Kavanaugh fight roils an already ugly political climate

Kavanaugh fight roils an already ugly political climate
© Getty Illustration

Death threats. Heated protests. Nasty campaign ads.

The political climate is growing increasingly ugly and personal in the Trump era, a sense that is being underlined by the confirmation battle over Brett Kavanaugh, whose Supreme Court nomination has been roiled by sexual assault allegations in the “Me Too” era and has sparked impassioned debate on both sides of the aisle.

The high-stakes battle comes at a time when there is already concern about political fights getting out of hand in the run-up to a potentially volatile and closely watched midterm election.

ADVERTISEMENT

At the center of it all is President TrumpDonald John TrumpJustice Department preparing for Mueller report as soon as next week: reports Smollett lawyers declare 'Empire' star innocent Pelosi asks members to support resolution against emergency declaration MORE, whose fiery attacks and Twitter insults have infuriated his opponents while firing up his base.

Both parties have seen their members pulled into the tumult.

Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellDems seize on Times bombshell to push allegations of Trump obstruction Democratic donors stuck in shopping phase of primary Five takeaways from acting AG's fiery House hearing MORE (Calif.), a rising star in the Democratic Party who is seen as a potential 2020 contender, came under fire this week for downplaying violent threats made against Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTexas GOP rep opposes Trump’s use of national emergency to get border wall GOP Sen. Collins says she'll back resolution to block Trump's emergency declaration Talk grows that Trump will fire Dan Coats MORE’s (R-Maine) office. Collins has been subject to intense pressure from liberals over her vote on Kavanaugh.

“Boo hoo hoo. You’re a senator who police will protect. A sexual assault victim can’t sleep in her home tonight because of threats,” Swalwell wrote in a since-deleted tweet, referencing Christine Blasey Ford, who went public with her sexual misconduct accusations against Kavanaugh last Sunday.

Swalwell later apologized, and clarified that “no one should make threats.”

“Be loud and be heard,” Swalwell said, but “don’t use violence.”

Freshman Rep. Ralph NormanRalph Warren NormanSouth Carolina New Members 2019 House conservatives want ethics probe into Dems' handling of Kavanaugh allegations Milwaukee County GOP mocks Kavanaugh accusation, says Ginsburg claimed Lincoln 'grabbed my ass' MORE (R-S.C.) sparked a flurry of criticism after he made a joke that was seen as mocking Ford.

“Did you hear about this?” Norman said at an election debate, according to The Post and Courier.

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg came out saying she was groped by Abraham Lincoln,” he quipped about the 85-year-old Supreme Court Justice.

Democrats quickly blasted the comments as inappropriate, but Norman said people need to “lighten up.”

Trump has been generally restrained in his response to the Kavanaugh accusations this week, but on Friday, he let loose on Ford and her lawyers, raising doubts about her story.

“If the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents,” Trump tweeted.

“The radical left lawyers want the FBI to get involved NOW. Why didn’t someone call the FBI 36 years ago?” he wrote in a separate tweet.

Meanwhile, Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoFemale Dems see double standard in Klobuchar accusations Trump tweets video mocking Dems not cheering during State of the Union New battle lines in war over Trump’s judicial picks MORE (D-Hawaii) has become a hero on the left for her outspoken, biting criticism over the GOP’s handling of the Kavanaugh allegations.

She has called Republican claims that they have done everything they can to reach out to the accuser “bullshit” and called on “the men of this country” to “shut up and step up for once.”

Ed Whelan, a former clerk for the late Justice Antonin Scalia who serves as president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, faced immense backlash for circulating an unfounded theory suggesting Ford may have confused Kavanaugh with another student.

“I made an appalling and inexcusable mistake of judgment in posting the tweet thread in a way that identified Kavanaugh's Georgetown Prep classmate. I take full responsibility for that mistake, and I deeply apologize for it,” Whelan, who is supporting Kavanaugh, tweeted. “I realize that does not undo the mistake.”

The episodes strike at the heart of how the political environment is deteriorating, with emotions running high as both parties gear up for high-stakes political battles over the Supreme Court and midterm elections.

“Trump’s rhetoric has not only given cover to a lot of Republicans to say a lot of ugly things that most wouldn’t have said, but has also given permission to Democrats to start spewing their anger and going after him,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and former Senate aide who worked on Senate Judiciary confirmations.

If Kavanaugh is seated on the bench, the conservative justice could tilt the direction of the court for decades to come and determine the fate of abortion rights, civil rights and a whole host of other issues.

His confirmation hearing was colored by political protests, interruptions from Democratic senators and women who showed up dressed in “Handmaid’s Tale” costumes.

If Ford testifies in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee next week, the high-profile hearing could get even wilder.

There have already been violent threats and ugly calls and emails directed at Ford, Kavanaugh, Collins and Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinFeinstein says she thinks Biden will run after meeting with him Trump judicial nominee Neomi Rao seeks to clarify past remarks on date rape Bottom Line MORE (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

Republicans and Democrats alike face challenges in making their positions heard while also ensuring that things don’t devolve too far or turn into violence.

It’s a fraught political moment for both parties, and comes at a time when long-simmering tensions are already nearing a boiling point.

There are less than 50 days to go until the 2018 midterm elections — the first since Trump was elected to the White House, following one of the most divisive presidential campaigns in modern U.S. history.

The GOP is now desperately fighting to hang on to its congressional majorities this November, while Democrats who are furious with Trump are seeking revenge at the polls.

The heated election cycle has produced nasty campaign ads, including some that feature family members, arrest records and allegations of affairs.

Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersPrivate insurance plays a critical part in home mortgage ecosystem On The Money: Lawmakers closing in on border deal | Dems build case for Trump tax returns | Trump, Xi won't meet before trade deadline | Waters in talks with Mnuchin for testimony Waters in talks with Mnuchin for testimony on lifting of sanctions on Russian firms MORE (Calif.), a liberal Democratic star, encouraged her supporters earlier this year to confront Trump administration officials in public.

And Hollywood is even jumping into the fray, with actress Carole Cook joking to TMZ, “where is John Wilkes Booth when you need him?” referencing the man who assassinated President Lincoln in 1865. The statement earned Cook a visit with the Secret Service.

Political observers say the breakdown in culture is partly a response to Trump, but they also note that politics had been growing increasingly polarized even before he served in the White House.

And they also say the rise of social media and cable news networks are partly to blame for inflaming the tensions in the country.

“There’s no denying that politics has become much more partisan and the rhetoric has become much more uglier. Especially in recent years,” Manley said. “Part of it is due to Trump. But part of it has been going on for a while.”