The Memo: Could Kavanaugh furor spark another ‘year of the woman’?

The Memo: Could Kavanaugh furor spark another ‘year of the woman’?
© Greg Nash
Political insiders are trying to forecast the potential ramifications of the Brett Kavanaugh controversy in real time, after President TrumpDonald John TrumpREAD: Transcript of James Comey's interview with House Republicans Klobuchar on 2020: ‘I do think you want voices from the Midwest’ Israel boycott fight roils Democrats in year-end spending debate MORE's Supreme Court nomination was roiled this week by allegations of sexual assault.
 
Christine Blasey Ford alleges that Kavanaugh held her down on a bed, groped her and covered her mouth to mute her distress at a house party in Maryland in 1982 when both were high school students.
 
Kavanaugh denies the allegations, and the Senate Judiciary Committee has been locked in negotiations that spilled into Saturday on whether Ford would testify next week and on what day, among other conditions.
 
Trump and the Republican Party had seen erosion in female support even before the current furor. Now the question is whether the allegations, and the response to them, will inflict further damage with the midterms roughly six weeks away.
 
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Some Democratic strategists say they could be on the brink of a similar situation to one seen a generation ago.
 
In 1991, Anita Hill accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexually harassing her. Thomas was ultimately confirmed to the high court, but the following year saw Democrats win the White House and four female senators — all Democrats — get elected. It was dubbed the Year of the Woman.
 
“The dynamics of having exclusively white male Republican senators [questioning Hill] ushered in the ‘Year of the Woman’ — the biggest understanding of the need to expand women’s political power this country has ever seen,” said Democratic strategist Jess McIntosh.
 
McIntosh added she could “only imagine what happens in 2018” given that women are, she said, “incandescent with rage right now.”
 
Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have also compared the handling of the Kavanaugh controversy to the Hill hearings.
 
In a letter to Grassley on Friday, the 10 Democratic senators on the panel asserted: “The Committee majority’s treatment of Dr. Ford has unquestionably been worse than the disgraceful treatment that Anita Hill received 27 years ago.”
 
Some Republicans privately express concerns about how the controversy could play at the ballot box, especially with suburban female voters, whose support will be pivotal in the midterms. 
 
 
But a number of opinion polls have pointed to a much wider Democratic advantage this year, even before the Kavanaugh controversy.
 
An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll over the summer showed Republicans losing the group by a 2-1 margin, 60 points to 30 points.

Some Republicans insist that the Democratic response to Ford’s allegations will be seen as a partisan ploy, however. 

“We have seen time and again that women Republican voters do not fall for this kind of gender baiting,” said GOP strategist Sue Zoldak. “Everyone has respect for what a woman goes through in a lifetime of interactions with men. But the question at hand is, does Judge Kavanaugh have the qualifications to defend our Constitution, interpret the law, and maintain checks and balances between the branches of government?”

Zoldak added: “Asking women to take sides by gender is a failing Democratic ploy that is consciously manipulative and a disservice to women.”

Ford wrote to the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDemocrats will fail if they portray William Barr as controversial pick Senate Dems urge Trump to continue nuclear arms control negotiations after treaty suspension Senate Intel leaders ask judge not to jail former aide amid leak investigation MORE (D-Calif.), in late July, outlining her allegations.

Feinstein did not raise that letter until the past two weeks, when she referred it to the FBI as Kavanaugh’s confirmation process neared its conclusion.

In a Thursday evening interview with The Hill, Rudy Giuliani — Trump’s lawyer and the former mayor of New York City — said of the controversy: “No matter how it plays out, the Democrats have handled this horribly. How can you justify holding onto this and then it coming out at the last minute?”

The politics of the issue were sharpened on Friday, when the president abandoned the uncharacteristically muted tone he had used in previous days when discussing the allegations.

In one Friday tweet, Trump said that he had “no doubt that, 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.”

He followed that up with another tweet complaining that “the radical left lawyers want the FBI to get involved NOW. Why didn’t someone call the FBI 36 years ago?”

Those sentiments were received negatively even by some in his own party. Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP lawmakers distance themselves from ObamaCare ruling The Hill's Morning Report — No deal in sight as shutdown looms Bipartisan senators doubt ruling striking down ObamaCare MORE (R-Maine) said that she was “appalled” by Trump’s suggestion that a delay in reporting sexual assault could be taken to mean the allegation was untrue.

Collins is arguably the single most influential senator in deciding whether or not Kavanaugh is confirmed. 

By Friday night, the tense relations between Ford and the Senate Judiciary Committee were on open display.

In a Friday evening email to the GOP majority on the panel, Ford’s attorney Debra Katz complained, “Your cavalier treatment of a sexual assault survivor who has been doing her best to cooperate with the Committee is completely inappropriate.”

Grassley acceded to Ford’s request for another day to decide on whether to testify, but not without complaint.

“With all the extensions we give Dr Ford to decide if she still wants to testify to the Senate I feel like I’m playing 2nd trombone in the judiciary orchestra and Schumer is the conductor,” he tweeted on Friday night, referring to Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMake Trump own the shutdown over his ill-advised border wall More than a tantrum McConnell’s marijuana conundrum: Cory Gardner MORE (D-N.Y.).

There was a further twist on Saturday morning when it emerged that a communications adviser for Grassley, Garrett Ventry, had resigned from his current role as allegations of sexual harassment in a previous job came to light.

The story was first reported by NBC News. In a brief interview with The Washington Post published Saturday, Ventry said he denied the allegations but had stepped down so as “to not be a distraction.”

For now the eyes of the political world are on Ford. 

Women who have gone through broadly comparable experiences say outsiders have little real grasp of what she faces.

“It is extraordinarily unpleasant because everything you have ever accomplished in your life professionally becomes secondary to the fact that you accused a prominent person of doing something inappropriate,” said Julie Roginsky, a Democratic strategist who reached a settlement with Fox News in late 2017 after accusing its former president, the late Roger Ailes, of sexual harassment. 

Ailes had died earlier that year. He had denied all complaints against him.

Referring to Ford, Roginsky added: “From the perspective of a woman who was in a similar situation not so long ago, it is extraordinarily brave of her to come forward … She has everything to lose and nothing to gain.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.