The rage of Brett Kavanaugh and the implosion of the GOP
It was clear moments into yesterday's hearing about allegations made by Christine Blasey Ford against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh that the day was going to be a Hindenburg-level public relations disaster for Republicans. Doddering Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) took the stage and droned angrily on, haltingly and seemingly endlessly, about Senate process instead of conveying even an iota of human feeling for the woman about to testify about her experience. By using his time on the stage to air grievances against his colleagues and Ford's lawyers, he made it clear on behalf of his Republican colleagues that they were not interested in a fair-minded evaluation of Ford's testimony.
The contrast between Ford's gut-wrenching testimony and the cavalier, interrupting, mansplaining Grassley could not have been more stark. Ford, her voice quavering, obviously in a state of barely contained terror and emotional violence, slowly walked through her detailed statement. It is difficult to imagine how anyone with a soul could listen to her speaking and not have a visceral understanding of the lifelong emotional trauma inflicted on survivors of rape and sexual assault. Her testimony was inarguably credible, and she was able to convey the damage that Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge's attempted rape inflicted on her, both in the immediate aftermath of the alleged assault, and then long afterwards, the attack casting a shadow over her life, as it does for all survivors of sexual assault.
Ford's incredibly moving testimony was almost impossible to watch and sent many observers in the room and across the world into tears. For millions of women, this was not a partisan moment but rather a clarifying reminder of the dynamics of rape and the ways that survivors like Ford are peppered with doubt and insinuation — chastised for not coming forward sooner and then treated like liars and life-wreckers when they do. For the legions of women who have survived these traumas and responded exactly as Ford did, her riveting monologue was a blunt reminder of their own suffering and the myriad ways our society conspires to silence and shame them. For men, most of whom are never forced to reckon with their own actions or those of their friends, Ford's testimony should have felt like a long, overdue rebuke.
The decision of Senate Republicans to sub-contract their questioning to a barely prepared prosecutor, Rachel Mitchell, also backfired spectacularly. Viewers were left with the indelible image of Mitchell flanked in the background by the all-male delegation of Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, whose silence was interrupted only by Grassley's relentless, tone-deaf interruptions. It was also jarring for Ford, who had to toggle between what felt like a courtroom prosecution and the more humane questioning from Senate Democrats. Republicans, by exercising maximum cowardice, forfeited a chance to display even a minimum level of compassion in front of an enormous audience. Not one of them even motioned halfheartedly toward Ford's suffering. It was telling that Republicans then effectively silenced Mitchell during Kavanaugh's portion of the hearing, mostly using their time to angrily denounce Democrats and the supposed disgrace and outrage of having to be there at all.
Mitchell also did herself no favors by using her time to press Ford on various inconsequential "corrections," like the exact number of people at the party where she was assaulted, whether or not she really has a fear of flying, or who paid for the polygraph test she took over the summer. Mitchell seemed utterly uninterested in what happened at the party that night, and more determined to poke holes in Ford's testimony. She had Kavanaugh cornered, seemingly, about a July 1, 1982, calendar entry that would seem to corroborate Ford's account, but then Mitchell just let it go. Weirdly, her heart really didn't seem to be in it at all.
Then Brett Kavanaugh came out to testify, carrying with him what was almost a second witness at the table, a malignant presence that he struggled throughout the day to control — his barely controlled rage. "This confirmation process has become a national disgrace," he thundered.
He complained about having to wait 10 days for this hearing and said again and again that he wanted it to be the day after the allegations came out, as if Ford was supposed to get on the red-eye to D.C. and head directly to the committee to suit Kavanaugh's busy schedule.
Most tellingly, he tossed rhetorical grenades at "the left" and argued that the multiple allegations against him were "revenge on behalf of the Clintons." It was a shockingly partisan speech, in so many ways unbefitting a future justice of the Supreme Court. His face scrunched with indignation, pausing occasionally to cry, he again categorically denied having committed the assault. "What goes around comes around," said the author of The Starr Report, implicitly threatening Democrats with future retribution for daring to hold hearings about multiple accusations of sexual assault against him. The most chilling remark he made all day was when he told Democrats, "You sowed the wind for decades to come. I fear that the whole country will reap the whirlwind." This man belongs nowhere near the nation's highest court.
