From the conservative vantage point, perhaps the greatest similarity is the deep sense of aggrievement about the motives of Kavanaugh’s critics then and Trump’s now. Those seeking to impeach the president over his conduct with respect to Ukraine have long been searching desperately for something, anything, with which to take down the designated victim.
“ORCHESTRATED DEM CAMPAIGN LIKE KAVANAUGH,” Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani tweeted in October. “When it comes to ‘more whistleblowers coming forward’ ..............I’ve seen this movie before — with Brett #Kavanaugh,’” added Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), whose Twitter profile features a photograph of him with the justice.
More recently, Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) drew the same comparison, if somewhat curiously, during an interview with Bloomberg Television.
“You know what these proceedings look to me like right now? They look like the Kavanaugh hearing without the vagina hats,” he said. “This is going to be the most partisan — no strike that, this will be the only partisan impeachment proceeding in the history of the United States.”
There are elements of truth here, but in ways that undercut the Republicans’ point rather than strengthen it. Yes, Democrats were out to get Kavanaugh; yes, they are out to get Trump. That partisan motive helps to explain the equal and opposite fury of the partisan reaction on the other side. But it does not justify it.
In the Kavanaugh case, Republicans were worked up, understandably so, about the last-minute emergence of the allegations against the Supreme Court nominee. Now, they are worked up, or pretend to be, that some Democrats were looking for a hook to impeach Trump even before he was sworn into office — what Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, denounced as “Democrats’ scorched-earth war against President Trump.”
My question is simple: Why does any of that matter? Either Kavanaugh engaged in behavior that is relevant to his fitness to serve on the Supreme Court, or he didn’t. How and when the allegations arose may be infuriating, but that does not mean they should not have been taken seriously.
This point is even more true when it comes to Trump and impeachment. The fact of the matter is that, notwithstanding the desire of some elements of the Democratic Party to launch impeachment proceedings, that step did not take place until the Ukraine allegations arose.
If those allegations involve serious misbehavior (and they do), if the allegations are supported by the evidence (and they are, more amply every day), why do prior behavior and motive matter? This line of argument would prevent impeaching Trump for the proverbial Fifth Avenue shooting.
Which leads to the greater, and more disturbing, way in which Trump’s impeachment resembles Kavanaugh’s confirmation: the unrelenting, reflexive tribalism of politics today. We saw this at work during the Kavanaugh hearings, where it was clear from the start that only a few votes on either side were up for grabs, and that Kavanaugh would likely be confirmed on a near-solid party-line vote; in the end, one senator on each side broke ranks. Compare that outcome to 1987, when Robert H. Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court failed, with six Republicans voting against him and two Democrats supporting him. Or to 1991, when Justice Clarence Thomas was confirmed with two Republicans voting against him — and 11 Democrats in favor.
Such splits were unimaginable during the Kavanaugh confirmation — and seem equally unlikely as the House and Senate take up Trump’s impeachment. In 1974, the House voted 410 to 4 to approve a formal impeachment inquiry against President Richard M. Nixon. In 1998, five Democrats voted to impeach President Bill Clinton; in the Senate, five Republicans voted against removing him from office.
By contrast, not a single Republican voted to authorize the current House impeachment inquiry, and there seems little prospect that any will vote to impeach Trump. When Kennedy laments that this promises to be “the only partisan impeachment proceeding in the history of the United States,” he is not indicting the process. He is indicting his party’s inability to acknowledge the seriousness of the president’s misbehavior and the imperative of a thorough investigation.