After the first sexual-assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford shocked Republicans, they woozily considered their options and appeared to begin edging away from their all-but-assured next Supreme Court justice. The second set of allegations, by Deborah Ramirez, paradoxically had the opposite effect. Seizing upon soft spots in her account, conservatives decided she was part of a vast smear campaign, and reacted so angrily against her accusations that they seemed to discount unrelated charges they had not doubted before.
The third set of allegations, by Julie Swetnick, seem much more likely to shock them back to their previous position. Swetnick charges that Kavanaugh, along with his ubiquitous wingman Mark Judge, systematically got girls drunk at a beach weekend and at least witnessed, and more likely participated in, a group rape.
It is of course possible for a woman to make a false charge of sexual assault, either out of confusion or some other motive, a fact the question-begging slogan “Believe survivors” does not grapple with. As the number of accusations rises, though, the odds that a charge will be one of the rare hoaxes diminishes. At that point, to believe Kavanaugh is telling the truth is to assume numerous women engaged in a vast conspiracy to smear him. And that all of them risked their reputations and careers in order to sustain a lie, even going so far as to risk committing perjury and facing prison. To believe this scenario, you also have to believe that Democrats never even thought to attempt to run this play against Neil Gorsuch, who faced no sexual-assault allegations. It is bizarre and fanciful.
Compounding the problem for Republicans is the deepening involvement of President Trump. Seizing on Swetnick’s flamboyant, self-promoting attorney Michael Avenatti, Trump tweeted, “Avenatti is a third rate lawyer who is good at making false accusations, like he did on me and like he is now doing on Judge Brett Kavanaugh.”
Avenatti, of course, also represents Stormy Daniels, who received hush-money payments from Trump and whose claims are not in any serious doubt. Avenatti is not the lawyer I would recommend for anybody bringing forward an allegation, but it’s understandable why a famous face that’s plastered on cable news seemingly at all hours would catch Swetnick’s attention. His involvement hardly invalidates her testimony.
Trump’s involvement, on the other hand, poses a serious risk for his party. Kavanugh’s allies have been straining for months to keep him quiet, to keep the Trump stink off their once-pristine nominee. Having a confessed sexual assailant and symbol of retrograde misogyny compare Kavanaugh to himself is the last thing they need.
On what possible grounds now can Republicans maintain their current stance, which denies the need for either a renewed FBI background check into the charges or the testimony of alleged accomplice Mark Judge? All three accusers have now asked to testify before the Senate. Do Republicans deny some of them? Or do they let their planned he-said-she-said show devolve into he said-she said-she said-she said?
As the heady brew of threatened male prerogative — the principle that withdrawing Kavanaugh would expose any man to such charges — and partisan tribalism wears off, cold calculation will soon set in. The odds that many people are conspiring to lie about Kavanaugh are growing ever more slender. And the odds are growing that Kavanaugh committed to a lie, and sunk ever deeper into it, knowing that he would either have a lifetime appointment to the most prestigious legal job in America or be disgraced, and that is why he has refused to concede even an inch. That, too, is why he dodged a question from Fox News about letting his friend, Mark Judge, testify under oath. And Republicans will realize that there are always more Federalist Society–groomed conservative lawyers without his long trail of allegations.