Kavanaugh also leaned in, again, to the absurd contention that someone other than Kavanaugh might have attempted to rape Ford by suggesting that he believes something happened to her but that he didn't do it. "I'm not questioning that Ford may have been sexually assaulted by some person in some place at some time. But I have never done this," he said. In so doing, he tacitly confirmed that Team Kavanaugh was almost certainly on board with last week's bizarre stunt by D.C. gadfly Ed Whelan to pin Ford's assault on a classmate who looked at the time vaguely like Kavanaugh. Democrats, egregiously, failed to even ask about this incident — Ford herself was the only one to bring it up.
Kavanaugh was also combative. He interrupted Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). When she asked him if he'd like to say anything more about the gang rape allegations by Julie Swetnick, he said, curtly, "No." At one point, when Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) asked if he had ever blacked out from drinking, he flippantly responded, "I don't know, have you?" Klobuchar had just shared that her father is an alcoholic. Kavanaugh behaved, throughout the afternoon, very much like a man who could do horrible things while drunk.
Democrats, for their part, wasted an enormous amount of time grilling Kavanaugh about whether he would stop the whole process on the spot and demand an FBI investigation, something that they must have known was not going to happen. They could have assigned this ineffective gambit to one senator and instead pressed Kavanaugh about things he appeared to obviously be lying about — for instance, the idea that he and his friends were just paying tribute to a high school friend when they all referred to themselves as a "Renate Alumnius."
In his opening statement, Kavanaugh said that the phrase was "clumsily used to show affection, to show she was one of us." This explanation has never passed the laugh test. The point Democrats could have made is not whether this yearbook entry would disqualify him, but to demonstrate that his willingness to lie to the committee should cast doubt on the veracity and trustworthiness of all of his testimony. Kavanaugh later appeared to lie to the committee about whether he watched Ford's testimony — he said under oath that he had not. When combined with his earlier evasions about his relationship to Manuel Miranda and the theft of Senate Democratic emails during the Bush administration, it should have called into question his baseline credibility.
As the day ended, Kavanaugh's nomination was in the hands of Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), and Jeff Flake (Ariz). Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) announced he was a yes for Kavanaugh early in the evening. Rumors abounded that the moderate Republicans had struck a deal to vote yes with Joe Manchin (W.V.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.) — both vulnerable red state Democrats up for re-election this year. A committee vote was scheduled for this morning, and Kavanaugh could be confirmed by the full Senate as early as Tuesday.
The country, meanwhile, may come apart at the seams. This Senate majority may confirm a man now thrice-accused of sexual misconduct, who was nominated by another man elected with a 46 percent minority and who himself has at least 18 different accusations of sexual misconduct against him. They seem willing to dispense with the whole investigatory process one day after barely hearing out his accuser and are refusing either to ask the FBI to investigate or at least subpoena the alleged co-perpetrator, even though the guy is just hanging out at the beach. Remember, we are a little over two years from the Republican Party conspiring together to block Merrick Garland from the Supreme Court, thereby stealing the swing seat now held by arch-conservative Neil Gorsuch. Republicans still seem to have no understanding of how that hardball gambit to this day makes Democrats sleepless with fury.
They are doing all of this despite the white-hot, incandescent rage it is generating among women across the political spectrum, despite clear public opposition to the Kavanaugh nomination altogether, despite evidence that it is going to worsen their electoral plight in November, despite Ford's credibility, and most of all, despite the damage the GOP's conduct over the past several years is going to do to the institution of the Supreme Court itself. They don't care. They see the Court as the only remaining avenue to indefinite dominion over the majority of Americans who now despise them and would crawl over fire-spitting coals to vote against them.
For the past two years, Republicans have acted as if there will never be any consequences for governing the country with total contempt for what the majority actually wants, instead gambling that our anti-majoritarian political institutions will keep them in power indefinitely. There is only one way to disabuse this gang of that confidence, which is to demolish them comprehensively in the next two national elections, and then to use fully legal and constitutional procedures to pack the courts and force Kavanaugh to scribble "MINORITY OPINION DUE FRIDAY" over and over again in his little calendars.