By EUGENE ROBINSON
Pay attention, Democrats. Watch what Republicans are doing. You’ll see what raw power looks like — and understand why winning in November is so vital for the nation’s future.
President Trump, aware that the country is passionately divided on many critical issues, could have nominated a moderate jurist to replace now retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who had been the swing vote between the court’s conservative and liberal wings. Instead, Trump nominated Brett M. Kavanaugh, a darling of far-right pressure groups that want to topple the remaining pillars of progressive jurisprudence, including Roe v. Wade.
The administration withheld reams of relevant documents from Kavanaugh’s service in the White House during the George W. Bush years. Democrats squawked. The Republicans who control the Senate just smiled. Christine Blasey Ford, a respected PhD psychologist with no known ulterior motive, tried to anonymously report that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her while they were both in high school. When Ford’s name was made public, Senate Republicans summoned her to a kangaroo-court hearing. First, they had a hired-gun prosecutor try — unsuccessfully — to poke holes in Ford’s story.
Then, after Kavanaugh’s red-faced denial, they cheered him on rather than interrogated his version of events. Forced to reluctantly reopen the FBI’s background investigation, Republicans imposed an arbitrary one-week limit. Neither Ford nor Kavanaugh was interviewed. No attempt was made to contact more than 40 witnesses who might have confirmed or refuted the stories of misconduct told by Ford and two other women, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick.
Trump, at a campaign-style rally, ridiculed Ford in a blame-thevictim rant that drew cruel laughter from a Mississippi crowd. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) plowed ahead toward a vote to confirm Kavanaugh, 53, as a Supreme Court justice for life.
That’s what you can do if you have power — and what you cannot prevent if you are powerless. Republican political operatives are gleeful that the Kavanaugh fight has riled up the party’s base with a month to go before the midterm election. Some believe the controversy has all but eliminated the possibility that Democrats could seize control of the Senate and even put in doubt whether the GOP will lose the House.
That’s nothing but hyperventilation at this point. I would advise Republicans to be careful what they wish for. It was inevitable, in my view, that Republican voters’ enthusiasm for the November election would rise, if only because there was no way for it to go but up. Trump is brilliant at inciting his core supporters, and he was bound to find some issue to flog.
Republicans have always taken judicial nominations more seriously than Democrats; and Kavanaugh’s defiance seems to have inspired even some GOP stalwarts who see Trump as a clownish interloper. But if Democrats are not equally motivated by this outrageous power play, then they don’t deserve to win.
The way Ford, Ramirez and Swetnick have been treated is appalling and, given what we should have learned from the #MeToo movement, infuriating. Ramirez and Swetnick were, for all intents and purposes, simply ignored; no meaningful attempt was made to corroborate or disprove their stories.
Ramirez provided the names of more than 20 potential witnesses, according to her lawyer. Not one was contacted by the FBI. Ford was heard, then ignored. Her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee was called “compelling” by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and deemed “credible” or “believable” by almost everyone else.
Yet she was not believed. Republican senators were much more concerned with the impact her allegations were having on Kavanaugh’s life than with the impact the alleged assault has had on Ford’s. Republicans were also untroubled by Kavanaugh’s shocking display of temperament, or lack thereof. He bizarrely cited “revenge on behalf of the Clintons” as a reason for Ford’s allegation, attacked Democratic senators in a nakedly partisan way and warned that “what goes around, comes around,” which sounded very much like a threat.
Such a performance should be considered disqualifying. But Republicans are in the majority, and they have the power to ignore what the nation saw and heard. Democrats cannot afford to be discouraged. They need to keep talking about the issues that have found resonance among voters — health care, stagnant middle-class incomes, corruption, tax cuts for corporations and millionaires. They need to get minorities and young voters to the polls. As the Kavanaugh issue inevitably fades for Republicans, Democrats need to keep their eyes on the prize. Get mad about Kavanaugh, and then get even. What “comes around” must be a Democratic wave.
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