I’ve written half a dozen posts about the WaPo story since Sunday and feel embarrassed that I missed this simple but salient point. My focus has been on the fact that Christine Blasey Ford approached Democrats — and the Post itself — back in July with her story, then clammed up all the way through Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing. Only at the eleventh hour, after the letter she sent to Dianne Feinstein mysteriously leaked last week, did she decide to enter the fray, she says. It seemed … strange that someone who volunteered her information to Democrats months ago would then resolutely refuse to let them so much as identify her in order to use it effectively.
But note the fine print in the WaPo article. It makes sense that Ford would take a polygraph once she had resolved to come forward and speak to the Post. But according to the paper, that didn’t happen last week. She took the polygraph in early August, weeks before the Feinstein letter broke big in the media and ostensibly all but forced her into public view.
If she had every intention of remaining silent, why was she taking elaborate professional measures to shore up her credibility weeks before the letter emerged?
.@LindseyGrahamSC: “If Ms. Ford never intended to come forward or never planned to come forward, why did she pay for a polygraph in August and why did she hire a lawyer in August if she never intended to do what she is doing?” pic.twitter.com/tE0uG8dRci
— The Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) September 18, 2018
Clearly Graham is treating the timing of the polygraph as evidence that this really was an orchestrated late hit on Kavanaugh that had been in the works for awhile. (He wonders who paid for the polygraph too.) Here’s how WaPo described Ford’s evolution from reluctant letter-writer to bold public witness:
Though Ford had contacted The Post [through a tip line in early July], she declined to speak on the record for weeks as she grappled with concerns about what going public would mean for her and her family — and what she said was her duty as a citizen to tell the story.
She engaged Debra Katz, a Washington lawyer known for her work on sexual harassment cases. On the advice of Katz, who said she believed Ford would be attacked as a liar if she came forward, Ford took a polygraph test administered by a former FBI agent in early August. The results, which Katz provided to The Post, concluded that Ford was being truthful when she said a statement summarizing her allegations was accurate.
By late August, Ford had decided not to come forward, calculating that doing so would upend her life and probably would not affect Kavanaugh’s confirmation. “Why suffer through the annihilation if it’s not going to matter?” she said.
Three possibilities. One: Ford was sincerely torn throughout the summer about whether to come forward or not. Maybe she was thinking about it in early July, when she first contacted the Post and her Democratic rep. It sounds like the Post was interested in her story, per her refusal to comment “for weeks.” She might have taken the polygraph in the expectation that she would eventually comment on the record, then changed her mind later in August when Democrats didn’t seem interested in her story.
Two: Ford figured there was a good chance she’d be outed as an accuser whether she wanted to be or not, in which case she and Katz concluded that they should begin taking measures to bolster her credibility ASAP. The polygraph was something they could turn to later if someone in Feinstein’s office or the WaPo newsroom leaked her name and flushed her out into the public eye (BuzzFeed knew her name somehow even before the WaPo interview with her ran) — or of course if she ended up deciding that she did in fact want to accuse Kavanaugh on the record. The polygraph was a better-safe-than-sorry thing. “Now I feel like my civic responsibility is outweighing my anguish and terror about retaliation,” she told WaPo of her decision to finally come forward.
Three: It’s an orchestrated hit. She and her Democratic pals have been planning this for months. The polygraph was conveniently prepared in advance so that she’d enter the public eye with a (thin) extra patina of credibility.
Graham will be asking her about this on Monday, assuming she shows up. In the meantime, it’s full speed ahead for the White House. Whatever happens with Kavanaugh, it’s crucial to their political strategy that the nomination not be pulled:
“A withdrawal would be disastrous for Trump,” one pro-Trump political operative who worked on the president’s 2016 campaign said. “You take away the whole ‘We’re sick of winning’ message. That’s a huge, marquee, top-line loss.”…
[W]ithin Trump’s West Wing, there was a strong sense that backing down would be a major humiliation for Trump, who has made two distinct promises to conservative voters: that he revels engaging in political fights and that he will stack the judiciary with nominees they love. One senior administration official said that pulling Kavanaugh at this moment would be akin to Team Trump signing its own political “death warrant.”
“Here is the calculus,” said a former top administration official. “The Supreme Court was one of the top reasons why many Republicans supported President Trump during the 2016 campaign. If they were to pull Kavanaugh, there is a real chance of depressing the base.”
Kavanaugh getting borked wouldn’t be a total failure for the GOP so long as it’s the Senate, not the White House, that ends his chances. If the Senate finishes him off with help from Republican Trump enemies like Corker and Flake, Trump will play it to the hilt on the campaign trail this fall. “We can’t let Democrats get away with this! They ruined a good man with a vicious last-minute smear, with help from their RINO pals. We need to expand our Senate majority and confirm an even more conservative nominee to teach them that ratf*cking doesn’t pay.” That’s a good message for Republican turnout, so much so that lefties are starting to worry about it.
But that goes up in smoke if Trump were to pull the nomination without the Senate weighing in. Which, let’s face it, is probably how McConnell would prefer it. He’s standing behind Kavanaugh since, for the moment, he’s the only SCOTUS game in town but he and Trump will have a big political problem if this confirmation battle drags on for weeks and then Kavanaugh ends up being voted down. At that point it’ll be too late to nominate and confirm someone else before the midterms. The prudent thing to do, especially with a no-win hearing scheduled for Monday, would be to go to Plan B. But Republican voters would be incensed if it happened — and not at Democrats. They’d be incensed at McConnell and, to some extent, Trump. The party has to double down and find solace in the fact that Kavanaugh losing a confirmation vote will at least help get out the vote in November. Lemonade from lemons.
Exit question: Will Trump push that logic so far that he’ll demand that the Senate vote on Kavanaugh even if Flake and Corker declare their intentions to vote no? McConnell would hate that since it would force other vulnerable incumbents like Dean Heller and Ted Cruz to take a position on Kavanaugh, knowing that they’re bound to piss off some voters no matter which position they take. But Trump might insist upon it, knowing that a stark no vote in the Senate on the nominee would make Republican voters even angrier and more inclined to vote.