Sen. Lindsey O. Graham used a violent metaphor Tuesday to express sympathy for Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh in a way that recalled the metaphor used the last time Americans found themselves witnessing a Supreme Court sexual misconduct scandal.

The Washington Post reported that senior Republicans are increasingly determined to press forward with Kavanaugh’s nomination despite his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, saying that the FBI should investigate her allegation before she testifies in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“They’ve had tons of time to do this,” Graham (R-S.C.) said of Democrats vetting the accusation. “This has been a drive-by shooting when it comes to Kavanaugh. . . . I’ll listen to the lady, but we’re going to bring this to a close.”

That phrase — “drive-by shooting” — carried echoes of the words used by then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, who was accused of sexual harassment by professor Anita Hill after President George H.W. Bush nominated him in 1991. He told the Senate Judiciary Committee:

“This is a circus. It’s a national disgrace. And from my standpoint, as a black American, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee heard from Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas on Oct. 11, 1991, during the first day of his reopened confirmation hearings. (CSPAN)

Thomas’s words attracted national attention for their unapologetic reference to race. Part of Thomas’s legacy has been avoiding what many conservatives would call “playing the race card.” But his direct acknowledgment of his ethnicity and a violent act that historically has been used against black men who often were falsely accused of committing sexual crimes was meant to communicate that it was he who was the victim in this situation — not his accuser.

Graham’s words — while obviously absent of the racial implications given the identities of those involved — also imply that Kavanaugh is the real victim, an innocent bystander in harm’s way. Trump on Tuesday also suggested Kavanaugh is harmed by this situation.

“I feel so badly for him that he’s going through this,” Trump said. “This is not a man that deserves this.”

In the #MeToo era, increasing attention has been put on how women are affected immediately and long-term by sexual violence by powerful men. But Kavanaugh defenders are more readily placing their sympathy with the accused. To be sure, facing a false allegation of a despicable act would be hurtful and potentially ruinous.

A lot has changed since 1991, including the recent onus to “believe women” when they come forward. But that’s far from universally accepted. What we are seeing now, as we did in the Thomas hearings, from some Kavanaugh defenders is the often-mentioned belief in the harm that can be caused by “believing women.”