Brett Kavanaugh’s primary and most plausible defense against the charge that he sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford was that Brett Kavanaugh would never do such a thing. His life showed he was straitlaced and studious, respectful of women, and had a long trail of female acquaintances who could vouch for his character.
A new revelation by Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker explodes that defense. Mayer and Farrow convey an allegation from Deborah Ramirez, a college classmate, that, in the midst of a drinking game at Yale, Kavanaugh exposed himself to Ramirez and humiliated her. Unlike Ford’s account, which she shared only years later, Ramirez’s story was known to other classmates at the time. One classmate tells The New Yorker he is “one-hundred-per-cent sure” that he was told at the time that Kavanaugh was the student who exposed himself to Ramirez, and “independently recalled” many of the same details she had.
Indeed, Mayer and Farrow further subvert Kavanaugh’s generalized defense, by quoting classmates skeptical of the testimonials that were procured on his behalf. Two of Kavanaugh’s former classmates dispute the general account of his social scene. One of those people, Elizabeth Rasor, claims that conservative writer Mark Judge, a character witness for Kavanaugh, has been outright lying.
Kavanaugh’s nomination has now incurred critical damage. It seems highly unlikely, though not impossible, that he will ever be confirmed.
There are certainly several factors working in his favor. Senate Republicans did not immediately pull his nomination when they learned of the new charges. Indeed, according to Mayer and Farrow, when informed last week, GOP staffers expressed concern about the impact on Kavanaugh, at which point Senate Republicans doubled down on their insistence that hearings happen as quickly as possible.
President Trump, too, has defaulted to his initial instinct to discount the attacks and press forward. NBC News reports that Trump had two conversations about the allegation on Sunday and expressed no change in position on his judicial nominee. Maggie Haberman likewise reports that Trump is sticking with Kavanaugh (for now), and sees the new allegations as reason to believe his allies should have fought harder to discredit the previous ones.
Some of the views Trump and his allies have expressed over the Ford allegations explain their instinct. They fear and resent the power of allegations of sexual assault to threaten men in power, and believe that to succumb in this case would expose more men to such accusations and derail their careers. Some likewise believe that a Kavanaugh defeat would demoralize the base by removing the sheen of invincibility that Trump cultists have fashioned around the president. “You take away the whole ‘We’re sick of winning’ message,” warns one former Trump operative — unnamed, but probably Steve Bannon — “That’s a huge, marquee, top-line loss.”
It’s worth noting that this is completely irrational. It doesn’t even hold together by its own logic — Trump suffered a dramatic high-profile defeat over health care. And far from tricking his base into forgetting about it, Trump continues to remind them of the defeat for some reason, reliving John McCain’s thumbs-down moment at his rallies on the regular.
People do make decisions for irrational reasons. But the power ultimately does not rest with Trump, or even the majority of Republicans who have been rushing the hearings through and working to prevent either additional testimony or an FBI investigation. The power to decide rests with any two Republican senators who don’t want to support Kavanaugh on the terms the party has set, which means hurtling through new revelations without even the pretense of due diligence. If any two of them pull the plug, Trump has no choice but to find a new candidate.
At the end of the day, he has every reason to do that. Whatever personal attachment he has developed to Kavanaugh as a distinguished Ivy League jurist and subject of sexual-assault allegations, the truth is that there are plenty more where he came from. The Federalist Society is a machine that churns out properly credentialed jurists who reliably toe the conservative movement line. Even if vetting a new candidate takes time, and even if Democrats win the Senate majority, they can and will confirm their choice in the lame-duck session.
Kavanaugh is a massive liability now for a party that is already heavily identified with the grossest and most predatory aspects of male sexual entitlement. Keeping Kavanaugh at this point would be an act of sheer madness.