Brett Kavanaugh and his fellow Republicans have a big problem on their hands. Kavanaugh now stands accused of sexual assault when he was a high school student.
The accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, told the Washington Post that Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed at a party and attempted to pull off her clothes. He placed a hand on her mouth to stifle her screams, leading Ford, also a high school student at the time, to worry “he might inadvertently kill me.”
Although Kavanaugh categorically denies the story ever happened, Ford is a credible accuser. She is a professor of psychology at Palo Alto University, teaching graduate students in a consortium at Stanford.
She provided the Post with notes from her therapist taken in 2012 in which she describes the incident. Although Kavanaugh is not named in the notes, the student and the friend who was with him laughing at the episode were described as going on to become “highly respected and high-ranking members of society in Washington.”
Ford had originally decided to remain anonymous. had outlined her experience in a letter to Rep. Anne Eshoo this summer. Sen. Dianne Feinstein had refered the letter to the FBI last week, without naming Ford. However, Ford’s name leaked, and as reporters started pursuing her, she decided to go public.
Republicans and their supporters had been drooling at the prospect of Kavanaugh’s ascendancy to the Supreme Court, confident that he would provide the deciding vote to restrict abortion rights and LGBTQ rights. Now Kavanaugh’s nomination is up in the air.
In some ways, this is a replay of the Clarence Thomas nomination, when Anita Hill came forward to describe a pattern of harassment. Hill was villified by the right wing (a pre-liberal David Brock described her as “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty”), and Thomas was confirmed. Subsequent reporting bore out Hill’s allegations.
But in the #MeToo era, even Republicans are a little wary of just rolling over Ford and pushing Kavanaugh’s nomination across the finish line. That’s especially true when the president is a self-admitted sexual harasser.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that they won’t end up muscling Kavanaugh’s nomination through anyway. The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination on Thursday.
Unless one Republican objects, that timeline won’t change. Sen. Jeff Flake, who is retiring, has indicated that he wants to hear more from Ford, but that’s not exactly the same as asking for a delay.
Some Republicans are proving that they want Kavanaugh on the Court no matter what. In a particularly tone-deaf statement, Sen. Chuck Grassley, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, described Ford’s story as “uncorroborated allegations” and said he planned to proceed as if nothing happened.
Hard-core conservatives are already playing defense. Ford’s motivations are under attack, described as a part of a coordinated smear campaign against Kavanaugh.
Ford’s story presents a slew of problems for the GOP. If they delay the vote, their base, especially the religious right, will explode with anger. Moreover, there is a small but growing chance Democrats win the Senate in November, which means the window for a right-wing nominee like Kavanaugh could be closing.
If Republicans push ahead with Kavanaugh, they risk reminding women about the party’s antipathy to their issues. Women who identify as independents are already signalling that they will vote Democratic this fall, and this could accelerate that trend. If they are sufficiently motivated by the Kavanaugh controversy, a bad year for Republicans could be catastrophic.
Even Kellyanne Conway thinks Ford should be respected as a credible accuser and not steamrolled by Grassley.
“This woman should not be insulted and she should not be ignored,” Conway said in an interview with Fox News. “This woman will be heard.”
But getting Kavanaugh on the bench may be worth all the fallout to Republicans. This may be the last chance to shape the Supreme Court for a generation. They’re not about to let it slip by just because of one woman’s testimony.