Trump Continues To Stoke The Political Fire Of The Kavanaugh Confirmation
With four weeks to go until Election Day, Donald Trump and the Republicans are continuing to stoke the divisions laid bare by the Kavanaugh nomination.
President Trump is continuing to stir the political pot regarding the confirmation of Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and with the midterm elections coming up in just 28 days you can expect that he and his fellow Republicans will ride this particular horse as far as they can. It began yesterday afternoon when the President spoke with reporters prior to departing for a speech in Florida and included statements in which he called the charges that were made against Kavanaugh a “hoax” and continued Monday night at a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony in the White House East Room:
President Donald Trump apologized to Brett Kavanaugh and claimed that he was “proven innocent” of multiple sexual misconduct allegations during an elaborate swearing-in ceremony for the new Supreme Court justice.
“I would like to begin tonight’s proceeding differently than perhaps any other event of such magnitude,” Trump said Monday evening in the East Room of the White House, where he announced Kavanaugh’s nomination three months ago.
“On behalf of our nation, I want to apologize to Brett and the entire Kavanaugh family for the terrible pain and suffering you have been forced to endure. Those who step forward to serve our country deserve a fair and dignified evaluation, not a campaign of personal and political destruction based on lies and deception,” Trump said. “What happened to the Kavanaugh family violates every notion of fairness, decency and due process. In our country, a man or a woman must always be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.”
Trump added: “And with that, I must state that you, sir, under historic scrutiny, were proven innocent.”
Those statements from the president were his second attempt of the day to discredit Kavanaugh’s accusers, including Christine Blasey Ford, who testified before lawmakers that the justice drunkenly attempted to force himself on her at a house party in suburban Maryland in the 1980s, when Kavanaugh was in high school.
Trump told reporters earlier Monday outside the White House that Kavanaugh’s nomination “was caught up in a hoax that was set up by the Democrats, using the Democrats’ lawyers.” He also said: “It was all made up, it was fabricated, and it’s a disgrace.”
But Monday evening, flanked by Kavanaugh and retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, the president emceed what amounted to a conservative victory party for the Senate Republicans who muscled a perpetually imperiled nomination across the finish line and seemingly willed the former federal judge’s confirmation into political reality.
“We are joined tonight by a leader who has never wavered in his support and devotion to the rule of law and to Brett Kavanaugh’s elevation,” Trump said of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “He’s worked very, very hard and he truly has done just an incredible and wonderful job for the American people.
“I think that’s the biggest hand he’s ever received,” Trump quipped, after urging McConnell to rise for a standing ovation. “They don’t get it, Mitch. You’re great. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.”
Trump went on to thank Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), as well as the other Republican members of that panel — including Jeff Flake of Arizona, whose insistence on an FBI investigation into the allegations against Kavanaugh threw his nomination battle into another week of limbo.
Trump also singled out for praise Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who cast the deciding vote last week in favor of Kavanaugh’s nomination following weeks of speculation as to whether she would break with her party’s rank-and-file and deny the president his second high court appointment.
“We are indebted to Sen. Susan Collins for her brave and eloquent speech, and her declaration that when passions are most inflamed, fairness is most in jeopardy,” Trump said. “How true, how true.”
After Kennedy administered the judicial oath to his former clerk, Kavanaugh turned to the president and thanked him for the White House’s backing throughout a confirmation fight marked by bitter partisan warfare.
“I am grateful for your steadfast, unwavering support throughout this process, and I’m grateful to you and Mrs. Trump for the exceptional, overwhelming courtesy you have extended to my family and me,” Kavanaugh said. “Mr. President, thank you for everything.”
After thanking McConnell for his “leadership and stead resolve,” and Grassley for his “wisdom and fairness,” Kavanaugh invoked a quintet of lawmakers whose blessings helped ensure his political survival.
“I give special gratitude to Sens. Rob Portman, Susan Collins, Joe Manchin, Jon Kyl and Lindsey Graham,” he said. “They’re a credit to the country and the Senate. I’ll be forever grateful to each of them and to all the senators who carefully consider my nomination.”
