As the once-serene prospects for Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation turn stormy, the most immediate questions involve next Monday’s planned (though not scheduled) Senate Judiciary Committee hearing featuring the embattled judge and his sexual assault accuser, Christine Blasey Ford. It’s possible that super-dramatic event, if it happens, will determine Kavanaugh’s fate one way or the other.
But a second key question is exactly how committed the President of the United States is to this particular nomination. And on that point reports differ.
According to the Washington Post, some Trump aides (notably outgoing White House Counsel Donald McGahn), are deeply invested in Kavanaugh’s survival, letting the judge basically set up a war room in the West Wing. But other staff are working 24/7 to keep The Boss from any personal involvement in Kavanaugh’s struggles. And public statements on Trump’s behalf have been mixed, labeling Ford’s allegations as “false” but implying that rebutting them is Kavanaugh’s own responsibility.
[T]wo Trump confidants Monday also underscored the president’s history of self-interested calculations amid political tumult. “He’s going to do what’s best for Trump,” said one of them, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment. “The president thinks it’s rough for Kavanaugh, and he’d decry the process as disgusting if he withdraws, but he’d nominate a carbon copy of Kavanaugh in a second if he goes down.”
It’s not all that cut and dried, of course. Trump may have a lot to say about whether and when Kavanaugh “goes down.” He could with just a few tweets mobilize his MAGA following to treat the confirmation fight as holy war and the underlying facts as all but irrelevant. And another account from the Daily Beast claims that the prevailing point of view in the White House is that Trump has no choice but to stick with his SCOTUS pick to the bitter end:
There has been no talk within the ranks about pulling the nomination and going with an equally conservative—if not less controversial—pick, even if it would remove a major complication from the Republican agenda just 50 days before the midterm elections. To do so, aides and operatives insist, would be a disaster of much greater magnitude: inviting Democrats to launch more aggressive challenges to future judicial nominees and depressing the very base of conservative voters needed in November.
“A withdrawal would be disastrous for Trump,” one pro-Trump political operative who worked on the president’s 2016 campaign said. “You take away the whole ‘We’re sick of winning’ message. That’s a huge, marquee, top-line loss.”
Depending on what happens in the next few days, there is an invisible but very real point of no return on Kavanaugh in terms of withdrawing him and substituting another nominee. It’s already very late in the day for getting an alternative confirmation process underway prior to the November 6 midterms. And with every passing day, the odds of completing a non-Kavanaugh confirmation before the end of the year (and the end of the 115th Congress) go down–with potentially catastrophic consequences for Trump, the GOP and the conservative movement if Democrats win back control of the Senate in the midterms.
A quick switch from Kavanaugh to, say, Amy Coney Barrett might be a good move politically from a conventional standpoint. It would neutralize the potential midterm gender-gap consequences of white male Republican senators protecting their white male judicial candidate by disrespecting an alleged sexual assault victim. And it would give conservatives a SCOTUS pick that some preferred to Kavanaugh in the first place, in part because of the advantages associated with having a woman to help form a Court majority willing to overturn Roe v. Wade and curtail reproductive rights.
But ruthless as Trump may be, cutting his losses in this case would mean admitting he’s nominated a loser from a list of 25 SCOTUS prospects produced by what he has touted as the most extensive vetting process in presidential history. And the more natural posture for him is to vent his perpetual rage at the Democrats and the women and the Democratic women who torment him, inviting his most fervent supporters to snake dance to the polls on November 6 to smite the politically correct feminist foe just like they did two years ago.