This morning’s political Rorschach test comes courtesy of MSNBC and Donald Trump himself, who made Brett Kavanaugh’s fight part of his rally last night in Mississippi. Does this count as “mocking,” or is Trump defending his Supreme Court nominee with legitimate criticism of the allegation and testimony offered against him?
The correct answer is … “yes”:
WATCH: President Trump mocks Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Trump's Supreme Court pick Judge Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, during rally in Mississippi. https://t.co/pZfWN8IFMV pic.twitter.com/81YEs8oXr5
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) October 3, 2018
Not too many people are getting the correct it’s-a-floor-wax-and-a-dessert-topping answer, however. Rep. Adam Schiff assumes facts not in evidence to get to the highest possible dudgeon:
Trump just mocked Dr. Ford, a victim of sexual assault. This shouldn’t surprise us — he’s mocked Gold Star parents, the disabled, and prisoners of war. But it should disgust us all the same. https://t.co/9YunYJYo4W
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) October 3, 2018
Ahem. She’s an alleged victim of sexual assault. That’s not mere pedantry, but the actual crux of the matter. If she’s not telling the truth, then she may well not be a sexual assault victim. Schiff’s correct about Trump’s mocking of others, but the rush to believe an accusation without any evidence is more dangerous to public order than a boor.
On the other hand, the normally sensible Ari Fleischer tries to spin this as pure argument:
He didn’t mock Professor Ford. He pointed out many of the inconsistencies in her account – something the MSM won’t do, because they’re too invested in attacking Brett Kavanaugh. If the press were balanced, they would have raised the same issues Pres. Trump raised here. https://t.co/qsUAZeGWkl
— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) October 3, 2018
That’s certainly true to some extent, although there has been some reporting on Ford’s changing details within her allegation. And he’s right that it’s perfectly legitimate for Trump to point all this out, especially since it’s his nominee in the hot seat. Democrats have used Brett Kavanaugh as a proxy to attack Trump since the minute Trump announced Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court, and in fact were using the unnamed appointment even before that. Trump is hardly a non-combatant in this fight.
But … come on, man. It’s possible to criticize Ford’s testimony without mocking it, but that’s not what Trump’s doing here. He’s entertaining the crowd by making fun of her argument, and they’re eating it up. Given the tenor of the character assassination going on and the Democratic machinations that brought us to this point, it’s hardly the worst of what we’ve seen. Still, at this particular moment it’s notably impolitic and won’t make it any easier to get the needed votes from Senate Republican holdouts like Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Jeff Flake. Just to underscore that danger, Flake called Trump’s remarks “appalling” on NBC’s Today show:
Collins wasn’t impressed, either:
Sen. Susan Collins just responded to our question about Trump’s comments about Christine Blasey Ford. “The president’s comments were just plain wrong”
She would not say if that would affect her vote
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) October 3, 2018
So how can one attack Ford’s credibility without mocking her? Notre Dame law professor Margot Cleveland lays out the case in USA Today:
As a sex-crimes prosecutor, Republican questioner Rachel Mitchell is well-positioned to “know it when she sees it.” But rather than see Ford as a victim of sexual abuse by Kavanaugh, Mitchell saw her as a witness lacking in credibility. And this conclusion comes from an expert who knows that there are many reasons victims delay reporting sexual abuse. Mitchell also recognized that victims may legitimately not remember certain details related to an attack.
But the problem for Ford is not that she doesn’t remember everything: It is that everything she remembers changes at her convenience. …
These four points are significant. First, because Ford had waited 30-plus years to report the purported attack, a therapist’s notes from Ford’s sessions with her husband countered claims that Ford had invented the assault to derail Kavanaugh’s confirmation. But the notes did not name Ford’s attacker. And the timing of the assault summarized by her therapist, whom Ford saw individually the following year, conflicted with Ford’s current claims against Kavanaugh.
The final three contradictions are even more significant because in each circumstance Ford altered her story only after Kavanaugh and Senate investigators had obtained evidence to disprove her original tale. For instance, investigators had obtained statements from Kavanaugh and the two men and one female lifelong friend of Ford’s, and they all denied any recollection of the gathering.
Sometimes, it’s best to leave these arguments for the attorneys.