Portman, an Ohio Republican who served alongside Kavanaugh in former President George W. Bush’s White House, introduced Kavanaugh at his first Senate confirmation hearing last month. Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, was one of the few red-state Democrats who ultimately rubber-stamped Kavanaugh’s nomination. Kyl, an Arizona Republican, acted as Kavanaugh’s “sherpa” as he first met with senators on Capitol Hill. And Graham, a South Carolina Republican who sits on the Judiciary Committee, emerged as Kavanaugh’s most aggressive congressional defender as the number of allegations against the justice increased.
The most notable thing about the President’s remarks yesterday afternoon and yesterday evening, of course, is the fact that Trump once again used a public forum to attack not only Democrats, which is to be expected in the context of a highly contested midterm election but also the women who had made allegations against Kavanaugh over the course of the last three weeks. The most prominent of those accusers, of course, was Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who alleged that Kavanaugh had attacked her when she was 15 years old in the early 1980s. After initially not commenting directly about Blasey Ford’s accusations, the President soon began to openly question them and eventually chose to mock her during a campaign speech last week. Yesterday, the President continued that attack and went so far as to claim, falsely, that Kavanaugh had been “proven innocent” of the charges against him. In reality, at best, all we can say is that the extremely limited expanded background check by the F.B.I., which seemingly deliberately ignored what appeared to be corroborating evidence offered by several of Kavanaugh’s classmates at Yale regarding the charges made by Debbie Ramirez, was unable to move beyond the “she said, he said” stage we reached at the end of the hearings held by the Judiciary Committee two weeks ago. Now, the President is essentially saying, without any supporting evidence, that the charges against Kavanaugh were part of some mythical Democratic conspiracy and that all three women, Dr. Blasey Ford, Mr. Ramirez, and Julie Swetnick, were lying when they made their allegations. It is a claim that he will no doubt repeat at campaign rallies between now and Election Day, and Republican voters, politicians, and pundits will cheer him on.
Last night’s ceremony was notable in another respect. Ordinarily, a swearing-in ceremony for a Supreme Court Justice is an apolitical, sober, nonpartisan occasion, and while this was certainly the case for the closed door official swearing-in that took place on Saturday night shortly after the conclusion of the nomination fight, it was most certainly not the case last night. In that ceremony in the White House East Room, with the eight other members of the Supreme Court and retired Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, who swore in a former law clerk who had joined the same Court he was a part of for the second time in as many years, President Trump delivered a highly partisan and divisive address. Instead of simply congratulating Justice Kavanaugh and thanking the Senators who had assembled at the White House, the President chose to dive right back into the partisan swamp that he clearly enjoys being a part of, and, of course, to make the false claim that the process that was concluded last Saturday had somehow exonerated Kavanaugh of the charges against him. If anything, we’re back at the same place we were prior to the reopened committee hearings, and the possibility exists that there could be future charges against Kavanaugh, or that additional evidence against him regarding the existing charges could emerge. The entire spectacle was an embarrassment for the Presidency, for the Supreme Court, and for the country.
Ashley Parker and John Wagner note in The Washington Post that there is a certain electoral logic to Trump’s actions and as Peter Baker notes in a piece for The New York Times, Trump is clearly intending on using the Kavanaugh fight as a cudgel over the next four weeks as the midterm elections approach:
ORLANDO, Fla. — When a bitterly divided Senate confirmed Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh despite sexual misconduct allegations a month before the midterm elections, strategists in both parties anticipated that it could turbocharge Democratic efforts to take over the House, if not all of Congress.
One person who did not get the memo? President Trump.
Rather than falling back on defense amid roiling outrage, especially among women, Mr. Trump is going on offense, trying to turn the furor into an asset instead of a liability. With the world’s loudest megaphone, he hopes to make the issue not the treatment of women in the #MeToo era but the treatment of men who deserve due process.
For Mr. Trump and his Republican allies, this is a big gamble, with control of at least one house of Congress and possibly both on the line. Polls generally show that more Americans believed Christine Blasey Ford, the main accuser, than Justice Kavanaugh. The national mood over the past year has been less forgiving of powerful men accused of taking advantage of women.
