Every once in a while, Donald Trump’s mouth outruns his lies — and history’s most mendacious president becomes its most helplessly honest one.
Wednesday afternoon was such an occasion. On the eve of Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony to the Senate, the president (momentarily) forgot to disguise his indifference to the merits of her allegation. Rather, Trump told reporters that Senate Republicans could have “pushed” Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination “through two and a half weeks ago, and you wouldn’t be talking about it right now, which is frankly what I would’ve preferred.”
This was also what the GOP’s Senate leadership preferred (until Jeff Flake, and Susan Collins forced it to pretend otherwise). And on Thursday morning, it wasn’t hard to see why Republicans had hoped to avoid the hearing — because, throughout the spectacle, it wasn’t hard (for a national television audience) to see their party’s bad faith.
Chuck Grassley couldn’t it make it through his opening remarks without suggesting that he was more outraged by the inconvenient timing of Ford’s allegations than he was interested in ascertaining their veracity. The committee chairman framed the very concept of an extended investigation into Ford’s claims as a kind of dirty trick, lamenting, “Some of my colleagues, consistent with their stated desires to obstruct Kavanaugh’s nomination by any means precisely — by any means necessary, pushed for FBI investigations into the allegations.” The panel’s other (universally male) Republicans cowered behind the female prosecutor they’d hired to do their clumsy cross-examinations for them.
Meanwhile, if Ford’s testimony wasn’t so harrowing, it would have been almost comical in its competence. A woman alleging sexual assault should not have to be an expert in the psychology of trauma to have her account taken seriously. But Ford’s academic expertise empowered her to account for the discrepancies in her memory in pristine, scientific terms that her inquisitors were ill-equipped to contest.
Asked how she could be sure that it was Brett Kavanaugh who had assaulted her at that party 36 years ago (even as she has failed to recall other details of the night in question), Ford replied:
The same way that I’m sure that I’m talking to you right now. Just basic memory functions and also just the level of norepinephrine and the epinephrine in the brain that as you know encodes that neurotransmitter that codes memories into the hippocampus and so the trauma-related experience is locked there, whereas other details kind of drift.
While Ford’s expertise lent authority to her words, the audible anxiety in her voice as she related them discredited the far right’s attempts to portray her as a camera-hungry fabulist. Rachel Mitchell, the Arizona sex crimes prosecutor who’d been drafted into the proceedings, did her best to poke holes in Ford’s account and raise questions as to her credibility. But the GOP had given her precious little material to work with. And, as many conservatives lamented, the bizarre format of the interrogation did Mitchell no favors.
The prosecutor ended up spending inordinate energy exposing the fact that — even though Ford claimed to have a fear of flying (and requested the hearing be delayed to enable her to travel from California by ground transportation) — she nevertheless has traveled by plane at least several times in the past. Professor Ford responded by noting that her anxiety about flying was less intense when her destination was a vacation in Hawaii than it was this week, when she was headed to a nationally televised Senate hearing, where she would be interrogated about the most traumatic evening of her life.
This was, apparently, the closest Republicans got to damaging Ford’s credibility.
On the other hand, the hearing gave Ford and the committee’s Democrats the opportunity to air two facts that are deeply inconvenient to the GOP. First, that Ford reported her allegation to her congressional representative in June, before Kavanaugh was nominated (a fact that undermines the notion that she is acting as a sociopathic partisan hellbent on keeping a conservative off the court). And second, that even as they complain about the lack of corroboration of Ford’s account, Senate Republicans have refused to compel testimony from Mark Judge, an alleged third-party eyewitness to the attack in question.
All of which is to say: In trying to expose Ford’s fraudulence, Senate Republicans only exposed their own.
GOP officials and operatives might contest that assessment. But they’re in near unanimous agreement that Ford’s testimony was a disaster for Kavanaugh — and quite possibly, for their party.
After watching Ford’s performance, President Trump told allies he was “furious that WH aides didn’t have advance knowledge of how credible Ford would seem,” according to Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman.
The president’s closest advisers — which is to say, the talking heads on Fox News at any given moment — were similarly impressed with Ford. Judge Andrew Napolitano called Kavanaugh’s accuser “extremely credible,” adding “Rachel Mitchell is not laying a glove on her.” “This was extremely emotional, extremely raw, and extremely credible,” Chris Wallace opined. “This is a disaster for the Republicans.”
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn — who’d previously argued against allowing Ford to air her allegations in a public “show trial” — told reporters, “I found no reason to find her not credible.”
One might find such an about-face from a staunch Kavanaugh defender surprising. But Lindsey Graham deftly illustrated the political hazards of standing by the nominee in the wake of Thursday morning’s hearing. Unable to discredit her testimony on its own terms, Graham was forced to express indignation at the absence of supporting evidence — which leads, inevitably, to the question of why he and his party oppose an extended investigation into the matter.
And Graham has no satisfying reply to that inquiry. Because the honest answer is that any further delay could jeopardize the GOP’s capacity to put another far-right judge on the bench — and, at the end of the day, Republicans would much rather have a serial sex offender whose jurisprudence pleases the pro-life movement and corporate America than a personally puritanical jurist who evinces no hostility to abortion or labor rights. Which is an understandable position, but not one a political party interested in improving its numbers with college-educated woman would wish to broadcast.
And yet, on Thursday, that is precisely what the Republican Party did.