emphatic that he didn’t do anything criminal when intoxicated. Republicans’ larger problem is that to save Kavanaugh’s nomination, Christine Blasey Ford has to seem unconvincing. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) put it best. “As soon as this allegation was no longer anonymous and corroborated, then, you know, we were in this situation. So this is the best route forward,” he said. “Obviously if you believe the charges are true, then you vote no, and all you can do is have the hearing.” He didn’t say that if they both seem credible, vote yes; he said if she is believable, vote no.
Therefore, Republicans either must tear Ford down to destroy her credibility (making themselves look like ogres weeks before an election in which women are already hostile toward them) — or they risk allowing her to show the American people how credible, sincere and certain she is in her memory. Making matters worse: Trump’s usual strategy is to portray female accusers as desperate floozies, but Republicans are going to find it hard to paint an accomplished academic as a nut case trying to make a name for herself.
Trump might be dismayed if Republicans are hesitant to take the scorched-earth approach, both because it might fail and because, they might recall, decades prior to the #MeToo movement, Republicans’ attempt to smear Anita Hill resulted in the “Year of the Woman,” a raft of new Democratic women elected to Congress. It’s not a good look to be in the pack of all male Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee accusing Ford of cooking up a fake story or operating under some kind of delusion.
If Republican inquisitors don’t know the answers — and without preliminary inquiries, they won’t — they are bound to ask questions for which Ford has really good answers, such as on why she waited years to come forward. (Senator, since no one has attempted to rape you, you probably don’t understand the shame and guilt one feels, especially as a teenager.) She might have a whole lot more detail to recall than they imagine. (Well, senator, now that you ask, I remember precisely which house it was.) In their frenzy to get this over with, Republicans might be going from the frying pan into the fire.
If it looks as though Kavanaugh is going down, Republicans including Trump will be in deep trouble with their base. You had a respected appellate court judge and no filibuster, and you still couldn’t deliver!? The longer Kavanaugh hangs in there, the closer to the election would be any disastrous conclusion to Kavanaugh’s nomination. And, with only weeks before the midterms that look increasingly bleak for Republicans, GOP senators will have a hard time convincing their base that Trump will just name someone better and get him or her through after the midterms.
Yes, for once, this White House seems to comprehend just how perilous the situation is. But do Republican senators?