The Corner

Politics & Policy

Democrats, It’s Time to Recognize That Your Kavanaugh Playbook Didn’t Work

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (right) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speak to reporters on Capitol Hill, October 4, 2018. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

With Susan Collins of Maine and Joe Manchin of West Virginia saying they will vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, it appears the confirmation battle is almost over. (Then again, all it would take to suddenly change the calculus would be two Republican senators going wobbly.)

I doubt Democrats want to take any advice at this moment, particularly from someone like me, but hopefully sometime soon, they’ll have a reckoning that their tactics in this fight did not work.

The protesters constantly interrupting the hearing did not work.

Going over Kavanaugh’s high-school yearbooks as if they were something from The Da Vinci Code and trying to ascribe some sinister meanings to teenage slang such as “boof” and “Devil’s Triangle” did not work.

Trying to make Kavanaugh sound like the Bluto Blutarsky of Yale University did not work.

Suggesting that Kavanaugh is some sort of threat to girls on basketball teams did not work.

Portraying his daughter praying for forgiveness for her father in an editorial cartoon did not work.

The era of broad bipartisan consensuses for Supreme Court nominees ended with John Roberts or Samuel Alito. If a Senate Democrat wants to vote against a nominee like Kavanaugh because they don’t like his past decisions, or they think he won’t uphold Roe v. Wade, or they don’t like his work in George W. Bush’s administration, that’s fine.

But when Christine Blasey Ford came forward with her accusation, the Senate Judiciary Committee could have and should have handled that information discreetly and privately, without leaking Ford’s name to the press. Committee staff and investigators could have interviewed Ford in California, as well as any other relevant witnesses anywhere else in the country. There was no reason to turn Ford’s life upside down, other than that someone with access to her information wanted to force an on-camera testimony. We don’t know who this person is — ESHOO! Sorry, I sneezed there for a moment.

Let’s observe that if any of the witnesses Ford named had corroborated any part of her account, this nomination fight probably would have ended differently. If P. J. Smyth or Leland Keyser had said, “I remember the party, I remember them being upstairs, but I don’t know what happened in that room” or, “After they turned up the music, I couldn’t hear what was happening,” a lot of Republicans would have paused and found the allegation more credible. The scene Ford described — teenagers drinking, no parents or responsible adults around — certainly sounded plausible enough. But Ford’s account needed corroborating witnesses, and no one she named could corroborate that such a party ever occurred, never mind one at which an assault took place.

The accusation at Yale also sounded plausible enough — college freshmen drinking heavily, games and pranks getting way out of hand — but they couldn’t find anyone besides the accuser who claimed Kavanaugh was at the party. The shoddy journalism of The New Yorker, breathlessly touting the accusation and admitting deep in the story that they couldn’t find a single person to corroborate that Kavanaugh was at the party, did not work.

And the Democratic Party could do itself a huge favor by disassociating itself from Michael Avenatti forever. The first two accusers at least described plausible scenarios. Julie Swetnick described Maryland high schoolers (Kavanaugh would be 15 going on 16 in the first year of her claims) running something that sounds like it would come out of the time of Caligula or Nero, or Eyes Wide Shut — with dozens of victims and witnesses and no one ever telling a single parent, teacher, police officer, or other authority figure. From Collins’s remarks, this outlandish tale, with zero compelling evidence, horrified her. Wildly implausible claims will only harm future women who come forward with actual cases of sexual assault.

All of the accusations that any senator considering voting to confirm was “supporting rape” did not work. That big protest in the Senate office building yesterday did not work. All of the reporters decided to abandon any pretense of objectivity and treated Kavanaugh as if he was guilty until proven innocent . . . and it didn’t work.

It backfired, guys. There was a time when conservatives thought of the old guard, people like Orrin Hatch and Chuck Grassley, as decorum-obsessed squishes, with no stomach for a real fight. No more. You guys turned Lindsey Graham into a honey badger and Susan Collins into Margaret Thatcher.

This has been an ugly, nasty, vicious couple of weeks in American politics. I don’t expect anybody over on the other side to recognize that their tactics were morally wrong. But I do expect them to recognize that their tactics didn’t work.

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