At 12:30 in the afternoon on September 27, I don’t think there were many serious political thinkers or activists on the Right who thought Brett Kavanaugh would survive that morning’s testimony by his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford.
Eight days later—today—Kavanaugh all but secured his appointment. The question is, how did this happen? The answer is: Kavanaugh happened.
In his unprecedented speech following Ford’s testimony, Kavanaugh not only blasted the process but made no pretense when it came to those who had manipulated it—liberal groups, people angry with Donald Trump, people wanting to take revenge for the Clintons. The speech electrified the right. There is no other word for it.
It was this very speech that caused so much tut-tutting and concern about Kavanaugh’s judicial temperament among the very people who were already opposing him for any and every reason—and among those who instinctively feel the need to beg for mercy and seek absolution any time anything a conservative says or does puts liberals in high dudgeon. But everything that triggered those people turned Kavanaugh into what he had not been before—a cause.
The idea he was attempting to convey was that the career-destroying and reputation-destroying forces that had been activated against him were singing from an old hymnal. They were seeking to ruin him in order to deny the views he might have shared with conservative Republicans their place on the Court. They wished to invalidate conservative views through any means necessary, including the deployment of a horrific charge made without any supporting evidence.
For Republicans and conservatives with a long memory, this was not just about Kavanaugh. It was about Bob Bork, and the near destruction of Clarence Thomas, and the illegitimate prosecution of Reagan Labor Secretary Ray Donovan, who was left to ask how he could get his reputation back when a garbage case against him fell apart. It was about the criminalization of policy differences that saw a liberal hunger in the 1980s to throw people like my brother-in-law, Elliott Abrams, in jail—a person of the most unimpeachable moral character—because he was a strong advocate of a policy his enemies detested.
It was about vice presidential chief of staff Scooter Libby, who was prosecuted and convicted on the most tenuous of charges even though his prosecutor knew full well he hadn’t leaked the name of a CIA agent—the reason the prosecutor had been set on the case in the first place. It was about John Bolton, now national security adviser, whose confirmation for the post of UN ambassador went down amid preposterous charges he was somehow too mean to serve in the post.
It was about the politics of personal destruction.
Republicans and conservatives could see the same enemies arrayed against Kavanaugh they had seen over the past 35 years: liberal interest groups and the Democratic politicians whose staffs help populate those groups, working hand in hand with a pliable and credulous media to create the impression of guilt and evil where there are no facts to back up that impression.
Ford’s testimony was powerful, and had she been able to surface a piece of evidence as insubstantial as a piece of down—but one with any substance whatsoever—Kavanaugh would not have survived it. But she didn’t. And she hasn’t. The entire planet knows who she is, knows her story, and knows her claims. Not a single piece of corroboration has emerged. It is fair to assume there isn’t any. We don’t destroy people when someone says “trust me, he’s bad.” We don’t … unless we want to destroy him anyway and are willing to use any piece of evidence to hand.
Kavanaugh, for the first time, used language in his testimony to make it implicitly clear to the people whose support he needed—people who would pressure wavering senators—that he was being assaulted by the very forces Republicans and conservatives had been fighting against for the better part of 40 years. He called them out by name and thanked President Trump for his support. This was a breach of judicial etiquette, but you cannot ask a man to allow himself to be ruined to preserve a set of behaviors that have already been rendered passe by the deployment of charges of sexual assault and gang rape. I mean, you can ask, but only a fool would take you up on it.
Kavanaugh saved himself. The staggering turnabout in polls in different races in different parts of the country makes that clear. Privately, Republican campaigns report they have never seen a sleeping body politic jolt awake in this way. You don’t like the politics of it? For those otherwise sympathetic to Kavanaugh’s plight who think he took it too far, you simply have to understand that had he not done so, he would have been known forever as the gang rapist who lost his Supreme Court gig.
And for those unsympathetic to his plight, for those who decided (even if they believed every word of Ford’s claims) to play this high-risk last-minute hand—you overplayed it. Your bluff was called. Brett Kavanaugh himself called it.