So just three days prior to his scheduled follow-up testimony before the Judiciary Committee, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sent a letter to the committee that represents a declaration of war not only on his sexual-assault accusers but on all his tormenters, including the Senate Democrats he will again face on Thursday. Gone is the calm jurist who did a lot of stonewalling in his earlier testimony, but didn’t lose his cool. Now, emulating many of his defenders, he’s going on the attack and presenting himself as the victim of “smears” and “character assassination” by people in a “frenzy” to defeat his confirmation.
The letter is technically just one of many communications Kavanaugh has had with Chairman Chuck Grassley and ranking minority member Dianne Feinstein. But the embattled judge makes it clear he blames Feinstein for her handling of accusations by Christine Blasey Ford that came out after his Judiciary Committee testimony:
Only after that exhaustive process was complete did I learn, through the news media, about a 36-year-old allegation from high school that had been asserted months earlier and withheld from me throughout the hearing process.
After presenting his side of the Ford story, Kavanaugh, with an air of exasperation, refers to the second accusation of sexual assault based on his alleged behavior at Yale:
Last night, another false and uncorroborated accusation from 35 years ago was published. Once again, those alleged to have been witnesses to the event deny it ever happened. There is now a frenzy to come up with something—anything—that will block this process and a vote on my confirmation from occurring.
And eliminating any mystery about the approach he will take on Thursday, he rejects both sets of accusations as not worthy of consideration:
These are smears, pure and simple. And they debase our public discourse. But they are also a threat to any man or woman who wishes to serve our country. Such grotesque and obvious character assassination—if allowed to succeed—will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions from service.
Here Kavanaugh clearly identifies himself with the floodgates argument we are hearing from Republican men who have bunched boxers at the possibility they, too, will have some past piggishness or even criminality exposed (or as they would have it, invented). Just this weekend at a Christian right confab in Iowa focused on defending Kavanaugh, Representative Steve King articulated this fear very clearly:
“I’m thinking, is there any man in this room that wouldn’t be subjected to such an allegation? A false allegation?” King said. “How can you disprove something like that? Which means, if that’s the new standard, no man will ever qualify for the Supreme Court again.”
Horrors! Within a decade or two we might have a female majority on the Court!
Kavanaugh’s resort to this raw fear of the loss of white male privilege is a sign that he’s staking his survival on a backlash from the Republican Party’s conservative base that stiffens the spines of GOP senators and keeps pressure on the two Republicans — Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski — could actually kill his confirmation.
But there’s another Republican Kavanaugh may be implicitly addressing in his letter: Donald J. Trump.
I will not be intimidated into withdrawing from this process. The coordinated effort to destroy my good name will not drive me out. The vile threats of violence against my family will not drive me out. The last-minute character assassination will not succeed.
Trump is by all accounts under some internal GOP pressure to throw Kavanaugh under the bus. Gabriel Sherman reports that he’s been thinking about it:
In public, Trump continues to voice support for his embattled Supreme Court nominee, telling reporters at the United Nations earlier this morning that he stands with Kavanaugh “all the way.” But in private, Trump is growing increasingly frustrated by being mired in a deteriorating political situation beyond his control. On Monday morning, a Republican briefed on Trump’s thinking said the president has been considering pulling Kavanaugh’s nomination.
According to the source, Trump allies are imploring him to cut Kavanaugh loose for the sake of saving Republicans’ electoral chances in the midterms. The argument these advisers are making is that if Kavanaugh’s nomination fails, demoralized Republicans will stay home in November, and Democrats will take the House and the Senate and initiate impeachment proceedings. The end result: Trump will be removed from office. “The stakes are that high,” the source said. Another Republican adviser told me: “Trump is very worried now, and is finally waking up that it’s the end of his presidency if he loses the Senate.” Trump’s outside allies are advising him to nominate Amy Coney Barrett and fast-track her confirmation before the midterms.
Kavanaugh may well be making it clear to the president that he won’t take a bullet for the team and go away quietly — and that if Trump tries to withdraw the nomination, he’ll be exposed to his own electoral base as a loser and a coward, unwilling to fight the character assassins.
If the judge maintains this posture he may succeed in freezing Republicans into backing him to the last ditch. But if allegations proliferate or his accusers reinforce their credibility, he’s now in danger not just of losing a seat on the Supreme Court but his current lifetime appointment to the federal bench. And he’s definitely playing with fire in trying to undercut Trump’s freedom of action.