If Brett Kavanaugh wins confirmation to the Supreme Court, he can thank himself.
With nobody willing to say “boo” to Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh’s accuser appeared credible, nice, and likable in her testimony. She did not filibuster in her answers. Her voice, with its high pitch and uptalk inflections, sounded not like that of a fiftysomething woman but of a teenage girl — helping senators imagine the teenage girl she was 36 years ago. In contrast, she used “sequalae,” “hippocampus,” and other ten-cent words indicative of an intelligent woman (but strangely needed an explanation on “exculpatory”). She firmly maintained that she knew with “100 percent” certainty that the man looking for a seat on the Supreme Court used her as a mattress all those years ago.
She helped her cause. So did the peculiar manner that Republicans chose to question her.
Don’t blame Rachel Mitchell entirely. Blame the eleven men hiding behind her. Whereas Democrats constantly interrupted Kavanaugh and turned the hearings into chaos earlier this month, Republicans on the committee did not utter a peep to Ford on Thursday. This strategy had everything to do with protecting themselves and nothing to do with protecting Kavanaugh, Ford, or the truth. Mitchell’s questioning centered on matters on the periphery. Her body language wisely spoke in a warm tone. But her words focusing on the alleged incident, the only thing that really mattered, came infrequently.
Mitchell’s best moment interrogating Ford occurred when she exposed her stated fear-of-flying excuse for rebuffing initial attempts to bring her to Washington as lame. The prosecutor asked how Ford traveled to visit her family this summer. She admitted she flew from the West Coast to the East Coast. The prosecutor noted that her interests included Costa Rica, Hawaii, and points beyond. Did she ever travel to those places? Yes. How? Flying.
Ironically, Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, who manufactured tales of nonexistent service in Vietnam, tried to apply the concept of crimen falsi, which broadly means that one who lies about one thing impugns his or her credibility on another thing, to Kavanaugh. Ford’s less-than-honest answers on aviophobia, and hard-to-believe contention that she did not realize what everybody else knew — that the committee offered to interview her in California — raised issues of crimen falsi, but just not in the way Blumenthal imagined.
Though relevant, Ford’s fibs about flying did not speak directly to whether Kavanaugh jumped on her at a party in 1982. They spoke to her credibility, sure. But when your best moment as the questioner involves a moment that occurred more than three decades after the alleged moment then you missed your moment.
Republicans surely missed their moment in the morning. Brett Kavanaugh seized it in the afternoon. The former football player executed a second-half comeback akin to the one Tom Brady engineered several Super Bowls ago in this Super Bowl of politics. A man who looked like a dead man walking when his turn began breathed life into Republicans. Politicians know a good bandwagon when they see one, and so several who had ceded their time to Mitchell in the morning came out swinging in the afternoon.
Kavanaugh engineered the difficult task of showing passion as he employed logic. Gone were the coached, rote answers from his Fox News interview with Martha MacCallum. Tearfully, angrily, he noted that all of the people who his accuser names as witnesses do not corroborate her story. Even her friend, the former wife of Democratic Party strategist Bob Beckel, not only said under the penalty of perjury that she did not attend any such party, but that she has never even met Brett Kavanaugh. Skillfully, Kavanaugh targeted the Democrats on the committee who leaked Ford’s identity against her stated wishes. He exposed them as cynical, manipulative. Like Brendan Sullivan at a similar high-drama hearing a generation ago, Kavanaugh effectively declared himself no potted plant. Several Democrats, especially Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, took his bait, and in doing so exposed their hyper-partisan faces. The judge masterfully transformed a he-said/she-said into Kavanaugh vs. the Committee. That’s an easier fight to win.
Forced to lay out the facts after Republicans continually opted to punt in the morning, Kavanaugh, with, yes, some earlier help from Mitchell, made a strong case. Ford said she did not know who paid for her polygraph. She said she did not know who drove her to or from the house where she says Kavanaugh assaulted her. She said she did not know where the alleged assault took place, “the Bethesda area” was as specific as she got. She said she did not know exactly when the alleged assault took place despite shifting from the mid-1980s to 1982. None of the witnesses she named said they remember any such party that she described. If her performance helped her cause, the evidence presented did not. A woman can only appear as credible as her story.
Thursday ended where it began. But in between, everything changed. Christine Blasey Ford left a positive impression that appeared to doom Brett Kavanaugh. Then Brett Kavanaugh showed himself as a fighter — and one adept at dragging himself off the canvas at that. Democrats supporting Ford supported Ford by the day’s end and Republicans supporting Kavanaugh supported Kavanaugh by the day’s end, too.
Given their bare majority, a party-line vote should determine the outcome. But a process filled with surprises surely offers a few more.