A leftover from the weekend, buried in a NYT piece with all sorts of interesting tidbits about how Kavanaugh fended off a ferocious political attack. I don’t fault Trump at all for leaning towards an FBI probe after Ford’s testimony at the September 27 hearing, as the Times’s story claims. It was a prudent thing to do and, ultimately, the politically smart thing to do.
But it’s funny to think of him going wobbly before even alleged super-cuck Jeff Flake did. The congealing narrative among both lefties and righties, on up to Trump himself, is that the president’s willingness to fight! is what ultimately dragged Kavanaugh over the finish line. Not really true. It was Kavanaugh’s willingness to fight that made it possible, as this same Times story made clear. His opening statement at the hearing changed everything. Up to that point, having watched Ford testify, Trump was apparently ready to send in the FBI:
Christine Blasey Ford had just finished testifying that he had tried to force himself on her as a teenager, and nearly everyone in both camps found her credible, sincere and sympathetic. President Trump called Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, and they agreed she was impressive. “We’re only at halftime,” Mr. McConnell said, trying to be reassuring.
Mr. Trump thought it was time to bring in the F.B.I. to investigate, as many opponents of Judge Kavanaugh had urged, but when he called the Hart Building, Donald F. McGahn II, his White House counsel, refused to take the call. Instead, Mr. McGahn cleared the room and sat down with Judge Kavanaugh and his wife, Ashley Kavanaugh. The only way to save his nomination, Mr. McGahn said, was to show the senators how he really felt, to channel his outrage and indignation at the charges he had denied.
Later, supposedly “dubious” about Kavanaugh’s chances of confirmation, Trump asked McConnell if he was really willing to go to the mat to get Kavanaugh confirmed. “I’m stronger than mule piss,” McConnell reportedly replied. Which leaves me torn because (a) on judicial nominations McConnell is stronger than mule piss but (b) that anecdote is awfully, even suspiciously, flattering to McConnell. It’s almost the sort of thing that Team McConnell itself might have leaked to reporters to make him look good. By the same token, the idea of Trump wavering on the FBI probe while his steely White House counsel refused to take his call, instead propelling Kavanaugh on to ultimate victory, sounds like the sort of self-serving thing you might expect to be leaked by a guy who’s on his way out of the White House and isn’t terribly fond of his boss, the president.
So maybe Trump was willing to fight! all along, with no FBI probe until Flake demanded one, and is being skunked with a little fake news here courtesy of political rivals. As I said, though, I think he would have made a good call to order the probe, hoping/expecting that it would clear Kavanaugh and providing the public with some reassurance that he’s innocent of the charges, provided that Kavanaugh gave the same opening statement at the hearing that he ended up giving. In an alternate reality where Ford was compelling and Kavanaugh was meek and mild in his own testimony, Trump ordering the probe would have smelled like a defensive action by a White House that had lost confidence in its nominee and might be inching towards pulling the nomination. With Kavanaugh defiant, the takeaway from ordering the FBI probe was “He’s innocent and they’re going to show it!” With Kavanaugh meek, the takeaway from ordering it would have been “We’d better check out these allegations, there really might be something there.” I don’t know if he ends up being confirmed even with the same clean FBI findings that he received.
Christopher Caldwell calls Kavanaugh’s opening statement “the defining speech of our time.” It certainly did capture the f***-you mood of modern partisan politics like few speeches do. This is smart:
The general Democratic view that has hardened since the 1960s is the one expressed on many occasions by Barack Obama. The United States is not a country bound by a common history or a common ethnicity—it is a set of values. That is an open, welcoming thing to build a country around. But it has a dark side, and we have seen the dark side during the hearings. If a country is only a set of values, then the person who does not share what elites “know” to be the country’s values is not really a member of the national community and is not deserving of its basic protections, nice guy though he might otherwise be. Such people “belong” to the country in the way some think illegal immigrants do—provisionally…
The grounds for rejecting Kavanaugh have shifted steadily. First it was the incident alleged by Ford. Then, second, as the evidence proved underwhelming, it was whether the taint of having been accused of such an incident compromised the perception that he would be a fair judge. Then, third, it was the question of whether Kavanaugh’s minimizing the seriousness of his drinking had constituted perjury. Fourth and finally, it was whether his outburst at the committee showed a partisanship that was evidence he lacked the “judicial temperament” to serve on the Court. Whether Kavanaugh’s attacks on the Democratic members of the Senate panel constituted partisanship is a trickier factual determination than it appears at first. Is an accusation of partisanship partisanship? Such accusations are often leveled by people who distrust both political parties.
“Just as there are people famous-for-being-famous,” writes Caldwell of the Dems’ view of Kavanaugh, “now there are people guilty-of-being-accused.” The reason Kavanaugh didn’t enjoy the presumption of innocence from his critics isn’t because #MeToo has changed the rules, it’s because his politics are on the wrong side of history, to borrow a favorite progressive phrase. He’s one of the Bad People; the particular pretext for why he shouldn’t sit on the Court was able to shift so easily, as Caldwell says, because it was secondary to what truly disqualified him in his opponents’ eyes, the fact that he was more right-wing than the justice he was replacing. (You can come up with your own list of the Good People whose own much better documented transgressions were whitewashed for decades. Kennedys and Clintons don’t count, as they’re too obvious.) Most Senate Democrats declared their opposition to him within days or hours of him being nominated, some probably before they learned how to spell his last name. The irony in Kavanaugh’s case is that he was chosen partly because he’s been a member of the Washington establishment practically since birth. If anyone could get a little leeway from his fellow Beltway creatures of the Senate, he may have thought, it’s me. Sorry, pal. Wrong side of history.
Here’s what sort of leeway you get when you’re on the right side of history. “Tanya” is Tanya Selvaratnam, one of Eric Schneiderman’s accusers:
— Seth Mandel (@SethAMandel) October 7, 2018
The Good People look after their own, no matter how bad they are.
One other fun bit from the Times story is Michael Avenatti’s cameo in this sh*tshow. “The tide seemed to turn” in Kavanaugh’s favor once Avenatti and Julie Swetnick entered the gray, the NYT notes. Team Kavanaugh reportedly agrees:
Michael Avenatti was a hot conversation topic Saturday night at Trump Hotel, where administration officials gathered for happy hour with advisers from the outside groups who poured money and energy into confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
What we’re hearing: At one point in the evening, a senior person at one of the outside groups joked that Avenatti might have been on the Republican payroll. “You guys put Avenatti up to it, right?” the person said, according to a source at the party.
“I can’t overstate how important Michael Avenatti’s role in this [confirmation] was” in adding to undecided senators’ doubts about the allegations being leveled at Kavanaugh, the source added.
Avenatti’s unhelpfulness to the Democratic cause is the one thing in this process that both sides seem to agree on. The man himself is taking the criticism in stride, as always:
I can confirm that I am responsible for the following (as claimed by unnamed Dem politicians and staffers): Willie Horton, 2000 recount, Monica Lewinsky, Clarence Thomas, no-vote on Garland, Kavanaugh confirmation, 2016 election loss, HRC emails, Russia meddling,& climate change.
— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) October 8, 2018
By the time you read this he’ll probably have tweeted that it’s because Democrats are willing to criticize him instead of training their fire on Kavanaugh and Trump — never mind the entirety of the past three weeks — that the party needs a loudmouth celebrity lawyer willing to fight fight fight! as its nominee in 2020.
In lieu of an exit question, here’s Susan Collins handling a fraught question yesterday: Did she think Ford lied?
— State of the Union (@CNNSotu) October 6, 2018