With his prospects of confirmation close to slipping away, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh adopted the posture of the man who had chosen him for the court. He lashed out against his critics, made vague, conspiratorial references to bitter political enemies, and warned of long-term political damage to the country if he, Brett Kavanaugh, didn’t get the job he wanted.
“I fear the whole country will reap the whirlwind,” the nominee warned, not long before promising lawmakers, “You’ll never get me to quit.”
It was a Trumpian flourish, minus the tears that followed. But the emotional turmoil of the week—in which he tried to beat back multiple allegations of sexual misconduct—had clearly taken its toll. And, for that specifically, Kavanaugh was forgiven by allies and foes alike.
Indeed, so convincing was Kavanaugh’s Donald Trump impression that the president and his team immediately worked one of judge’s turns of phrase—that his confirmation process wasn't “advice and consent,” it was “search and destroy”—into a supportive presidential tweet immediately following the hearing. A senior administration source familiar with the Kavanaugh messaging said the judge, not the West Wing comms operation, came up with the turn of phrase.
It may also have been the right touch politically, too. Kavanaugh’s prospects remain unclear after a day of exhausting and emotional testimony from him and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who accused him of attempted rape in high school. But the doom that many of his cheerleaders felt after watching Ford go through wrenching details about her assault was quickly replaced by optimism after Kavanaugh’s show of defiance.
That was especially true inside the White House. Trumpworld luminaries and top aides to the president had been generally muted during Dr. Ford’s testimony, save for the active Twitter feeds of entities and individuals such as the Republican National Committee and Donald Trump Jr.
By the time Kavanaugh began wailing against Democrats and “revenge on behalf of the Clintons,” the mood in the West Wing had been turned upside down, sources said. Aides said there was palpable relief that the judge was finally able to defend himself publicly, after having a far more docile, scripted approach during a Fox News interview a few days prior. The president himself, who began watching on Air Force One and tuned in after he arrived back at the White House after days in New York for United Nations meetings, was pleased with Kavanaugh’s defiant, tear-stained performance, a White House official confirmed. Others took to social media to—more or less—exhale.
“.@LindseyGrahamSC has more decency and courage than every Democrat member of the committee combined. God bless him,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted on Thursday, giving voice to her colleagues’ sentiment.
Ed Rollins, who leads the pro-Trump political group Great America PAC, had just days earlier pegged Kavanaugh’s confirmation changes at “fifty-fifty.” By Thursday evening, he was far more sanguine. “I feel much better about it than I did at about noon today,” Rollins said in an interview.
“I’ve never quite seen anything like this,” Rollins said. “This was just extraordinary drama. She was very passionate about what she thought happened to her. He was every bit as passionate.” But after Kavanaugh’s performance, he said, “there’s no excuse for any republican not to vote for him.”
It was a sentiment echoed by other Republicans as well. “Right now I wouldn’t want to be one [Republican Senator] who kills this nomination,” said one prominent Republican campaign consultant working on a number of midterm contests.
Hours earlier, no one was so bullish.The reaction to Ford’s testimony earlier had been unenthusiastic. The White House had scheduled a monthly conference call with Trump-aligned faith leaders and Christian-right figures for Thursday at 4 p.m. ET, during which they were set to make the fight for Kavanaugh a central topic. But according to multiple sources, the call was abruptly postponed shortly after Kavanaugh’s testimony got underway.
Kavanaugh supporters seized on gaps in Ford’s memory—some from events more than three decades ago, some more recent—to suggest that she might have mistaken the identity of her assailant. But others acknowledged the difficult line Republicans would have to walk in trying to cast doubt on her allegations without appearing to simply wave away her testimony.
“Her story is compelling and emotional but gaps [are] widening,” one Republican in the trenches of the pro-Kavanaugh fight claimed to The Daily Beast towards the end of her testimony. Ford, the Republican said, did “little to provide any evidence or corroboration.”
Kavanaugh didn’t hit that note. Instead he chose to attack the Democratic Senators who were on the dais in front of him. “This confirmation process has become a national disgrace,” he said. “The Constitution gives the Senate an important role in the confirmation process, but you have replaced advice and consent with search and destroy.”
The Supreme Court nominee had adopted the approach, if not temperment, of the man who had nominated him. Before Dr. Ford’s name even became public as one of Kavanaugh’s accusers, President Trump had told those close to him that he believed that there was a “conspiracy” by liberals and Democratic lawmakers to smear Kavanaugh and an attempt to nuke the nomination of a “good man,” in large part to help derail the Trump agenda.
By Thursday’s tense, emotionally charged hearing, it appeared that the White House, the president, Republican legislators, conservative media heavyweights, and Judge Kavanaugh himself had all resolved to embrace that original sentiment.
“Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him,” Trump tweeted almost as soon as the hearing concluded on Thursday night. “His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting. Democrats’ search and destroy strategy is disgraceful and this process has been a total sham and effort to delay, obstruct, and resist. The Senate must vote!”