The sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh have sparked a wave of unbridled anger and anxiety from many Republican men, who say they are in danger of being swept up by false accusers who are biased against them.
This outbreak of male resentment now seems likely to play a defining role in the midterm elections just five weeks away, contrasting with a burst of enthusiasm among women propelling Democratic campaigns and inspired by the national #MeToo reckoning over sexual assault and gender roles.
“I’ve got boys and I’ve got girls, and when I see what’s going on right now, it’s scary,” Donald Trump Jr., a father of five small children, said in an interview with DailyMailTV aired Monday.
Asked whether he was more worried about his sons or daughters, Trump Jr. said, “Right now, I’d say my sons.”
The rallying cry was Kavanaugh’s enraged plea of innocence before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which heard emotional testimony from Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a house in suburban Maryland when he was 17 and she was 15.
Trump has defended Kavanaugh and said the accusations by Ford and two other women are unfair to the judge and his family. The president — who himself has denied claims of sexual assault by more than a dozen women — has repeatedly stood behind other accused men in positions of power, including former Senate candidate Roy Moore after the Alabama Republican was accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls.
“The trauma for a man that’s never had any accusation — he’s never had a bad statement about him,” Trump told reporters on Monday, sympathizing with Kavanaugh’s experience. “It’s unfair to him at this point. What his wife is going through, what his beautiful children are going through is not describable.”
Veteran GOP pollster Frank Luntz said that among Republicans, “There is a feeling of being guilty until proven innocent. In this era of #MeToo, there are a lot of men — and some women — who believe that justice no longer exists in America, that the accusation is enough to destroy someone’s career and someone’s life. That wasn’t manifesting itself politically until” late last week.
Kavanaugh’s defenders, reflecting widespread feelings among conservatives nationally, are furious about what they see as a broad-brush approach to sexual misconduct allegations. They say the federal judge is being caught in a #MeToo riptide and unfairly grouped with serial predators — such as entertainer Bill Cosby, who has been accused of sexual assault or harassment by more than 60 women and was sentenced last week to three to 10 years in prison for drugging and assaulting one of them.
“I think you’re trying to portray him as a stumbling, bumbling drunk, gang rapist, who during high school and college was Bill Cosby,” Graham said Sunday to host George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week.”
Public opinion on Kavanaugh breaks down along gender lines. Women oppose his confirmation, 55 percent to 37 percent, while men support it, 49 percent to 40 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Monday. The survey found that 48 percent of American voters most believe Ford, while 41 percent most believe Kavanaugh.
In the 2016 election, Trump won 53 percent of men to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s 41 percent, and he has sought to galvanize these supporters with what he calls a Democratic “con job” on his handpicked Supreme Court nominee.
The right has come alive with impassioned defenses of Kavanaugh in recent days. Talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh, whose program for years has largely defined the GOP’s white male id, has unleashed a torrent of criticism on the air — such as his riff last week on “militant feminism.”
“These women are angry,” Limbaugh said. “Something has happened to them in their lives, and their rage and anger, they take it out now on the country or on all men or men in ‘the powerful majority,’ which is white Christian men and so forth.”
Conservative commentator Ann Coulter bemoaned the “snickering at white men” in her syndicated column last week and insisted that “there has never been a more pacific, less rapey creature than the white male of Western European descent.”
“Can we please, for the love of God, drop the painfully trite, mind-numbing cliche about ‘white men,’ as if somehow their whiteness makes evil even eviler?” Coulter wrote.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) tweeted after the Kavanaugh hearing that “ ‘Old white men’ are relentlessly being racially and generationally profiled by the ‘tolerant’ Left” and that media outlets have “almost universally profiled and stigmatized Republican Senators.”
Jennifer Palmieri, a Democratic strategist and author of “Dear Madam President,” a book about reimagining women in leadership roles, said the nation’s fast-changing culture can be unsettling and indeed frightening to men in power.
“A lot of white men don’t know what it’s like to feel threatened, powerless and frustrated,” said Palmieri, former communications director for Clinton’s campaign. “As we go through the reckoning of this lopsided power balance, there’s going to be a lot more of this.”
The Republican Party has long identified with more traditional white males, such as former presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. But strategists say it is now turning more toward combative male candidates in the mold of Trump, with allegations of misconduct interpreted by many within the party not as liabilities but as unfair political attacks.
“We’re a party of angry, older white men at a time when our country is going through tremendous demographic change,” Republican strategist John Weaver said, predicting that the GOP would suffer the consequences in future elections.
The sounds and images of angry men could have a lasting impact on the Republican brand. Kavanaugh’s pitched testimony has quickly gone from must-see live television to cultural touchstone. On NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, actor Matt Damon portrayed Kavanaugh in the show’s opening sketch as a beer-guzzling frat boy whose hero was “Clint Eastwood’s character in ‘Gran Torino,’ ” a 2008 film about an older white man who has contempt for aspects of diversity.
The shift in political gravity for Republicans helps explain the searing denouncement by Graham in last week’s Senate hearing. His extraordinary diatribe — reenacted on “Saturday Night Live” by a scowling Kate McKinnon — was, in essence, a defense of men who had been stewing about the charges against Kavanaugh.
“I know I’m a single white male from South Carolina and I’m told I should shut up, but I will not shut up, if that’s okay,” Graham said at the hearing, adding that the experience had been “hell” for Kavanaugh and “the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics.”
Those remarks won Graham a rush of praise from men in his solidly Republican state and from conservative activists nationally.
“People say, ‘Lindsey said what I was thinking,’ ” said Katon Dawson, a former South Carolina Republican Party chairman and Graham ally. “That’s powerful, and that’s all over the country. . . . It’s become a fairness issue to the people in the hinterlands. They don’t think Kavanaugh has been treated fairly.”
Others, however, saw the cold calculation of a lawmaker playing to stereotypes and raw emotions to gain a political edge.
“It’s not just that white men are allowed to be angry and women are not; it’s that white men’s anger can be used to their benefit,” wrote Rebecca Traister, author of “Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger.” “We reflexively understand the anger of white men, especially when used to convey how unfairly they’ve been treated, as righteous and correct.”
Inside the conservative movement and on its fringes, an intense discussion has long been underway about gender and the perceived assault on men. Fox News commentator Ben Shapiro, who hosts a popular podcast and TV program, has been one of the higher profile voices, sharply criticizing a culture where he sees “men out in the cold” and “searching for meaning.”
“The age of emasculation cannot last,” Shapiro has written. “It will eventually boil over into violence, sink away into irrelevance,” or return to traditional mores.
Beyond Shapiro, University of Toronto clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson has drawn thousands of young conservative men to his lectures across the United States, railing against the effects of feminism and urging men to speak up for themselves. “Boys are suffering in the modern world,” he has told his followers.
On Reddit, a hugely popular online discussion website, hordes of men, many of them libertarian or Republican, weigh in on forums focused on topics such as “men’s rights” and “men’s liberation.”
Some conservative women also have joined the chorus of outrage over what they see as the encroachment of liberal feminism into American life.
“I disagree with Senator Mazie Hirono, who said men should just shut up. Men deserve to be listened to,” said attorney Helgi Walker, a longtime friend of Kavanaugh who worked with him in the White House. “Due process means listening to everybody. It doesn’t mean men are totally invalidated.”
Scott Clement contributed to this report.