Republicans under President Trump have adopted a distinct political methodology evocative of autocratic regimes: Eschew rationality and facts, whip up hate, play to the mob. They cannot make winning, rational arguments on immigration, so they resort to fear-mongering about a nonexistent crime epidemic caused by illegal immigrants. They cannot come up with an effective health-care plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, so they sabotage that law and disguise their quest to strip out protections for preexisting conditions.
In the case of the Supreme Court, it was not enough for Republicans to praise Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh and to let the facts come out about their nominee; they had to turn the FBI investigation into a Swiss-cheese production, laughably omitting key issues (Did he lie under oath about drinking, suggesting he might not have a solid memory of high school debauchery?) and not interviewing all the key witnesses.
What’s more, in order to rally their base, Republicans needed to smear, insult and dismiss Christine Blasey Ford — and by extension thousands of female sex-crimes victims. Their white-male base responds to hate and resentment — against minorities, against complaining women, against foreigners — and Republicans did not disappoint.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) turned into a crazed screamer, Trump ignited the victim mentality and Republicans repeated the falsehood that Ford had no “corroboration” (despite prior statements and passing a polygraph test). They did not call Deborah Ramirez to appear at a hearing; she was a non-person to them. Conservatives in the Senate, in the media and in legal circles who knew better figured that any new disincentive to report sex crimes was a small price to pay to get their man on the bench. And besides, what’s a little sexual assault when you’re young, right? It wasn’t actually rape, Senate candidate Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said. (North Dakotans ate it up; if Republican win the seat, chalk one up for “If it’s not rape, it doesn’t count.”)
Republicans, too, could win this fight for the swing Supreme Court seat, but they cannot bestow legitimacy upon Kavanaugh or erase their record of weaponized misogyny. Progressives will seek his recusal in every case of political significance. Every 5-4 decision in which Kavanaugh is the deciding vote will be denounced as illegitimate, the work of a partisan judge elevated to the court by nefarious means. The decision will be respected legally in the short term, but in the future, it will be argued, the decision should carry zero precedential weight. Those he once accused of participating in a left-wing cabal will seek to vacate cases they lose in which Kavanaugh was the deciding vote. In future cases, they will urge justices and lower court judges to downgrade the importance of these decisions, in effect treating them as unpublished opinions that should not impact future cases.
Democrats will ferret out the witnesses whom the FBI ignored and subpoena FBI officials to testify. They will leak the full FBI report at some point and disclose any communications between the FBI and White House that reveal efforts to curb the FBI investigation. They will seek Kavanaugh’s removal, and maybe even his disbarment.
When a Democratic president eventually wins the White House with a Democratic Senate majority, you can count on a court-packing scheme. Most critically, any decision Kavanaugh renders in Trump’s favor on the Russia probe might ignite a constitutional conflagration in which the majority of the country sees an illegitimate justice protect a president illegitimately elected with the assistance of the United States’ foe, Russia.
None of this is desirable, nor would it have been conceivable had Trump picked another justice. However, in producing a worthless investigation and declaring open season on sex-crimes victims, Republicans push women out of the party and onto political war-footing. If power politics is what the Republicans want, women and others in the anti-Republican coalition (male and female Democrats, independents and ex-Republicans) will learn to play just as fiercely.
In the meantime, Americans wounded and angered by this turn of events have two weapons — the power of the ballot box and the power to deny Kavanaugh’s legitimacy. If they need any more motivation, they need only recall Trump’s monstrous mocking of Ford, Kavanaugh’s vengeful rant against the left and belligerence toward female senators, and a fraudulent FBI report designed to exonerate the accused, not to find out the truth.
For me, I’ll recollect Ford’s trembling voice acknowledging that she might be “annihilated” for her effort to spare the country from a grievously unfit justice. She got that right.