Trump: Another president would have folded on Kavanaugh

I can see this both ways. Can we safely assume that a guy who’s obsessed with projecting “strength,” whose entire political persona is based on his willingness to fight, who ignored endless calls for him to quit after the “Access Hollywood” tape only to win the presidency a month later, was more willing to face the fire with Kavanaugh than, say, President Marco Rubio would have been?


Yeah, I think that’s a safe assumption.

Can we assume that no other Republican president would have stuck to his guns on Kavanaugh? Not so sure about that. Especially given the timing of Ford’s accusation, which ended up being a blessing in disguise for Kavanaugh and Trump.

“I felt that it would be a horrible thing not to go through with this,” he said. “The easier path would have been — you know we have some good people [on his Supreme Court shortlist], they’re all amazing people. But I felt it would be so horrible and so unfair to him, I thought it would have been destructive, it would have been terrible.”…

When told that supporters had suggested that while other Republican presidents might have nominated Kavanaugh, none would have stuck by him despite everything, Trump agreed. “They would have abandoned,” he responded. “That’s what people do. I think that’s what people do, I think that people do that — not only Republicans but I think that’s what people do.”

A man who was elected partly for his willingness to scandalize the chattering class by being “politically incorrect” would have shattered his image among supporters by buckling before a series of uncorroborated allegations against his nominee. A more establishment Republican president, meanwhile, almost would have been expected to buckle. And would have been hammered for it by citizen Trump, calling into Fox News from his bedroom high in the sky over Manhattan.


So yeah, Trump has a point here. Not everyone would have been as willing to stand firm as he was. But would anyone? A detail from the NYT’s reporting on how Kavanaugh prevailed last weekend:

At one point, a dubious Mr. Trump asked Mr. McConnell if Senate Republicans were really committed to seeing it through. Mr. McConnell said absolutely yes.

“I’m stronger than mule piss” on this guy, he answered.

You can read that as Trump essentially asking McConnell if he was as willing to fight for Kavanaugh as POTUS himself was — i.e. he was “dubious” of the Senate’s resolve, not of Kavanaugh’s innocence. The same NYT piece, though, claims that Trump was ready to order an FBI prove on the morning of the 27th after watching Ford’s testimony, so convincing did he find it. It was Don McGahn, allegedly, who ignored that and encouraged Kavanaugh to come out swinging during his own testimony to get Republicans fired up on his behalf.

Between that and McConnell’s “mule piss” comment, there were at least a few other Republicans in the mix here who were willing to go to the mat for Kavanaugh. And not just populist heroes, either. Not only was Mr. Establishment, Mitch McConnell, all-in but so were the RINO wonder twins, Lindsey Graham and Susan Collins. That was an easy-ish call for Graham, who hails from a blood-red state, but much dicier for Collins, who’s facing a divided electorate in Maine two years from now. Even Jeff Flake, who had no electoral concerns stopping him from blowing up Trump’s nominee on his way out the door, answered the bell for Kavanaugh in the end.


Right, right, none of them are presidents. Okay, but don’t forget that there was a former president lobbying hard on Kavanaugh’s behalf behind the scenes:

Former President George W. Bush called a number of senators in recent weeks, and had several conversations with Collins to reassure the key Republican vote about Kavanaugh’s character and temperament, a person familiar with the matter tells CNN…

Bush also reaffirmed his commitment to Kavanaugh after Ford and other accusers brought allegations of sexual misconduct against the nominee.

“Laura and I have known and respected Brett Kavanaugh for decades, and we stand by our comments the night Judge Kavanaugh was nominated,” he said in September in a statement provided to CNN by his spokesperson, Freddy Ford.

Being yelled at by conservative talk radio probably wasn’t much of an influence on Collins’s decision. Having Bush vouch for Kavanaugh’s character, publicly and privately, might have been. That’s no guarantee that Dubya would have refused to pull the nomination as president but it’s evidence as to his inclinations.

The reason I’m wary of the “no other president would have done this” argument is that it actually sells short the power of the GOP base, which would have exploded at Trump, Rubio, or any other Republican who pulled the trap door on Kavanaugh amid the climate of the last two weeks. This is no mere hypothetical: Recall that Republican activists were powerful enough as far back as 2005, in the pre-tea-party era, to twist Bush’s arm until he pulled the Harriet Miers nomination and replaced her with Sam Alito. President Rubio might have wanted to retreat but the political pain he would have suffered from doing so probably would have forced him to stick with Kavanaugh, however reluctantly. Likewise with Trump, he probably couldn’t have quit on Kavanaugh even if he preferred to do so. If he had decided Kavanaugh wasn’t worth the bother it would have come off as a supreme betrayal of his core pitch to skeptical Republicans in 2016: Whatever you may think of him personally or ideologically, the fact remains that he’ll put conservatives on the Supreme Court. If he had buckled, the seat had stayed vacant, and then Democrats took back the Senate this fall, preventing him from any future appointments, he never would have fully recovered among his base.


Here’s Trump spokesman Mercedes Schlapp implicitly insulting her old boss, Dubya, by wondering if any other Republican president would have stuck with Kavanaugh. Way to repay him for leaning on Collins to confirm the nominee. If you want to make this game of “Stick with Kavanaugh or dump him?” hypotheticals extra fun, try imagining that Ford had come forward immediately in July with her allegations of attempted rape. Under those circumstances there would have been plenty of time before the midterms to drop the nominee and confirm an Amy Coney Barrett or Raymond Kethledge instead. The way it played out, though, with Ford speaking up in mid-September, the GOP was essentially left with a “Kavanaugh or bust (if Dems take back the Senate)” choice, which made it easier to stick with him. The late hit may have been orchestrated by Democrats in the expectation that it would force Kavanaugh to be dropped, leaving the seat vacant for the midterms, and giving Democrats at least a fighting chance of holding it open indefinitely by getting to 51 seats in November. In reality, it ended up forcing moderates like Collins into a binary choice between Kavanaugh and a perpetually open seat and may have infuriated red-state Republican voters to the point where Democrats are now more likely to lose ground in the Senate in November than to gain it.


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