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

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump conversation with foreign leader part of complaint that led to standoff between intel chief, Congress: report Pelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' Trump to withdraw FEMA chief nominee: 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.

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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 McCainCan the presidential candidates please talk about our debt crisis? Michelle Malkin knocks Cokie Roberts shortly after her death: 'One of the first guilty culprits of fake news' Arizona Democratic Party will hold vote to censure Sinema 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 McConnellLawmakers run into major speed bumps on spending bills Budowsky: Donald, Boris, Bibi — The right in retreat Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers | Big tech defends efforts against online extremism | Trump attends secretive Silicon Valley fundraiser | Omar urges Twitter to take action against Trump tweet MORE (R-Ky.) insists a vote must happen soon.

All three undecided Republicans — Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP signals unease with Barr's gun plan Sinema touts bipartisan record as Arizona Democrats plan censure vote The Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico MORE (Maine), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake donates to Democratic sheriff being challenged by Arpaio in Arizona The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says US-China trade talks to resume, hails potential trade with Japan, UK Joe Arpaio to run for Maricopa County sheriff in 2020  MORE (Ariz.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSinema touts bipartisan record as Arizona Democrats plan censure vote Kavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw McConnell lashes out at Democrats over 'unhinged' criticism of Kavanaugh 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 GrahamGOP signals unease with Barr's gun plan Overnight Defense: Trump says he has 'many options' on Iran | Hostage negotiator chosen for national security adviser | Senate Dems block funding bill | Documents show Pentagon spent at least 4K at Trump's Scotland resort GOP's Kennedy sends warning shot to Trump nominee Menashi 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 CardinSenate confirms two Treasury nominees over Democratic objections Congress passes bill to begin scenic byways renaissance GOP lawmaker: 'Dangerous' abuse of Interpol by Russia, China, Venezuela 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 HarrisBiden lead shrinks, Sanders and Warren close gap: poll Defense bill talks set to start amid wall fight Media and candidates should be ashamed that they don't talk about obesity 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 ConwayObama, Bush among those paying tribute to Cokie Roberts: 'A trailblazing figure' Journalists, political heavyweights pay respects to Cokie Roberts: 'A pioneer for so many' Iran's supreme leader rules out talks with US at all levels 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 to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom Trump awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to economist, former Reagan adviser Arthur Laffer Second ex-Senate staffer charged in aiding doxxing of GOP senators 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.