CNN ran a pretty amazing heading on Thursday: “Aides quietly stunned by Trump’s respectful handling of Kavanaugh accuser.”
Axios, too, picked up on that thread Friday morning, noting Trump’s “rare restraint” on the topic. It quoted one White House official joking: “Hopefully he can keep it together until Monday. That’s only, like, another 48 hours right?”
But here’s the thing: Trump has been “respectful” and shown “restraint” only by his own, very artificially depressed standard. It’s notable that he hasn’t directly attacked Christine Blasey Ford as a liar or completely discounted her account — as he has with women who previously accused him and his allies of sexual assault — but Trump has more than hinted in both of those directions.
And the dam appears to be breaking.
Trump, in fact, has regularly alluded to the idea that this whole thing is another made-up witch hunt, while occasionally peppering in a, “But we should hear what she has to say.” Had any other president (or politician) offered the kind of commentary he has on this topic, we’d be talking about how they were prejudging the whole thing. As with many things, Trump has desensitized us.
Trump’s initial comments Monday included saying Ford should be heard, but he also repeatedly referred to the lateness of the allegation — a clear allusion to the idea that this could all be politically motivated.
On Tuesday, Trump said of Kavanaugh: “I feel so badly for him that he’s going through this.” Trump added: “This is not a man that deserves this.” These are not the things you say about someone you think may have committed sexual assault. And you could say the same thing about what Trump said Wednesday, when he called Kavanaugh an “extraordinary man” with an “unblemished record.”
But even as Trump was being relatively disciplined at the rally Thursday night, his true feelings came through. In an interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity before the rally, Trump suggested the fact that Ford hadn’t gone to the authorities 36 years ago calls her account into question.
“You say, why didn’t somebody call the FBI 36 years ago?” Trump said (falling to account for the fact that it wouldn’t have been a federal issue back then).
Then, in a series of Friday morning tweets, Trump seemed to drop the pretense.
Not that there was much left to drop. Trump also said this Thursday night: “To take a man like this and besmirch.”
Then he caught himself and changed course: “Now with that being said, let her have her say, and let’s see how it all works out.”
It’s difficult to read that as anything other than Trump saying Ford has “besmirched” Kavanaugh’s reputation and that someone would have reported the incident 36 years ago if it happened. Trump and his allies might argue he is attacking Democrats — Trump alludes to “radical left lawyers” — but the underlying accusations are all about Ford. And she and her family were the ones who would have had to go to the authorities 36 years ago.
Trump has now questioned the timing of Ford’s accusation and the fact that a report wasn’t filed; he has suggested Kavanaugh is the real victim here; and he has cast the whole thing as “besmirching” Kavanaugh.
It’s abundantly evident that Trump is sending a signal to his base that this is all a ruse, and occasionally throwing in a “Hey, we should let her testify” doesn’t really change that.