Based on what we saw Thursday afternoon, Brett Kavanaugh will not go down without a fight.
Calling it a “calculated and orchestrated political hit,” and pledging that he would “not be intimidated” into withdrawing his nomination, Kavanaugh forcefully made the case that he was innocent.
Just as Dr. Ford did not equivocate, neither did Kavanaugh, who boldly declared, “I am innocent of this charge” and “I categorically and unequivocally deny the allegation made against me by Dr. Ford.”
Think back to Bill Clinton’s visible anger when he said: “I want you people to listen to me. I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Whether you are innocent, or not, refusing to admit to anything seems to be a key to surviving such a scandal.
If either party had shown even a sliver of doubt about their story, that could have been enough.
Of course, he, being a lawyer, made a lot of logical and rational arguments, too. Kavanaugh reminded us that he had always been in favor of a hearing or investigation, from day one, and that Dr. Ford’s friends do not support her charge. He made the case that Dr. Ford’s allegations were “not only uncorroborated,” but have been “refuted by the very people she says were there.”
That alone wouldn’t have been enough. As I wrote this morning after Dr. Ford’s persuasive testimony, Brett Kavanaugh was going to have a hard time. Indeed, after Dr. Ford’s testimony this morning, a friend texted me: “This guy’s gonna have to win an academy award to overcome this.”
After Brett Kavanaugh’s opening statement this afternoon, that same friend texted back: “Remember that academy ward I mentioned? Welp…he’s going for it.”
Kavanaugh might not have been able to evoke emotion to the degree that Dr. Ford did, but he didn’t surrender this terrain, either. Choking up, he talked about his mom, saying “When I was ten, my mom went to law school. And as a lawyer, she worked hard and overcame barriers, including the workplace sexual harassment that so many women face at the time, and still face today. She became a trailblazer, one of Maryland’s earlies women prosecutors and trial judges…and she inspired me to be a lawyer and a judge.”
But he didn’t just mention his mother, he also invoked his wife and daughter (if you’re counting at home, that’s three women). “The other night Ashley and Eliza said their prayers,” he continued, holding back tears. “And little Eliza—all ten years old—said, ‘We should pray for the woman.’ That’s a lot of wisdom from a ten-year old.”
So where does that leave us?
After Dr. Ford spoke Thursday morning, I suggested that, in the #MeToo era, a sympathetic alleged victim trumps a sympathetic alleged perpetrator. I still believe that is true…in the court of public opinion.
But here’s the thing: There are maybe seven or eight people in the world who matter when it comes to determining whether Brett Kavanaugh will be on the Supreme Court. That list includes names like Donald Trump, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, and maybe a few other Republicans who might have been leaning against confirmation this morning, but are probably back in the fold tonight.
Trump likes a fighter, so Kavanaugh’s combative style probably earned him a longer leash from the White House. That leaves us with Republican senators.
“The consequences will extend long past my nomination,” Kavanaugh declared. “The consequences will be with us for decades…will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions from serving our country. And as we all know….what goes around comes around.”
This was squarely aimed at senators who worry about precedent and slippery slopes and institutions and the presumption of innocence—and the possibility that they might one day be the ones facing accusations from decades ago.
Plus, let’s be honest: Republicans want to believe Kavanaugh. They want to give him the benefit of the doubt. And he did everything humanly possible to give them permission to vote to confirm him, in good conscience.
There were a lot of negotiations leading up to this hearing. They involved questions such as whether male senators would have to question Dr. Ford, whether the date could be postponed, whether Kavanaugh would be in the room with Dr. Ford, and who would get to go last. It might just be that this last one turns out to be vital.
Brett Kavanaugh—on Thursday, at least—had the last word. And that might be what saves him.