Out: Justice Kavanaugh.

In: Vice President Kavanaugh?

I’m joking, but let’s be real. After he owned the libs in his opening statement to this afternoon’s testimony, probably 90 percent of Republicans would take him over Pence.

Here’s WaPo reporter Robert Costa relaying what his West Wing sources were hearing at around 4 p.m. this afternoon:

No wonder POTUS is happy. “Be aggressive” isn’t just his default mode, it was his core criticism of Kavanaugh’s Fox News performance earlier this week. He wanted more indignation from the nominee then too, reportedly, which was good strategy. Outrage is evidence of sincerity. It can be faked, but it’s much easier to believe that Kavanaugh really has been falsely accused when you see him visibly angry about it — “that’s how I would be!” one thinks — than if he reacted in some low-key “judicial” way. Like I said yesterday, Clarence Thomas probably secured his own confirmation when he complained about a high-tech lynching of uppity blacks. Kavanaugh learned from that.

Trump’s mood this morning during Ford’s testimony was … different, per Gabriel Sherman:

The big winners from Kavanaugh’s strong opening performance were probably McGahn and Federalist Society honcho Leonard Leo, both of whom encouraged Trump to pick Kavanaugh. There’s no “the buck stops here” ethic in TrumpWorld. If Kavanaugh had come out meek and diffident this afternoon, with the balance of public opinion shifting decisively towards Ford, Trump would have begun blaming McGahn, Leo, and every Bush-era establishmentarian in Washington for sticking him with a milquetoast nominee who couldn’t stand up under fire. Which would have been very bad news for conservatives: It’s McGahn and Leo who’ve kept POTUS on the path of nominating solid conservative nominees. If they had lost his ear because he lost faith in them over Kavanaugh, lord only knows what sort of judicial nominees we’d start getting.

Which is to say, even if Kavanaugh didn’t save himself today, he probably did preserve the Federalist Society’s influence. Which is very good news.

But maybe he did save himself?

It’s a cinch that Trump won’t pull the nomination now, although I think there was next to zero chance that he would have under any circumstances. Why be the one to cave on Kavanaugh when he could have McConnell do it, by simply refusing to proceed with the nomination, or have Collins et al. do it by voting him down? Whichever Republican ends up killing the nomination will bear the brunt of righty wrath and Trump knows it, so he’d force someone else to do it. Again: There is no “the buck stops here” in TrumpWorld.

Meanwhile, Collins, Murkowski, and Flake (and Corker?) have a terrible dilemma. They’re faced with two credible witnesses, both of whom seem passionately convinced that they’re telling the truth. And there are reasons to give, and not to give, Kavanaugh the benefit of the doubt. The best reason to give it to him is that the evidence, such as it is, points towards his version of the truth, not Ford’s. Neither Mark Judge, Patrick Smyth, nor Leland Ingham Keyser remember an incident like the one Ford describes. The best reason not to give it to him is that he’s now been accused by three women, all on the record, of sexual misconduct, one of whom testified today and who seemed perfectly sincere. The logic of a “job interview” approach to this mess is straightforward: When a candidate for the job has been credibly accused of something truly heinous, find another candidate. Don’t take a chance.

If I had to bet on which way the fencesitters go at this point, I’d bet on a punt. They’ll demand an FBI investigation of short duration — three to five days, maybe — and try to regroup over the weekend. And meanwhile Grassley will need to figure out what to do with the allegations from Julie Swetnick. The Committee can’t just ignore them, however contemptible her lawyer may be.