The narrative surrounding embattled Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh seemed somewhat settled: After days of bitter wrangling, Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a party when they were both in high school, had agreed to testify in an open hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. Kavanaugh was apparently prepared to offer up detailed calendars from the summer in question that included no entries about the party. Ford still had no one to corroborate her account of the party, or even that such a party took place.
But on Sunday evening, The New Yorker published an explosive report detailing another allegation against Kavanaugh, this one from a Yale University classmate named Deborah Ramirez, who says Kavanaugh exposed himself to her and forced her to touch his penis at a party when he was a freshman. According to the report, Senate Republicans learned of this allegation last week and instead of slowing things down to investigate it, pushed to accelerate the confirmation timeline.
This second accusation comprehensively blows apart the larger defense of Kavanaugh against Ford's story and puts Senate Republicans in the position of defending and confirming a man who may be a serial sex predator. The bigger picture is this: President Trump and his Republican allies have made such an incomprehensible hash of this nomination that they are likely to pay a steep electoral price whether or not he is confirmed. Kavanaugh has become a dreadful pick who looks worse every day and whose problems have been magnified at every opportunity by Republican elites determined to make themselves look as hostile to women as possible.
It's worth remembering that even before Kavanaugh's nomination descended into attempted rape allegations, pusillanimous ultimatums issued by a gang of white men to an alleged assault victim, bizarre Twitter doppelganger conspiracy theories, and rumors of how his potential female clerks needed to be groomed to look like models, his nomination to the Supreme Court was polling at just 37 percent. You would think that, in light of the GOP's worsening position heading into November's midterm elections, Trump would want his Supreme Court pick to be bloodlessly anodyne, a judicial Tim Kaine who, if nothing else, would not engulf the administration in yet another self-lit dumpster fire. Because the nomination fight is happening so close to an election in which Republicans are trailing with women by an insurmountable margin of as many as 28 points, nominating someone like Amy Coney Barrett of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals might have been a particularly shrewd move.
Instead, Trump chose Kavanaugh, whose baggage is beginning to look very much like it might exceed the weight limit for this flight. For a nominee to the highest court, Kavanaugh has an unusually partisan past. He served on Ken Starr's years-long, mostly fruitless investigation of Bill Clinton. He worked for George W. Bush's legal team in the 2000 Florida recount imbroglio that resulted in the Supreme Court's party-line installation of a Republican president, and as an associate White House counsel for Bush, at a time when the administration was crafting elaborate legal rationales for its barbaric torture and detention policies.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reportedly objected to the Kavanaugh nomination at the time, knowing that aspects of the nominee's political past were going to prove incendiary. But Kavanaugh's past as a GOP political operative was never going to derail his nomination, because Republicans in Congress were willing to tolerate just about anything — including possible perjury in past confirmation hearings — to get a fifth conservative justice onto the court. But then came Ford's allegation, which sent the right-wing media into rape culture overdrive.
Critics argued alternately that Ford was not credible, but that even if the assault did happen, it was so, so very long ago. Also Kavanaugh was drunk! And furthermore, he was probably just engaging in standard teenaged boy "horseplay." Shouldn't we consider the kind of man Kavanaugh later became?! A letter attesting to Kavanaugh's virtue appeared the very next day, signed by 65 women who said they knew him in high school, which was both a suspiciously preposterous number of acquaintances and a mysteriously fast turnaround time. Kavanaugh still denied the party ever happened, as did his friend Mark Judge, who Ford tagged as the other boy in the room.
Senate Republicans on the Judiciary Committee invited Ford to testify, but they arbitrarily picked Monday the 24th, saying that if she didn't show up on that day and only that day, they would move on and vote on Kavanaugh's confirmation. In doing so, they somehow managed the feat of both losing tactically while simultaneously looking like unfeeling bullies.
Meanwhile, the morally compromised misogynists of the GOP Senate caucus simply could not refrain from saying incredibly stupid and offensive things that betrayed their fundamental lack of concern about whether Ford's story was true or not. The message was clear: We're pushing this guy through whether he tried to rape someone in high school or not.
Then, conservative strategist Ed Whelan posted a bizarre, slanderous Twitter thread advancing the theory that Ford's assault wasn't the work of Kavanaugh but of this other guy from Georgetown Prep who looks like Kavanaugh. The shocked reaction to this inane stunt was swift and instantaneous. Ford immediately shot back that she knew both the classmate and Kavanaugh and that there is no chance she would mix them up. Whelan has taken a leave of absence from his think tank.
The whole charade stank like week-old shrimp and raised a series of deeply problematic questions. Whelan's stunt left many people wondering what else is in Kavanaugh's past that necessitates this kind of maneuvering. On Sunday night we got the answer: There was at least one more allegation, if not more to come. Republicans knew it all along, and they didn't care.
There are two ways Republicans could have avoided this mess. The first and most obvious would have been to treat Ford's allegations fairly and dispassionately, rather than pre-emptively concluding that she was lying and appearing to value the judicial wars over women's rights. At least then, when the Ramirez accusation surfaced, they could have claimed to be pursuing some kind of fair process. Instead, by resurrecting tired rape culture tropes and throwing them at Ford one by one, elected Republicans and their media allies played haplessly into this administration's extremely well-earned reputation as a port of call for generic male supremacists. You could set aside a full day for blue-sky brainstorming and not come up with a more politically destructive way for Republicans to react to these allegations.
Imagine for a second an alternate universe in which Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and other Republicans on the committee said something simple, like, "We take these allegations very seriously and we will postpone a vote until after an investigation and additional hearings." In this universe, the FBI swiftly looked into the allegations, Ford was able to tell her story, and the individuals Ford alleges to have been at the party were subpoenaed for testimony. We might not know any more than we do now, but critically, Republicans could at least say that they took the accusations seriously and worked to uncover the truth. While there would likely still be no way to fully wash the stain off of Kavanaugh, they could at least have avoided the initial cloud of ill will that hangs over the whole episode. And they would have been in a much better position to handle any additional bombshells.
They could also have simply withdrawn the Kavanaugh nomination when he came under this kind of fire. After spending decades executing an ingenious plot to have fundamentalist constitutional zealots take over the Supreme Court of the United States, Republicans somehow chose this moment — The very moment of culmination! The Federalist Society rapture! — to protect the reputation of one man above all else, thereby endangering the whole project and further imperiling their chances in the midterms. Had they kicked Kavanaugh to the curb a week ago, there would have been plenty of time to nominate an alternative and push that person through the Senate before November. The whole fiasco would have been forgotten by Trump's base in a matter of days.
But that's not what these Republicans did. As they have since the day Trump took office, they chose the path of maximum moral abasement and political peril. And now they are going to pay the price.