Ben Sasse on #MeToo and Kavanaugh: "We all know that the president cannot lead us through this time"

A leftover from last night. If it makes you feel better, he also called Michael Avenatti a “one-man clown show” (at 7:45 of the clip below).

Which the one-man clown show didn’t like.

His comments about Trump are the headline, though. It’s true that Trump is not the guy to “lead us through” this mess, if by “lead us through” you mean brokering some type of culture reconciliation between women terrified of not being believed if they’re attacked and men terrified of being judged guilty without due process if they’re accused of one. That’s what Sasse has in mind. President Grab ‘Em By The Pussy is not well cast for the fraught politics of a momentous #MeToo battle in the hottest political spotlight.

But if by “lead us through” you mean standing firm while the left’s most cutthroat cultural bullies do their worst, well, even some NeverTrumpers think he’s uniquely equal to this particular moment.

For the first time since Donald Trump entered the political fray, I find myself grateful that he’s in it. I’m reluctant to admit it and astonished to say it, especially since the president mocked Christine Blasey Ford in his ugly and gratuitous way at a rally on Tuesday. Perhaps it’s worth unpacking this admission for those who might be equally astonished to read it.

I’m grateful because Trump has not backed down in the face of the slipperiness, hypocrisy and dangerous standard-setting deployed by opponents of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. I’m grateful because ferocious and even crass obstinacy has its uses in life, and never more so than in the face of sly moral bullying. I’m grateful because he’s a big fat hammer fending off a razor-sharp dagger.

Sasse’s speech is essentially a long defense of #MeToo punctuated with cautions about letting the urgency of justice for victims propel us towards conclusory presumptions about guilt. Which is very on-brand: Pretty much all Sasse floor speeches are pitches to the better angels of our nature. The most interesting bit comes early, though, at around 2:45 when he says he encouraged Trump before Kavanaugh was nominated to choose a woman instead. And not just any woman; he says he had a particular individual in mind. I wonder who it was. What’s particularly interesting, though, is his reasoning for that: He thought that, with public attention to #MeToo allegations already high, a male nominee might well end up being accused of an offense and that our very broken Senate would have great trouble sorting it out.

Which is either very prescient or very cynical. Assuming he’s telling the truth, it all came to pass just as he predicted. The “hefty majority” of sexual-assault claims are true based on the best available research, he notes, but a high-stakes political battle in a consequentialist Beltway culture might attract less reliable claims. And now here we are. On the other hand, if we followed Sasse’s logic, he was prepared to rule out qualified male candidates for important government posts (or at least Supreme Court seats) for no better reason than that they were more likely to be smeared. Nominating women chiefly because men are more likely to be targeted with false accusations means we’re sliding towards … not a presumption of guilt, exactly, but a presumption of unconfirmability. Which gives short shrift to the anti-Kavanaugh side too: To say that Kavanaugh was always likely to be accused of misconduct implies that anyone who came forward against him, credible or not, might be strongly presumed to be engaged in a smear.

But no one cares about any of this. You care about the bottom line: How’s he gonna vote? The eternal knock on Sasse from the left is that he talks a good game about civics and government and then rubber-stamps anything Trump wants him to. Surely he’ll end up doing the same on Kavanaugh. Won’t he?

Sasse voting no would end his chances of reelection in Nebraska, but then I’ve always thought he’d choose to be a one-termer given his constant refrain of contempt for what the Senate’s become. He and Flake together could sink the nomination even with Collins and Murkowski voting yes. I’d say there’s near-zero chance of it given how thin the evidence against Kavanaugh is and the fact that the judge is a solid conservative by any definition, but Sasse does sound a little more reluctant to vote yes in his floor remarks than I would have expected — particularly in how he went out of his way to say that Kavanaugh wasn’t his first choice. Is he about to spring an October surprise?