President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate grilling and the emotional testimony of his sexual assault accuser, Palo Alto University Professor Christine Blasey Ford, created a firestorm of bad optics for the entire Republican party.
After hours emotionally jarring testimony on both sides and no conclusions reached, the Senate is set to vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation on Friday morning.
Ford’s testimony, widely received on both sides of the aisle as credible and moving, put Republicans in every branch of government in the difficult position of appearing to side with the accused over a credible accuser.
In back-to-back testimonies, Ford and Kavanaugh couldn’t have appeared any more different. Ford gave slow, steady, consistent and at times scientific answers portraying a past trauma she had lived with for decades. Kavanaugh’s voice boomed through an angry opening statement where he mourned the near overnight loss of his and his family’s social standing.
Both Kavanaugh and Ford had clearly been wrenched by pain in a hearing that reached no conclusions and only muddied the waters.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham erupted at the Judiciary Committee, accusing the Democrats of carrying out an “unethical scam” to spring allegations on Kavanaugh at the last minute.
Graham’s speech, while it may have rallied conservatives, appeared to completely dismiss the serious nature of Ford’s allegations and her unambiguously credible and sympathetic testimony.
Republican Senator Orrin Hatch agreed that Ford’s testimony was credible, but drew flak for commenting that she was an “attractive, good witness.”
Republicans avoided the compromising situation of directly questioning Ford by hiring Rachel Mitchell, an experienced sex crimes prosecutor, to question both professor Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh. But even that may have backfired.
A Republican strategist close to the White House told Business Insider’s Allan Smith that Mitchell’s questioning was an “unmitigated disaster,” as “she didn’t even attempt to poke holes in the many inconsistencies in Ford’s story.”
Even on Fox News, normally a friendly space for Republicans, host Chris Wallace concurred that Ford’s “extremely emotional, extremely raw, and extremely credible” testimony had created a “disaster” for the GOP.
The Republican members of the committee hired Mitchell to improve the optics of the all-male majority panel questioning a woman who testified to surviving a sexual assault by a man they seek to place on the country’s highest court.
Ford’s testimony, combine with Kavanaugh’s angry rebuttals and sometimes flighty answers to straightforward questions about the one pivotal witness to the alleged crime, Mark Judge, and on details of his drinking, also looked bad for the conservative judge.
Kavanaugh swore up and down to have never lost memory while drinking, but tacitly admitted throwing up due to alcohol on several occasions with friends. Bafflingly, Kavanaugh made the words “I like beer” a common refrain of his testimony.
But Kavanaugh’s trial in the court of public opinion has recalled Anita Hill’s testimony against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, bringing further scrutiny to Republicans in the court.
Trump had spent a significant period of an 80-minute press conference on Wednesday defending Kavanaugh and dredging up his own history of sexual assault accusations in the process.
In the end, Trump joined Senate Republicans in urging a vote on Friday, against a growing chorus of dissent that’s expanded beyond the Democratic party to the American Bar Association, which called for the Senate to suspend the Kavanaugh vote while the FBI investigates the allegations.
For Republicans trying to confirm Kavanaugh before exploring every possible investigative avenue, they risk confirming a justice who may later be rocked by further evidence of misconduct.
Republicans could have withdrawn Kavanaugh’s nomination after such a wealth of adamant accusers stepped forward. They could have completed the FBI investigation before the hearing. They could have elevated women in the party onto the Judiciary Committee to avoid the bad optics of an all male panel.
Going into the 2018 midterm elections in November, which look increasingly make-or-break for the party, Kavanaugh and Trump have been plummeting in the polls, even among the GOP. Kavanaugh, now accused by four women, will likely provide bad headlines for the party for weeks to come.
But whether or not Kavanaugh gets confirmed on Friday, the Republicans have suffered a self-inflicted wound by their public alignment with a powerful man accused of sexual misconduct and their attempts to minimize the suffering of a woman who credibly alleges traumatic abuse at Kavanaugh’s hands.