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Republicans Marched Into A Buzzsaw

There is something exquisite about President Trump’s reported reaction to watching Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testify before the Senate on Thursday.

Trump is a pig, which no doubt contributed to his surprise, but he’s also a fool, and was likely convinced that the Republicans’ response to sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was not only the best way to get him confirmed, but also likely to redeem the GOP.

In reality, the only way the approach Republicans adopted could have gone well is if they both truly believed Kavanaugh, and had reason to believe that Ford’s allegation was not credible. That, as a witness, she would be dodgy, aggressive, cowed, or easily trapped.

They had no reason to believe that. Nothing about Kavanaugh’s reaction to the accusation has been confidence inspiring, while Ford has voluntarily submitted to a polygraph exam, voluntarily requested an FBI investigation, and volunteered the name of an eye witness who is Kavanaugh’s ally—one Republicans have shielded from proper questioning. This is why Democrats and liberals have not approached today’s hearing racked with concern that Ford would be easily impeachable. It’s also why Republicans did everything they could to intimidate Ford out of appearing, and placing herself under oath. They knew what Trump didn’t.

For weeks now, people who have taken Ford seriously have pleaded with Republicans to concede the FBI background check, to investigate the allegations seriously. It is clear now that these options would not have been concessions to the GOP; they would have saved Republicans from themselves, at least for a time, and may thus spared Ford from having to endure this spectacle.

Ford came armed with at least one critical lead: that she knew where Kavanaugh’s accomplice, Mark Judge, worked the summer of the attack—that an investigation could narrow down the date of the assault to a two week window. Republicans could have learned that information privately, pursued the lead, made Judge answer specific questions under penalty of perjury.

They, instead, walked into a buzzsaw voluntarily. It was only an involuntary decision insofar as they felt they had no other choice, but that is only because they were institutionally incapable of taking the allegation seriously. To do so, they would have had to be willing to cut Kavanaugh loose, and all that would entail:

It would have entailed taking sexual assault seriously, and imposing accountability for it, even at the cost of momentary and marginal political power.

It would have entailed taking sexual assault seriously in a way that would have reopened questions about the president they all support.

It would have entailed taking sexual assault seriously in a way that would have placed a Supreme Court seat at a small but real risk.

That left them with no choice but to, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put it, plow right through. To take the sting out of it, they hired a female sexual assault prosecutor to stand in for the Republican men on the Judiciary Committee, but they did not apparently think through how asking a methodical prosecutor to undermine Ford and provide cover for the men, but only in five minute increments, would work in practice.

It did not work well. But no alternate strategy would have worked better. All options before them were superficial modifications to a process—one of their own creation—that was fundamentally rotten.

By the end of Ford’s hearing, the prosecutor, Rachel Mitchell, essentially confessed that the proper way to assess the merits of Ford’s story was with a professional investigation. Republicans knew that, too, which is exactly why they decided not to allow one. Political self-immolation was the only option left.