Brett Kavanaugh came into yesterday’s Senate hearing on his nomination to the Supreme Court in dire trouble. Prior to his appearance, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard wrenching, agonizing, and manifestly credible testimony from Christine Blasey Ford as she described the sexual assault she says Kavanaugh inflicted upon her over three decades ago when they were both still in high school. Committee Republicans, likely sensitive to the optics of a sexual assault survivor being interrogated by their all-male roster, outsourced their questioning to sex-crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell, who didn’t manage to undercut Ford’s credibility but did poke a few holes in Kavanaugh’s.
Cornered, threatened, and facing the abrupt termination of what was supposed to be a painless ascension to the Supreme Court, Kavanaugh went feral. His opening statement kicked off with an acerbic screed aimed at the committee Democrats. Yelling into his microphone and flushed with anger, Kavanaugh denied every allegation against him. He snapped at the Democratic senators on the committee, talked over them, and petulantly threw their questions back in their faces. And all throughout the hearing, he lied about matters large and small.
Much of the coverage focused on Kavanaugh’s anger and his tone, and many conservatives were quick to argue that his rage was understandable as that of a man falsely accused. But the most revealing moment of Kavanaugh’s testimony came early on when he said this:
This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election. Fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record. Revenge on behalf of the Clintons. and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.
If you’ve spent any time watching Fox News or listening to conservative talk radio, rhetoric like this should be instantly recognizable: conspiratorial, steeped in grievance, and swaddled in anger. Watch Sean Hannity’s program on literally any night of the week and you’ll be bombarded with near-identical harangues about shadowy left-wing conspiracies driven by resentment over President Donald Trump’s election and invariably connected somehow to Bill and Hillary Clinton.
“The entire basis of Robert Mueller’s so-called investigation is based on a lie and a conspiracy theory that was cooked up by the Obama administration, by Democrats, and by the liberal news media as an excuse for why Hillary Clinton lost the election,” Hannity complained this past January. “Mueller’s investigation has now morphed into a Democratic political hit job.” Compare that to the Supreme Court nominee’s accusation of a “calculated and orchestrated political hit” fueled by “anger about President Trump and the 2016 election” and Clintonite vengeance. Brett Kavanaugh was not a judge in that moment; he was a pro-Trump cable news pundit.
To no one’s surprise, Kavanaugh’s testimony was loudly celebrated by the Republican establishment and conservative media. GOP senators who were content to let their proxy counsel speak for them to Dr. Ford abruptly abandoned her to join and echo Kavanaugh’s aggrieved complaint.
During and after the hearing, the general reaction was that Kavanaugh was putting on a performance for an audience of one -- specifically, Donald Trump, who values this sort of aggressive combativeness (particularly from powerful allies who are facing sexual misconduct allegations). And that’s true insofar as Kavanaugh needed to reassure the man who nominated him, and he succeeded in that effort. But it would be incorrect to view Kavanaugh’s testimony yesterday as some sort of act or contrivance.
This is who Brett Kavanaugh is. This is the Brett Kavanaugh who worked as a deputy to former independent counsel Ken Starr and harbored a singular obsession with long-debunked conspiracy theories about Clinton White House official Vince Foster’s suicide. This is the Brett Kavanaugh who, as a staffer in George W. Bush’s White House, was linked to a scandal surrounding emails stolen from Democratic senators (Kavanaugh’s blanket denials of having knowingly received those stolen documents were convincingly debunked by Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats).
The Kavanaugh that we saw at the confirmation hearings earlier this month who talked about the virtues of an independent and nonpartisan judiciary, who said “a good judge must be an umpire -- a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy,” who warned that the “the Supreme Court must never be viewed as a partisan institution” -- that was the fake Kavanaugh. That Brett Kavanaugh was putting on a show and playing the part of an impartial jurist. Maintaining that fiction yesterday would not have helped his cause, so he cast it aside and let his inner Hannity take control.
Now it seems likely that Kavanaugh will be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate and ascend to the Supreme Court. Chances are pretty good that, at some point, the high court will be forced to weigh in on the Russia investigation conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller: an investigation that Trump has attacked as a Democratic conspiracy linked to Hillary Clinton that is driven by lingering anger over his election.
Hey … where have we heard that before?