Why Republicans will stand by Kavanaugh

A sexual assault allegation won't turn the GOP against Trump's Supreme Court nominee

Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court hearings
(Image credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

If the Republican Party cared even slightly about its standing with American women, let alone acting as a responsible force in American political life, Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court would be withdrawn by the White House as quickly as possible.

But of course, the party that nominated Donald Trump for the presidency and then stuck with him even after the Access Hollywood tape surfaced, in which Trump bragged about forcibly groping women, does not have any such concerns. So we should not be at all surprised that the White House is signaling that it won't be deterred in its pursuit of strong-arming Kavanaugh onto the court, despite a now-credible allegation that he sexually assaulted a teenage girl when the two were in high school more than 35 years ago.

That's bad news — for women, obviously, but also for the country.

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The reason why Kavanaugh should go is not primarily, or simply, a function of the charges now swirling around him. When they were first reported last week, anonymously and in much vaguer terms, I didn't think they amounted to much. Kavanaugh was just 17 at the time of the alleged incident. His actions weren't spelled out in detail. His accuser's identity was concealed, preventing her from being questioned or her story subjected to scrutiny. And the timing was suspicious. Why throw an 11th-hour wrench into the confirmation process? It smelled of dirty tricks and desperation from Democrats hell-bent on scuttling the Kavanaugh nomination by any possible means.

But Sunday's Washington Post story revealing the accuser's identity — she's Christine Blasey Ford, a professor of clinical psychology from California — changes all that.

Now we know that Ford first spoke about the event six years ago in a couples therapy session during which the therapist took notes, some of which the Post has examined. We know that Kavanaugh's corroborating witness (conservative author Mark Judge) has written a memoir — helpfully titled Wasted: Tales of a GenEx Drunk — in which he describes frequently suffering from alcohol-induced blackouts as a teenager. (Ford's story describes Kavanaugh and Judge as both being quite drunk the night of the incident.) We know far more details about the allegations, and they are bad, describing what certainly does sound like sexual assault and possibly attempted rape. And we also know that Ford first brought this incident to the attention of the Post (through a tip line) in early July, as soon as Kavanaugh's name was included on a short list of potential nominees. Later that month, she approached her congresswoman, who passed along a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

All of that leaves us in a very different place than we were late last week.

And yet, the fact remains that the allegations concern an event from the distant past for which there appears to be no corroborating evidence beyond the word of the alleged victim. And whether or not such additional evidence is produced, there is no chance that Kavanaugh will be charged with a crime, since the statute of limitations has long expired, and he was a minor at the time of the incident.

If Kavanaugh had been accused by a single person and without additional evidence of cheating on an exam, stealing, or even of perpetrating a hit-and-run decades ago, one could imagine the nominee and his defenders explaining it away, changing the subject, and treating it as a distraction from getting him confirmed.

But of course the allegation concerns sexual assault. And that makes all the difference in the world. It means that the crucial fifth vote to gut or overturn Roe v. Wade, drastically reducing women's reproductive rights, could come from a man whose past behavior, in the eyes of a good part of the country, confirms every feminist claim about opponents of abortion rights, which is that their professed concern for the life of the unborn is a high-minded cover for baser motives — above all, a desire to stamp out women's autonomy.

That a majority opinion ending Roe would almost certainly see a future Justice Kavanaugh joined by Clarence Thomas, who was credibly accused of sexual harassment during his confirmation hearings nearly 30 years ago, would only make matters worse. If Kavanaugh is confirmed, two out of nine justices on the court, both Republican appointees, will have been accused of sexual predation — and they would be the ones leading the charge to significantly curtail the rights of women in this country.

It's hard to imagine something more politically poisonous than that.

If the Republican Party cared about persuasion, about building support for its positions, about not (further) alienating millions of American women, it would immediately recognize that after the Post story, Kavanaugh needs to be cut loose. Most of my pro-life friends and acquaintances preferred Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the high court anyway. If a newly entrenched and emboldened conservative majority is going to eliminate the constitutional right to an abortion, wouldn't it be infinitely preferable to have a woman take the lead in explaining and justifying it?

But the Trump administration couldn't care less about persuasion, building support for its actions, or alienating millions of women. It just wants to win, and it's placed its chips on Kavanaugh, which means that unless two Republican senators announce they're abandoning ship, the White House and the rest of the party is going to stick with him, no matter how much damage it does to American women or the country as a whole.

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