Nearly everyone who works with President Trump or accept his appointment strikes an implicit bargain. This guy is going to do things that make you uncomfortable and may even undermine you, but that’s the price of doing business with this POTUS.
Brett M. Kavanaugh submitted to this tortured game one last time Monday night.
In a White House ceremony symbolically swearing him in to the Supreme Court, Kavanaugh took pains to argue that he would be an impartial justice. Continuing in the vein of his Wall Street Journal op-ed last week, he suggested that he won’t emulate his virulent, partisan confirmation-hearing rhetoric or take any bitterness to the court.
Before that could happen, though, Trump had to turn the whole thing into what can only be described as a de facto campaign event — one last broadside against the Democrats with Kavanaugh standing dutifully by to take part.
“I would like to begin tonight’s proceeding differently than perhaps any other event of such magnitude,” Trump said, and then he did just that: “On behalf of our nation, I want to apologize to Brett and the entire Kavanaugh family for the terrible pain and suffering you have been forced to endure.”
At that moment, it was clear this wasn’t going to be about staid, steady judicial review, but instead about owning the libs.
“Our country, a man or woman must always be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty,” Trump said. “And with that, I must state that you, sir, under historic scrutiny, were proven innocent.”
The “proven innocent” line is laughably incorrect — no verdicts were even close to being reached here — and it was clear Trump was tempting Democrats and the media to overreach just one more time. The more mileage Trump can get out of this whole thing, apparently, the better. The GOP has clearly gained the electoral enthusiasm that had previously eluded it, but there are still four weeks before the election, and sustaining that is more difficult if and when Kavanaugh’s confirmation fades from the news.
And there is real reason to believe it’s working. While Kavanaugh was historically unpopular for a confirmed Supreme Court justice, a CNN poll Monday suggested that Americans were more unhappy with how Democrats treated the matter than Republicans. While registered independents disapproved of the GOP’s handling of the hearings 53 percent to 32 percent, they disapproved of the Democrats' handling of it almost 2 to 1, 58 percent to 30 percent. There was a sense that, while his confirmation might rev up the GOP base, it might turn swing voters against them. The poll suggests the latter may not be the case.
However this shakes out politically, it’s clear that the process has been politicized. It was political before, but now more outwardly so. Kavanaugh would like us to believe that doesn’t have to be the case, but the event he took part in Monday gave lie to all that.
And Kavanaugh had to know this was coming — both because Trump’s rhetoric on this has ventured in a very clear direction and because Kavanaugh had appeared with Trump before. At the ceremony announcing his nomination, Kavanaugh was apparently prevailed upon to make a very Trumpian claim that the president had conducted the most robust process ever for selecting a Supreme Court nominee. It was a bizarre claim, but Kavanaugh made it for Trump.
And on Monday, he stood beside him and did the whole thing again.