The man has a right to be heard. And David Lat is correct that it’s actually in Kavanaugh’s interest for the vote to be delayed if need be in order for the Senate Judiciary Committee to hash this out. If they vote on this as scheduled and confirm him to the Court without further inspection of Ford’s claims, it’ll hang over him forever. Frankly, it’ll hang over him forever no matter what — that was the whole point of this last-second hit, especially since he’s a potential fifth vote to overturn Roe — but a high-profile chance to speak in his defense will give him a chance to win over some ambivalent Americans.
NEW from KAVANAUGH (via the pool): “I am willing to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee in any way the Committee deems appropriate to refute this false allegation, from 36 years ago, and defend my integrity.” pic.twitter.com/yNSr76snZL
— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) September 17, 2018
As for the White House, the plan last night was to play hardball. Politico:
[F]our people close to the White House said they expected Republicans to question the accuser’s vague memories and why Feinstein, up for reelection in November with the Democratic base hungry for anti-Trump fodder, sat on the accusation for months.
Three of those people also said they expect the president to go after Kavanaugh’s accuser rather than to turn on the judge. They noted that Trump has done so before, not just denouncing his own accusers but also attacking those of others, notably, failed Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.
It’s unimaginable that Trump would cut Kavanaugh loose. Every time a man in his political orbit has been accused of sexual misconduct he’s been skeptical. How could it be otherwise when he’s been accused of misconduct himself? Rest assured, though, that if a second woman comes forward or if Christine Blasey Ford has hard evidence that ends up flipping a few Republican senators to vote no, Trump will turn viciously on Don McGahn (and maybe Leonard Leo) for having stuck him with a damaged nominee. I’d be surprised if we make it through the day, frankly, without seeing a scoop at the NYT or WaPo about Trump chewing out McGahn behind closed doors for having recommended Kavanaugh over other shortlisters.
Axios also heard yesterday that the West Wing was set to fire back at Ford and the Democrats:
Strategists advising Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh plan to use aggressive tactics this week in response to the public accusation of a “stumbling drunk” sexual assault in high school that instantly imperiled his confirmation, top sources tell Jonathan Swan…
A source close to the process said that if Democrats sink Kavanaugh “we’ll just bring in someone more conservative.”…
Republicans got more worried as the evening went along, but privately were optimistic about winning the P.R. fight: It’s her word, backed by her therapist’s notes, versus Kavanaugh and another man alleged to be in the room.
Bloomberg reported that Team Trump will “try to discredit the charges for surfacing late in the confirmation process and to question the credibility of the accuser because she didn’t tell anybody about the incident at the time.” None of this really sounds like “hardball,” though — or if it is, it’s the 2018 version of hardball. Twenty-five years ago, the strategy would have been to accuse Ford of being “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty.” We may get there yet, but that’s extremely perilous in the age of #MeToo. That’s why, I think, one of the most prominent women in the White House was out there on Fox News this morning surprising viewers by insisting that Ford should be neither ignored nor insulted, but rather should be heard. That’s the best play under the circumstances, with the White House terrified of how women voters might react in November. Why not have a hearing? It’s highly unlikely that Ford has anything in her back pocket to corroborate the incident she’s alleging and it’s also highly unlikely that anyone else at the party will say that they thought anything was wrong at the time. (How bad would they look if they had thought so but said nothing?) The hearing is all but certain to confirm the status quo, with Ford saying it happened and Kavanaugh and Mark Judge — and maybe one or two other party attendees — saying nope. What then? How do you vote no when it’s three or four against one?
And what do you do with the fact that, because it was a party, Ford herself was probably drinking too? Republicans will be walking on eggshells in bringing that up because it veers verrrrrrry close to implying that a drunk woman can’t credibly accuse a man of rape. What they’d really be aiming at, though, is the asymmetry in the left’s accusations against Judge and, by extension, Kavanaugh. Liberals have spent the past three days noting that Judge has confessed to drinking to wild excess in his youth; it’s possible, they believe, that he’s not so much lying when he claims he never saw Kavanaugh behave badly with women as that he honestly doesn’t remember because he was blackout drunk at the time. Ford herself told WaPo that she thinks Kavanaugh failed to rape her only because he was so blitzed, raising the possibility that he was too drunk to honestly remember this either. Hence the coming Republican question: If they were drunk at a party to the point where their perceptions were affected, why is it impossible that Ford was too? Could she have mistaken Kavanaugh for her actual assailant?
The only way Trump backs down on Kavanaugh and yanks the nomination is if two Senate Republicans say that they’re firm nays on the nomination, which is unlikely right now. But if Ford seems credible in her testimony, replete with tears? I don’t know. This is morphing from a fight over a SCOTUS seat to a culture-war battle over the standard of proof for a #MeToo accusation to ruin a man’s career. “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,” said a source to Politico. A friend in politics suggested to me last night that the best thing that could happen right now for the GOP would be for Kavanaugh to withdraw quickly and Trump to immediately nominate a replacement, sure to be a woman, since that would give McConnell a shot at confirming her before the midterms. But righties howled when I tweeted that out, for two reasons. One: It’d create an abhorrent precedent to let Kavanaugh be borked based on one unsubstantiated accusation, particularly when it reeks of a political hit saved for the final days before a confirmation vote. And two: Because this is now a culture-war proxy, more is at stake than just a Court seat. You can’t capitulate in the culture war even if it would maximize your chances of a durable Supreme Court majority.
Which I understand. But there’s a nonzero chance that this will linger for a few weeks, Kavanaugh will end up either withdrawing or being voted down, and then there won’t be enough time before the midterms for a new nominee. Democrats will use that as turnout fuel (as will Republicans, of course, with Trump waving Kavanaugh’s proverbial bloody shirt on the trail) and maybe retake the Senate. Then Trump would be in a real bind, either stuck waiting until January for Schumer to vet his next nominee or trying to get her through during the lame-duck session, *after* a Democratic majority has already been elected for the next term. That would create its own legitimacy problems for the nominee. Either way, the GOP needs this resolved ASAP, ideally no later than the end of the week to give Trump and McConnell a little time to maneuver in case he ends up unconfirmable.
The Daily Beast reports today that Trump is convinced this is all part of a “conspiracy” against him and Kavanaugh and that the accusations “will far more likely cause Trump to dig in and attack those going after Kavanaugh.” Right, but the math is what it is. Trump might be prepared to absorb any amount of political damage to see Kavanaugh confirmed but his enemies, Flake and Corker, will each soon be ex-senators. They have nothing to lose by voting no except some friendships back home. And if they do, McConnell will insist that Trump withdraw the nomination (or that Kavanaugh “voluntarily” withdraw) so that his caucus doesn’t have to take a very difficult vote that’s destined to fail anyway. There’s really nothing anyone in the White House or among the GOP base can do to influence this outcome now. Even if Collins and Murkowski remain aboard, Kavanaugh’s fate is in the hands of two retiring Republicans who deeply disdain the president.