The Memo: Trump’s shot at Ford seems to backfire

President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhat the Mueller report tells us about Putin, Russia and Trump's election Fox's Brit Hume fires back at Trump's criticism of the channel Anti-US trade war song going viral in China MORE’s latest shot in the culture war appeared to backfire Wednesday, as Republicans distanced themselves from comments he had made at a rally the previous evening.

The president, speaking in Southaven, Miss., on Tuesday mocked Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault.

ADVERTISEMENT

Trump, to the crowd’s apparent delight, scorned Ford’s inability to remember details surrounding the alleged incident, which she says happened at a Maryland house party in 1982 when she and Kavanaugh were high school students.

Kavanaugh denies the allegations, and the political world has been dominated by claim and counter-claim since the two testified separately before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday.

But Trump’s decision to up the ante by openly deriding Ford drew criticism even from some members of his own party.

“We’re in a very familiar place, where he says something that is obviously outrageous that doesn’t help his cause at all,” said Doug Heye, a GOP strategist and a former communications director of the Republican National Committee.

Trump has been willing to stoke hot-button issues since he began running for the presidency.

Attacks on the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainPelosi receives John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award Romney: Trump 'has distanced himself from some of the best qualities of the human character' MSNBC host: Barr 'the most dangerous person' who works for Trump MORE’s (R-Ariz.) time as a prisoner of war, on Gold Star parents who appeared at the Democratic National Convention, and on a judge of Mexican parentage, were all predicted, wrongly, to have disastrous effects on his electoral chances.

In the White House, he has frequently fanned the controversy over NFL players “taking a knee” during the national anthem to protest racial injustice and police brutality — and has suffered no clear detrimental effect on his political fortunes for doing so.

But this time could be different, critics say, in part because Kavanaugh’s confirmation is far from certain. Three moderate Republican senators hold the judge’s fate in their hands, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — McConnell, Kaine offer bill to raise tobacco buying age to 21 | Measles outbreak spreads to 24 states | Pro-ObamaCare group launches ad blitz to protect Dems GOP senator warns Trump, Mulvaney against 'draconian' budget cuts Overnight Defense: Iran tensions swirl as officials prepare to brief Congress | Trump threatens war would be 'end of Iran' | Graham tells Trump to 'stand firm' | Budget talks begin MORE (R-Ky.) insists a vote must happen soon.

All three undecided Republicans — Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDem senator: Many Republicans 'privately expressed concerns' about Mueller findings Congress: Support legislation to defend Medicare home health  The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition — Trump: GOP has `clear contrast' with Dems on immigration MORE (Maine), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeJeff Daniels blasts 'cowardice' of Senate Republicans against Trump WANTED: A Republican with courage Protesters who went viral confronting Flake cheered at award event MORE (Ariz.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOvernight Health Care — Presented by Campaign for Accountability — House passes drug pricing bills amid ObamaCare row | Senate Republicans running away from Alabama abortion law | Ocasio-Cortez confronts CEO over K drug price tag Senate Republicans running away from Alabama abortion law Bipartisan senators unveil measure to end surprise medical bills MORE (Alaska) — were critical of the comments Trump made at the Mississippi rally.

Collins referred to them as “just plain wrong,” Flake as “kind of appalling” and Murkowski as “wholly inappropriate” and “unacceptable."

There was even criticism from some figures more closely allied with Trump and Kavanaugh.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTensions swirl around Iran as administration to brief Congress Press: Justin Amash breaks ranks with party Overnight Defense: Iran tensions swirl as officials prepare to brief Congress | Trump threatens war would be 'end of Iran' | Graham tells Trump to 'stand firm' | Budget talks begin MORE (R-S.C.), who has been one of Kavanaugh’s staunchest defenders, said during an appearance Wednesday at a conference organized by The Atlantic, that he would tell Trump to “knock it off — it’s not helpful.”

The danger, from a center-right perspective, is that the incendiary nature of Trump’s comments raise the political price that Collins and Murkowski might have to pay for supporting Kavanaugh in a final Senate confirmation vote. Flake, unlike the other two, is retiring from the Senate and is therefore liberated from any calculations about his reelection chances.

Still, some supporters of the president insist that the chances of Kavanaugh’s confirmation failing because of Trump's comments are being exaggerated.

Brad Blakeman, a veteran of President George W. Bush’s White House, insisted that the confirmation process “isn’t about Donald Trump, it’s about Brett Kavanaugh.”

Referring to the Republican senators whose votes are still up for grabs, he argued that Kavanaugh should be confirmed on his own merits.

“The fact is, they are not going to vote against Brett Kavanaugh because the president has made statements that make them uncomfortable,” he insisted.

Some in the GOP also believe that any lawmaker within the party who opposes Kavanaugh will face political consequences. They note that conservative voters backed the president in 2016, despite his own colorful personal history, in part because they believed he would get conservatives onto the high court. 

On the other side of the aisle, Democrats blame Trump for a tone of callousness and dismissiveness that they view as inappropriate for a commander in chief.

Speaking to MSNBC’s Ari Melber on Wednesday evening, Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinOn The Money: GOP angst grows over Trump's trade war | Trump promises help for 'Patriot Farmers' | Markets rebound | CBO founding director Alice Rivlin dies | Senate to vote on disaster aid bill next week Senators offer bipartisan retirement savings bill Top Finance Dem offers bill to help those repaying student loans save for retirement MORE (D-Md.) accused the president of seeking to make the confirmation process a partisan endeavor.

Trump’s rally comments, Cardin said, were “horrible, they should have no place in American politics…It was just disgusting.”

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisFeehery: A whole new season of 'Game of Thrones' Overnight Energy: Warren wants Dems to hold climate-focused debate | Klobuchar joins candidates rejecting fossil fuel money | 2020 contender Bennet offers climate plan O'Rourke says he would 'absolutely' do Fox News town hall MORE (D-Calif.), a possible 2020 presidential candidate, lambasted Trump during an interview at the Atlantic conference for “urging a crowd to laugh at [Ford]” while speaking from the stage at a political rally.

“I’m embarrassed that the president of the United States would do that to this woman,” Harris added.

The White House has closed ranks around the president, with press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and senior counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayDem criticizes newest calendars for Trump Interior chief as 'fake' Bush economics director says psychiatrists labeled Trump 'total narcissist' Hatch Act complaints jumped nearly 30 percent Trump's first year in office: report MORE both defending his remarks.

But in the broader Republican Party, there is consternation that the president would risk alienating female voters, in particular, at a time when polls are already showing erosion in the party’s support with women.

“It causes further anger to white, suburban, college-educated women who, to put it mildly, have been skeptical of Trump,” said Heye.

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump gambles in push for drug import proposal Biden's role in Anita Hill hearings defended by witness not allowed to testify 'Congress' worst tax idea ever'? Hardly. MORE (R-Utah) had pithier advice for Trump.

“I wish he would just stay out of it,” he told reporters.

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