Before delivering his opening statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh assured us that only one other person had seen it. But it was as if it had been approved by President Trump himself.
No, Kavanaugh didn’t go as far as Trump has by calling his female accusers “liars,” but he did take an unusually fiery, partisan posture against Democrats seeking to thwart his nomination. While judicial nominees almost always strive to appear above the political fray and not favor one party over another, Kavanaugh made clear he was furious — and he was furious at Democrats.
“Since my nomination in July, there’s been a frenzy on the left to come up with something, anything to block my confirmation,” he said. He referred to Democrats calling him “evil.” Then he turned directly to Democratic senators on the committee. “You sowed the wind,” he said, and “the country will reap the whirlwind.”
He accused Democrats of “a calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election.” He even suggested it was “revenge on behalf of the Clintons” — referring to his work on special counsel Kenneth Starr’s investigation of the Clinton administration in the 1990s.
Later, he later directly addressed the senators again. “Thanks to what some of you on this side of the committee have unleashed,” he said, gesturing to his right, “I may never be able to coach [girls' basketball] again.” He added that he loves teaching law at Harvard University, but “I may never be able to teach again.”
When Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the committee’s ranking Democrat, asked him about the third accusation against him — one involving parties with gang rapes — Kavanaugh made clear his disdain for the line of questioning.
“It’s a joke,” he said, still visibly angry from his 45-minute opening statement. “It’s a farce.” Asked whether he wanted to elaborate, he stared at Feinstein and said, “No.”
It was perhaps exactly what Trump and Republicans wanted from Kavanaugh, who had previously been rather muted in his reactions to the allegations. Trump reportedly approved.
For a man whose nomination appeared in jeopardy, it almost certainly rallied the troops. It recalled Clarence Thomas’s “high-tech lynching” comments after Anita Hill testified against him in 1991.
But it was also more direct and more partisan than that. Kavanaugh wasn’t just decrying the process — which he called a “national disgrace.” He was pointing the finger directly at Democrats and saying they alone were responsible for it.
This was a particularly bold move from Kavanaugh, given his biography. One of the potential knocks against him was that, before he was a judge, he was a Republican political operative — a high-ranking official in the George W. Bush White House, in fact. That always cut against the idea that he would be your average fair-minded judge, just reviewing the facts and applying the law. Everything Kavanaugh said Thursday will only confirm such doubts.
Much ink has been spilled when it comes to the Kavanaugh hearing’s impact on the #MeToo movement. It also comes in the midst of increasing polarization of our politics and our supposedly nonpartisan judicial system. And when he was backed into a corner, Kavanaugh decided it was time to drop the pretense.
That, too, could be a turning point in our democracy and society.