Well, it seems the Republicans have learned exactly one thing in the 27 years since the Anita Hill hearings: be respectful to the woman in the first 24 hours. Hey, that’s progress. At this rate, they’ll demand an FBI investigation in 2045, and by 2072, who knows, maybe they’ll actually believe the woman!
Read this New York Times article from Oct. 7, 1991. It’s the first-day article announcing the explosive news that Hill accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment just two days away from his full Senate confirmation vote.
In it, the reporter writes that the George H.W. Bush White House began pushback against Hill that very day, or the day before: White House staffers gave reporters the name of another woman who had worked with Hill and Thomas at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and would vouch for Thomas. The woman said Hill was making the charges up out of spite that Thomas “did not show any sexual interest in her” (the Times’ words, not the woman’s).
Compare to today. Kellyanne Conway said straight out of the chute that Dr. Ford deserves to be heard. Donald Trump said nothing untoward about her. Can you imagine how itchy his Twitter finger was on Monday morning? But they hid his smartphone in the White House gym or vegetable cellar, or some other chamber Trump doesn’t frequent.
I’m not complimenting them. I’m observing that they figured out that the narrative on these kinds of things is set in the first 24 hours and so it was crucial that for those 24 hours, they behave themselves. Seem like they learned from last time, or even from #MeToo.
Lindsey Graham, earlier in the week, even uttered the r-word: “I’d have a hard time putting somebody on the Court that I thought tried to rape somebody. Period.” That quote arrested me, as it seemed to indicate that Graham was actually being open to the possibility of an investigation to determine just what Brett Kavanaugh actually did that night.
But within 24 hours, Graham was back on side. “Requiring an FBI investigation of a 36-year-old allegation (without specific references to time or location) before Professor Ford will appear before the Judiciary Committee is not about finding the truth, but delaying the process till after the midterm elections,” Graham tweeted after Christine Blasey Ford's lawyer said she wanted an FBI investigation before testifying. “It is imperative the Judiciary committee move forward on the Kavanaugh nomination and a committee vote be taken ASAP.”
So that’s what they’ve learned in 27 years—and evidently, it’s all they need to learn, because it looks like it’s going to get their nominee through. They played it cool at the start so that the first-day stories wouldn’t say the Republicans blew a gasket and immediately started discrediting the woman; so that instead, those stories would say “Republicans agree Dr. Ford should be heard.” Establish them as reasonable people. Then, once they skated through that news cycle, they’d start turning the screws.
They played it like Bond villains. Sit down, Meestah Bond. We are both men of the world. We have much to discuss. Beluga caviar? Dom Perignon ’55? What’s that, you prefer the ’53? Alfonso, down to the cellar, fetch a bottle of the ’53! It’s all civility for a few hours. Then they attach him to the laser beam machine with the piranhas swimming below.
That’s what the Republicans do, except they’re smarter than Blofeld. They don’t walk away so the captive can escape. They stay and watch. They finish the job.
They know exactly what they can get away with, because they know the sad truth of the matter. The sad truth of the matter is that Ford and her lawyers don’t have the leverage to force an FBI investigation or delay the hearing. The only leverage Ford had, potentially, was if Donald Trump had called her a liar and a slut in those first 24 hours. Then, she’d have been a figure of enormous sympathy. Now, alas, she’s mostly a figure of partisan sympathy.
Mind you, she shouldn’t have to demand an FBI probe. If the Republicans were actually interested in learning the truth about what happened on that long-ago night, of course they’d want the FBI to look into it. If the White House was interested, it would have directed the FBI to get to the bottom of her allegations.
By the way, if this isn’t too dog-bites-man, Donald Trump lied about all that. “The FBI said they don’t really do that,” he said Tuesday. No. According to Pete Williams of NBC news, it’s up to the White House to ask the FBI to investigate.
But they didn’t want an FBI probe. They were terrified of what an FBI probe would find, just as they were all mortified at the idea that they might have to be relying on Mark Judge as a character witness.
So they’re getting their way, probably. Although Ford could still show up next Monday and blow people away. She’d need to find just the right tone in telling them, “You set me up; you made me come up here with a few days’ preparation while getting death threats and take your best shots, and fine, I’m doing it.” If she does testify and does it well, she can turn this around one more time.
And if she can’t, well, that’s a hell of a weight to put on someone who was a private person minding her own business until five days ago. I believe her. I bet most people believe her. I bet Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski end up believing her. But I bet they won’t have the courage to admit it.
Just remember: If Kavanaugh does make it, there’s one good way to get revenge. Vote. Vote, vote, vote. Make the Senate Democratic. That should ensure no more Supreme Court choices for Trump if another vacancy opens up (the Democrats just need to stonewall, as the Republicans did to Merrick Garland) and virtually no confirmations of any consequence.
The time to stop Kavanaugh was 2016. But the time to stop future ones? That starts on Nov. 6.