Christine Blasey Ford’s courageous decision to attach her name, face, and voice to her credible claim that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when the two were high school students sets the stage for a morality play that will distill Republican politics more clearly than anything since Donald Trump became president.
After Blasey Ford went public on Sunday in an interview with the Washington Post Senate Republicans tried to bluff her back into silence, by calling on her to testify publicly, but on a schedule so accelerated they believed she would decline. Blasey Ford has instead accepted.
Kavanaugh has, likewise, agreed to return to the Judiciary Committee, where he has promised to dispute Blasey Ford’s claim entirely.
One of them will be lying under oath, and Republicans would have us believe it’s the unknown psychology professor with everything to lose, rather than Kavanaugh, who has been angling to join the Supreme Court for most of his career, and shown a willingness to mislead the Senate in order to get there.
It must be said that this controversy doesn’t simply weigh one person’s credibility against another’s. The evidence we have tilts against Kavanaugh. Blasey Ford told people in her life what happened, including a therapist who took contemporaneous notes, years ago. When she was deciding whether or not to come forward, she submitted voluntarily to a polygraph examination, and—for whatever it’s worth—she passed. Kavanaugh, by contrast, has nothing more credible to offer than his tainted word.
But congressional hearings are perfect venues for reducing factual disputes into partisan public relations contests, and Kavanaugh will have a congressional majority, a White House, and its formidable propaganda apparatus on his side. He can only survive the accusation if this—the largest and loudest source of misinformation in the history of the world—savages Blasey Ford and and leaves her ruined. Everything we know about the bottomless moral abyss of the Trump-era GOP suggests the most vile episode in Trump’s sordid political career awaits us—and her.
We have to expect the worst, because there is one possible outcome, however remote, that is morally and karmically just: The accusation could undo Kavanaugh’s nomination, Republicans could lose the Senate in the midterms, and the prize that the right has organized around for decades, the confirmation of a fifth anti-abortion justice to the Supreme Court, could vanish before their eyes.
If Republicans hadn’t placed themselves in political peril already, Trump could withdraw Kavanaugh’s nomination, replace him with someone who has never been accused of assault, and confirm him or her after the election. But that option is unvailable to them.
For all the ink spilled debating whether Trump’s presidency is a symptom of widespread racism or economic anxiety, there are reasons that the elite institutions of the right stuck with Trump after his own history of sexual assault became clear, and replacing Anthony Kennedy with someone like Kavanaugh was perhaps highest on the list.
That ambition goes a long way toward explaining why Republicans chose to define themselves by a morally obscene calculation: that they will absolve rapists and other sexual abusers, and their ignore or smear their accusers, if they will help conservatives exert political power.
This paid dividends in 2016, then backfired when deployed in support of Roy Moore’s Senate campaign in Alabama, but having already coated themselves in the stink of abetting sexual abusers, Republicans stand to lose very little by doing it all over again. The cost is sunk. Abandoning Kavanaugh won’t cleanse away their embrace of Moore and Trump. But ruining Blasey Ford’s life might help them achieve a 40-year goal before voters are given another say.
That’s why they will stoop to unimaginable depths in the coming days. It’s also why the pushback must be relentless. Republicans embraced a sexual abuser, then another, and now a third, in order to erode all women’s bodily autonomy for a generation. If this final alliance brings the whole wicked scheme to naught, it would not only be justice for Christine Blasey Ford. It would be poetic justice, too.