The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Some conservatives have identified the real victims in the Kavanaugh fight: Men

The Republicans who would judge the credibility of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh's accusers are already judging their credibility. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

Exit polling tells us that Donald Trump won 57 percent of the white vote on Election Day in 2016. That figure reflects, in part, the extent to which Trump’s campaign leveraged racial tensions by focusing on a purported spike in crime rates, on illegal immigration and on terrorism.

Overlap between Trump’s base of support and those who are concerned about “reverse racism” — that is, that white Americans are the targets of discrimination — is well documented. Quinnipiac University polling from right before the election found that nearly two-thirds of Trump supporters were at least somewhat concerned about reverse racism. A Washington Post-ABC poll found that a voter who expressed concern about whites losing out to nonwhites was more likely to be a Trump voter than someone who was struggling economically.

There’s another demographic, though, where Trump also overperformed: men. Trump won men by 11 points, earning 52 percent of support from men in the election. He won white men by a 2-to-1 ratio.

Part of this had to do with his opponent. Hillary Clinton’s candidacy certainly heightened the gender split in the election result. Even among Democrats, Clinton consistently polled more poorly with men, and white men in particular.

In a recent Pew Research Center poll, no group was less likely than Republican men to say that discrimination against women was a barrier to top executive positions or higher political office. About 15 percent of Republican men believed that gender discrimination was a major reason for low representation of women in either area.

But polling before the election also showed that many Trump voters were motivated by a subset of concern about discrimination against whites. A PRRI poll from late 2015, when Trump was leading the Republican field, illustrates that point:

Trump supporters also express greater concern about discrimination against white Americans and white men in particular. Roughly three-quarters (74%) of Trump supporters — compared to 57% of supporters of all other Republican candidates — agree that, today, discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities. More than four in ten (42%) Trump supporters — compared to 30% of supporters of all other Republican candidates — say that white men face a lot of discrimination in the U.S. today.

Forty percent of Trump voters thought white men in particular faced a lot of discrimination. An analysis by FiveThirtyEight of a fervently pro-Trump group on Reddit, The_Donald, found that the two other groups most frequented by The_Donald members besides Reddit’s main political channel were fatpeoplehate (a group dedicated to insulting overweight people) and TheRedPill. That group describes itself as a place for “discussion of sexual strategy in a culture increasingly lacking a positive identity for men.”

On Saturday, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) made an unusual claim. He was speaking about the nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh to serve on the Supreme Court and raised questions about the allegations made against him of attempted sexual assault in 1982.

King listed reasons he was skeptical of the story.

“You add all of that together, and I’m thinking: Is there any man in this room that wouldn’t be subjected to such an allegation? A false allegation?” King said. “How can you disprove something like that? Which means, if that’s the new standard, no man will ever qualify for the Supreme Court again.”

Conservative commentator Buck Sexton made the same case.

Sexton and King aren’t the only conservatives to have made this slippery-slope argument. Others have defended Kavanaugh on the basis that what he is alleged to have done — pinned down a woman named Christine Blasey Ford, attempting to take off her clothes until she managed to escape — was not a big deal.

“There wasn’t a crime committed,” evangelical leader Franklin Graham said last week. Kavanaugh “just flat-out says that’s not true. Regardless if it was true, these are two teenagers, and she said no and he respected that, so I don’t know what the issue is.”

A lawyer close to the White House told Politico: “If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried. We can all be accused of something.”

There are a few overlapping sentiments here. One is that Kavanaugh’s alleged behavior is a boys-being-boys sort of activity that wasn’t as big a deal as Ford alleges. The other is that allegations with as much gray area as those made by Ford mean that the tactic could spread to any other man.

The problem with those arguments, of course, is that Kavanaugh is in the unique position of seeking a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land, a position for which such an allegation carries more import than it would for most men in most other situations. The other is that most men would not be likely targets for similar accusations, simply because they didn’t engage in the sort of activity that’s alleged. Ford’s story is mostly substantiated indirectly, but it does have substantiation.

One subtext to the arguments made in support of Kavanaugh hinges on our original point: that Kavanaugh’s behavior as a man makes him susceptible to these accusations. Saying “boys will be boys,” directly or indirectly, is to say that this behavior should continue to be condoned. That the alleged typical behavior of young men is being targeted unfairly. That what guys do is now something that can and will be used against them.

Men face an unfair attack.

But, then, that argument is to be expected from me, apparently. Commentator Erick Erickson, who has repeatedly questioned the story presented by Ford, suggested that support for her was a function of “penance,” particularly among “male reporters.”

“They believe they and their peers have failed to treat women fairly in the past,” Erickson wrote, “so condemning Kavanaugh is their way of repenting.”

“Instead of looking at the facts objectively,” he continued, “they call on Kavanaugh to step aside to assuage their own consciences. This is not about equality for them. This is about clearing their consciences.”

In other words, Erickson is arguing that questions about Kavanaugh aren’t about the claims presented but instead about what might be called reverse sexism, bolstering Ford over Trump’s nominee because she’s a woman.

Last week, Erickson found what he considered a “more credible and coherent” explanation for what happened the night Ford says she was assaulted by Kavanaugh: a prominent conservative lawyer’s tweeted allegations that Ford had confused Kavanaugh with another young man. That lawyer, Ed Whelan, was subsequently placed on a leave of absence from his organization.

On Sunday, Fox News released a new poll, conducted after Ford’s allegations emerged, that included a question about support for Kavanaugh’s nomination. Women oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination by a 21-point margin. Men support it by a five-point margin.

White men support his nomination by a 10-point margin.