The president’s calculation, however, is that conservative voters who for most of the year have been lethargic about the congressional elections can now be motivated to turn out by anger over the Democratic attacks on Justice Kavanaugh. Liberal voters, in this view, were already animated by their opposition to Mr. Trump and likely to vote even before Justice Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault and exposing himself during drunken school parties, so Democrats have less to gain at this point.
“I think you’re going to see a lot of things happen on Nov. 6 that would not have happened before,” Mr. Trump told reporters on Monday before flying to Orlando to address the International Association of Chiefs of Police. “The American public has seen this charade, has seen this dishonesty by the Democrats.”
Conservative leaders said that Mr. Trump was trying to define the battle on his terms and that part of his appeal to his political base had been his willingness to fight.
“He’s smart to step into it,” said Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, whose wife, Mercedes Schlapp, is a senior White House official. “What President Trump is realizing is that for his supporters they don’t want their leader of their movement, the head of their party to back down. Most politicians would just cower and say, ‘Boy it’s not fair, but I might have to find another nominee.’ President Trump understands that’s absolutely the opposite of what his base wants to see.”
President George Bush took another approach after the explosive confirmation fight that put Justice Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court despite sexual harassment allegations by Anita F. Hill. Mr. Bush’s instinct was to calm the waters, and soon after the vote in 1991 he signed a modified version of a civil-rights bill that he had vetoed the year before. He did not make a point of rehashing the battle over Justice Thomas on the campaign trail in 1992.
Democrats acknowledge that the battle over Justice Kavanaugh may help select Republicans, particularly in red states that voted for Mr. Trump like North Dakota, where Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, was already struggling before voting against confirmation. But in general they said voters are more driven to the ballot box by grievance than gratitude.
“Midterm elections are always about punishment and never about reward,” said Steve Israel, a former congressman from New York and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “Turnout is generated by voters who want to punish a president and his party. They don’t usually turn out because they’re happy. So ironically, Kavanaugh’s confirmation will help Democratic turnout. As he himself said, ‘What goes around comes around.'”
For better or worse, the polls do seem to be showing that there is some logic to what the Republicans are doing here and that the Kavanaugh nomination may end up saving the Senate for the Republican Party. The most notable example of this appears to be in Tennessee, where previous polling had shown former Governor Phil Breseden leading Congressman Marsha Blackburn much to the concern of state and national Republicans. As the Kavanaugh story evolved, though, there has been a decided shift in the polls, with a new Fox News poll showing Blackburn leading by three points and a new CBS News poll showing Congresswoman Blackburn ahead of the popular former Governor by eight points. Because of this, the RealClearPolitics average, which had been leaning in Breseden’s favor for months, shows Blackburn with a +2.7 point lead. If Blackburn is able to keep up this momentum, then she could end up saving a seat that some Republicans were getting ready to write off. This happened despite the fact that Breseden had said that he would have voted to support Kavanaugh had he been in the Senate. A similar impact can be seen in North Dakota, where Heidi Heitkamp, who had been trailing her Republican opponent by single digits prior to the final round of the Kavanaugh fight has seen two polls, one from a local news station and the other from Fox News, show her ten points or more behind and her Republican opponent, Kevin Cramer, with a +8.7 point lead in the RealClearPolitics average. Heitkamp’s vote against Kavanaugh is only likely to make the situation worse for her. One can see similar, albeit less dramatic, impacts on other Senate races.
Democrats will obviously seek to use the Kavanaugh fight for their own purposes, particularly to turn out female and younger voters who, according to polls, have turned significantly negative toward the Republican Party as a result of the nomination fight. The question will be which side will be most successful in turning out their base and their potential supporters among non-base voters. In that regard, it seems to me that in the short term and looking at the national level that Democrats are likely to be more successful at this than Republicans. While it’s true that Republican enthusiasm has increased significantly since the nomination fight heated up, as many political pundits have noted it’s much harder to keep voters motivated once your side has won than it is to get voters to the polls in reaction to being on the losing side of a political battle. Whether that’s the case this time is something we’ll have to wait to see both in the polls that are released in the coming weeks and, of course, on Election Day, which as the saying goes, the only poll that really counts.