Many on the right are lionizing President Trump for standing beside Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh in his confirmation fight. Most surprising among them is #NeverTrump diehard Brett Stephens of the New York Times who wrote:
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. because he’s a big fat hammer fending off a razor-sharp dagger.
While Stephens makes a good case against the nature of the Kavanaugh accusation, does Trump deserve the king-sized credit he’s given for standing behind his nominee in the face of stiff opposition? Is it fair to act as if no one else would have stood by Kavanaugh?
Looking at history, the answer is no. George H.W. Bush stood beside Clarence Thomas in 1991, and that didn’t require crassness. George W. Bush stood behind the people he nominated, and the Democrats refused to confirm for years. Of course, the argument could be made that was before #metoo and that the Bushes wouldn’t stand behind a nominee under these circumstances. However, that argument is undercut by the fact George W. Bush lobbied vital swing senators (who Trump has very little influence with) on Kavanaugh’s appointment.
Trump’s biggest contribution was keeping mostly silent. When Trump did speak out, it wasn’t good. He mocked her at a rally. Trump went after her on Twitter in an absurd Tweet stating, if her attack was as bad her testimony indicated, “charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents.” In reality, there are many reasons why a fifteen-year-old girl drinking at a party with older kids would not come forward, particularly given that she suffered attempted rape and sexual assault, both of which were only misdemeanors in the state of Maryland at the time. Also, many women don’t report assaults because of shame and fear even to this day.
While Republicans can be grateful that Trump stood by his nominee, other than John Kasich, any of the other Republicans who ran for President in 2016 would have stood behind a nominee facing a last-minute uncorroborated allegation that was clearly sprung to ensure a Justice couldn’t be approved before the midterm elections. The main difference is other candidates might have ordered the FBI investigation sooner and would have avoided attacking the accuser.
Trump has seen an opportunity in the Kavanaugh accusations as well as the Right’s general rejection of the charges. In his press conference on September 26th, Trump compared the Kavanaugh allegations to those against him saying, “I was accused by four or five women who got paid a lot of money to make up stories about me. We caught them and the mainstream media refused to put it on television.”
Now, of course, this was not true. There’s no evidence of any of Trump’s accusers got paid “a lot of money” to lie about Trump. Also, while both Kavanaugh and Trump were accused of sexual misconduct, the cases are very different.
The allegations against Kavanaugh were all uncorroborated and cut against everything we know of him. As a mature adult, he has a record as someone who respects and advocates for women and promotes the careers of women in the legal profession. Trump has been accused by more than a dozen women, many of whom offer contemporary corroboration in support of their stories. The allegations against the President are consistent with his demeaning of women and his statements in the Access Hollywood video and his public comments on the Howard Stern show.
However, as different as the allegations against Trump are, many on the right are wary of sexual assault allegations period. They’ve watched #metoo degenerate from exposing high-level Hollywood Executives and members of Congress who got away with sexual harassment and assault for years to United States Senators trying to stop a Supreme Court nomination by trying to prove that, as a teenager, a judge used sexual slang in his yearbook.
#Resistance fighters disclaimed the idea of any presumption of innocence with Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) seeming to give him a presumption of guilt because of his conservative judicial philosophy. Many mothers, particularly conservative mothers of sons, worry about a world where their sons could face a presumption of guilt and have their lives ruined with untrue allegations. Such an environment makes it too easy for Trump and his supporters to dismiss the allegation against him as false.
While this may help Trump, it doesn’t help the Republican Party in the long-term. In fact, Trump made the defense of Kavanaugh harder. Trump’s former Chief Strategist Steve Bannon told Vanity Fair that, as a voting block, college-educated Republican women are “gone” because “Trump triggers them.”
Many of these women see the entire Kavanaugh case as only an extension of Republican refusal to take accusations of sexual assault and harassment seriously. They’ve seen Republicans elect Trump despite the allegations against him and his own infamous words in the Access Hollywood tapes and then saw Roy Moore nominated by Republicans and nearly elected to the Senate despite corroborated claims that he dated teenagers when he was in his thirties, with two of them accusing him of sexual assault.
Of course, there are significant differences between these cases, and some Republicans who didn’t back either Trump or Moore have supported Kavanaugh only after due consideration of the evidence. For example, Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) opposed Trump in the 2016 election, and as chairman of the NRSC pulled the NRSC’s support of Moore once allegations emerged, but voted to confirm Kavanaugh. Similarly, Jeff Flake (R-AZ) opposed Trump, backed Moore’s Democratic opponent, and voted to confirm Kavanaugh.
Trump is the leader of the GOP, and he overshadows everyone else. With his more than a dozen allegations of sexual misconduct, he not only continued to support Moore after the allegations emerged but ordered the RNC to spend money on his behalf.
Trump has a record of supporting men accused and even some convicted of mistreating women. He defended boxer Mike Tyson when the former Heavyweight Champ was convicted of rape, he defended Bill O’Reilly from charges of sexual harassment despite the former Fox News Star settling with one accuser for $32 million. Donald Trump has gone after Bill Clinton’s misconduct now that he’s apolitical opponent, but Trump defended Clinton back in the 1990s and demeaned Clinton’s accusers. Trump defended his staff secretary, Rob Porter, when forced to resign because two ex-wives accused him of physical assault, including one who provided photographic evidence.
The Kavanaugh case raised many issues for the #metoo era, particularly how we balance the need to give justice to sexual assault victims with the need to protect victims of false accusations. Because Republicans have embraced Donald Trump, many people are understandably uninterested in anything that Republicans have to say on this topic. Republicans lack credibility when it comes to taking charges of abuse seriously. This has complicated the Kavanaugh nomination and will continue to cause Republicans problems even after Trump is gone.