At the end of the day — and, yes, at the end of a long, long, long day — we still don’t know whether Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford back when they were both in high school in the early ’80s.
The he-said, she-said case cries out for more investigation. It cries out for available witnesses to come before the Judiciary Committee. It cries out— even more than Kavanaugh cried at Thursday’s Senate hearing — for Kavanaugh buddy Mark Judge, who supposedly was in the room at the time of the alleged assault, to come forward.
None of that will happen, of course. The fix is in. The Judiciary Committee will vote Friday with no real concern for learning the truth, although there’s still the remote chance that Republican Sen. Jeff Flake goes rogue and votes no.
But we did learn at least one thing from the hearing, and it should be all too obvious to any fair judge: Whether or not Kavanaugh sexually assaulted anyone, he made the strongest possible case for why he does not belong on the Supreme Court.
It’s not just that he was Donald Trump’s nominee — which was probably enough for someone like me — but that, on Thursday, he became, in the worst possible way, Donald Trump’s nominee.
He became his sneering nominee. His rude, back-talking nominee. His back-of-the-hand-to-any-tough-question nominee. His conspiracy-mongering nominee. His almost certainly lying (about the small stuff, anyway, like about “boofing” and “Renate Alumnius”) nominee. His hyper-partisan nominee, who blamed his problems on the Democrats for “a calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election.”
He took it even further, saying it was Democratic “revenge on behalf of the Clintons” for his role in the Ken Starr investigation. We know how partisan the court has become, but Kavanaugh just laid it out for all to see. And if he didn’t have Trump before, you know he had him at name-checking Bill and Hillary.
It’s no wonder that Trump praised Kavanaugh’s performance so effusively. “Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him,” Trump tweeted. Forget judicial temperament. Trump wanted Trumpian temperament. If you worried that this is where we’ve been headed, you can stop worrying. We’re there. If Kavanaugh is innocent of the charges, you can understand him being indignant. But this was rage — from the man, remember, who cruelly re-opened the investigation into the suicide of Vince Foster, now saying he was the one being wronged.
This was the #MeToo movement versus the Trumpian movement, and guess who was winning. None of this could have escaped the notice of the sometimes-moderate Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, two Republican senators who could still conceivably sink the Kavanaugh nomination.
If you watched the hearing, you know that Ford testified first and that nearly everyone, even Republicans, found her warm, credible, and in what would become the word of the day to describe her, authentic. She said although she was terrified to testify, she was 100 percent certain it was Kavanaugh who had assaulted her and that it was her duty to say so. She said, as millions watched, that what she remembered, as much as anything from the party and the alleged assault, was the laughter shared by Kavanaugh and Judge as Kavanaugh pressed against her.
She was polite, yet determined. There were gaps in her story, for which she repeatedly apologized but asked for an FBI investigation to help close them. Republicans wanted to say she was a member of the leftwing conspiracy movement, but she gave them no hint of partisanship. And, in any case, despite the talk of conspiracy, Ford had revealed the assault to her husband and therapist long before anyone even dreamed that Donald Trump would someday be president.
And all the time you watched her, you thought that if you believed her, you had to believe she was once a frightened 15 year old. She said she was traumatized then. She said she remains traumatized.
It was hard to watch, knowing how difficult it was for Ford. But what came next was harder still. The Republicans on the committee didn’t criticize Ford’s testimony. They just acted as if it had never happened.
For that testimony, Republicans had brought in a female prosecutor, understanding the optics of 11 Republican men questioning Ford, bringing back memories of Anita Hill. The prosecutor, given an impossible task, failed to move Ford. And so the Republicans took over themselves early in the Kavanaugh half of the hearing, with Lindsey Graham going off the rails in anger (mock or otherwise) about the “unethical sham” he was witnessing. It was no longer Ford v. Kavanaugh, it was Republicans v. Democrats, red v. blue, and you’d better stick with the team.
Kavanaugh had learned his lesson the other night after making his strange appearance on Fox News — apparently at Trump’s urging — only to hear that Trump was dissing his performance as tepid. Even worse, at his news conference Wednesday, Trump left open the slightest chance that Ford’s testimony could change his mind on Kavanaugh. We knew it wouldn’t be whether or not Ford was telling the truth, but whether she seemed to be. And, yes, she certainly did seem to be.
And so, in response, Kavanaugh screamed that he was the victim — not Ford, certainly, or the other women who had accused him. He was the victim of the nasty, cruel, life-destroying, Democratic “grotesque and coordinated character assassination.” And he was not going to play the victim any longer.
So he talked over Dianne Feinstein. And he refused to answer the oft-asked and obvious question — why he wouldn’t want the FBI to further investigate to clear his name. And then came his exchange with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the Democrat from Minnesota, when the ugliness got real.
Klobuchar wanted to talk about whether Kavanaugh had ever blacked out. She noted that her 90-year-old father was a recovering alcoholic who still went to meetings. And since Kavanaugh admits to loving beer and sometimes drinking too much of it, she wanted to know whether he had ever drunk so much that he “couldn’t remember what happened or part of what happened the night before.”
He said he remembered everything, and when Klobuchar pressed, he responded:
“You’re talking about blackout. I don’t know. Have you?”
He apologized to Klobuchar. But he needn’t have. He was just being exactly the nominee Trump always wanted him to be.