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Opinion Brett Kavanaugh, disrobed

We should apply a higher standard to Supreme Court nominees. Nobody deserves to be on the bench, says editorial board member Stephen Stromberg. (Video: Adriana Usero, Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post)

Brett M. Kavanaugh proved himself unfit to serve on the Supreme Court.

It has little to do with his treatment of women.

Kavanaugh’s freshman-year roommate at Yale had told the New Yorker that the future Supreme Court nominee could become “aggressive” and “belligerent” when drunk. But, as millions have now seen with their own eyes, he is aggressive and belligerent when stone-cold sober.

His testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday was a howl of partisan rage. He said the behavior of Democrats on the committee was “an embarrassment” and “a good old-fashioned attempt at Borking.” He said they were “lying in wait” with “false, last-minute smears.”

The proceedings were, he said, “a national disgrace,” a “circus,” a “grotesque and coordinated character assassination,” and a “search and destroy” mission. He blamed Democrats for threats against his family, “to blow me up and take me down.”

“This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election,” he said, “. . . revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.”

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Kavanaugh shouted and scowled, sniffed and wept, turned the pages of his text as if swatting insects and thumped the witness table. Gone was the nominee who two weeks ago preached judicial modesty. Gone was the man who on Monday spoke to Fox News about fairness and integrity and dignity and respect.

On Thursday afternoon, after his main accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, gave such compelling testimony that even Republican senators described her favorably, Kavanaugh ripped off the mask — or the robe, as it were — and revealed himself to be the man he was when, as a lieutenant to Kenneth Starr in the 1990s, he proposed to hit President Bill Clinton with a sexually vulgar line of questioning.

Beckoning to the Democrats, he said: “Thanks to what some of you on this side of the committee have unleashed, I may never be able to teach again. . . . I may never be able to coach again.” (If his nomination is defeated, he would still retain his lifetime seat on the nation’s second-most powerful court.)

He mocked his Democratic questioners. Asked by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) about his drinking, Kavanaugh shot back: “I like beer. I don’t know if you do. Do you like beer, senator, or not? What do you like to drink? Senator, what do you like to drink?”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), mentioning her father’s alcoholism, asked whether Kavanaugh had ever blacked out. “I don’t know. Have you?” he responded. Pressed, he replied, “I’m curious if you have.” He later apologized.

Kavanaugh had cast aside judicial restraint for fury and ridicule. Perhaps he figured his nomination was doomed, and his scorched-earth testimony was a parting shot. Or perhaps he calculated that he could salvage his prospects only by making the fight about tribal partisanship rather than sexual assault.

Except that it isn’t. If Kavanaugh isn’t confirmed, it will be because of Republican votes from the likes of Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) — who on Friday forced Republican colleagues to accept a delay while the FBI reviews Ford’s allegation — and Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), who have expressed concerns. Polling shows plunging support for Kavanaugh among Republican women. Republicans on the Judiciary Committee — all men — were concerned enough about appearances to hire a female prosecutor to question Ford; this produced frivolous lines of questioning about her fear of flying and who paid for her polygraph.

Fighting Ford’s sexual assault allegation on the merits was difficult to sustain. Even Trump thought Ford seemed credible, and Kavanaugh appeared reluctant to have the FBI investigate her claims (he derided “phony” questioning on the topic) or to have the committee hear from the alleged eyewitness. He acknowledged that he sometimes drank “too many beers” (how many? “whatever the chart says”) and, while he hadn’t blacked out, he had “gone to sleep” after drinking and had also vomited from it.

Eventually, Republican senators jettisoned their distaff mercenary and joined with Kavanaugh in his attempt to cast the fight as partisan. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) called it “despicable” and a “sham.” Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.) called the proceedings the most “embarrassing scandal for the United States Senate since the McCarthy hearings.”

But this required accepting Kavanaugh’s word that the accusations are variously “a joke,” “a farce,” “crazy,” “nonsense,” “refuted” or with “no corroboration.”

Maybe so. Or maybe he doesn’t remember. But this we know: Kavanaugh’s response, which he took care to say he wrote himself, revealed him to be a political hack more than a jurist. “Your coordinated and well-funded effort to destroy my good name and to destroy my family will not drive me out,” he told the Democrats, threatening them that “what goes around comes around.”

Partisanship and revenge fantasies: Exactly what we don’t need on the Supreme Court.

Twitter: @Milbank

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Read more:

Eugene Robinson: Just how low can Republican senators go?

Ruth Marcus: Ford’s testimony was devastating. Kavanaugh’s was volcanic.

The Post’s View: The Senate can’t vote on Kavanaugh now

Erik Wemple: Cornered on ‘Renate Alumnius,’ Kavanaugh shifts blame to ‘media circus’

Ronald A. Klain: Bringing in outside counsel to question Ford was a mistake