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

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump faces high stakes in meeting with Erdoğan amid impeachment drama Democrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Trump threatening to fire Mulvaney: report 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 McCainSteve Schmidt: 'Overwhelming chance that Trump will dump Pence' for Haley Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Sanders proposes expanded Veterans Affairs services, B to rebuild infrastructure 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 McConnellMcConnell protege emerges as Kentucky's next rising star Hillicon Valley: Schumer questions Army over use of TikTok | Federal court rules against random searches of travelers' phones | Groups push for election security funds in stopgap bill | Facebook's new payment feature | Disney+ launch hit by glitches McConnell, GOP leaders say they won't be watching House impeachment hearing MORE (R-Ky.) insists a vote must happen soon.

All three undecided Republicans — Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP senators warn against Trump firing intelligence community official This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Senate panel clears controversial Trump court pick MORE (Maine), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Kelly, McSally virtually tied in Arizona Senate race: poll The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing MORE (Ariz.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiGoogle sparks new privacy fears over health care data This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry GOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week 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 GrahamGraham says Trump should be allowed to undo DACA order The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems, GOP dig in for public impeachment hearings The Hill's Morning Report - Witness transcripts plow ground for public impeachment testimony 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 CardinOvernight Health Care: Democratic gains mark setback for Trump on Medicaid work requirements | Senate Dems give Warren 'Medicare for All' plan the cold shoulder | Judge strikes Trump rule on health care 'conscience' rights Democrats give Warren's 'Medicare for All' plan the cold shoulder Former NAACP president to run for Cummings's House seat 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 HarrisOutsider candidates outpoll insider candidates Poll: Buttigieg leads Democratic field in Iowa Press: Another billionaire need not apply 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 ConwayVaping advocates feel confident Trump will turn from flavor ban Impeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Krystal Ball praises former McConnell aide's historic win in Kentucky 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 awards Medal of Freedom to racing industry icon Roger Penske Trump holds more Medal of Freedom ceremonies than predecessors but awards fewer medals Trump to award Medal of Freedom to former Attorney General Edwin Meese 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.