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

President TrumpDonald John TrumpJudge rules to not release Russia probe documents over Trump tweets Trump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida 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 McCainSenate is leaning to the Democrats, big time, with a wave Budowsky: Trump's COVID-19 death toll dominates election Democrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein 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 McConnellOn The Money: Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi bullish, Trump tempers optimism | Analysis: Nearly 1M have run out of jobless benefits Trump casts doubt on hopes for quick stimulus deal after aides expressed optimism Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid MORE (R-Ky.) insists a vote must happen soon.

All three undecided Republicans — Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDemocrats to boycott committee vote on Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid Senate is leaning to the Democrats, big time, with a wave MORE (Maine), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeOne of life's great mysteries: Why would any conservative vote for Biden? Trump excoriates Sasse over leaked audio Biden holds 8-point lead over Trump in Arizona: poll MORE (Ariz.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiDemocrats to boycott committee vote on Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Senate to vote Monday to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to Supreme Court Senate GOP eyes Oct. 26 for confirming Barrett to Supreme Court 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 GrahamHillicon Valley: Threatening emails raise election concerns | Quibi folds after raising nearly B | Trump signs law making it a crime to hack voting systems Trump signs legislation making hacking voting systems a federal crime Jaime Harrison on Lindsey Graham postponing debate: 'He's on the verge of getting that one-way ticket back home' 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 CardinPelosi hopeful COVID-19 relief talks resume 'soon' Congress must finish work on popular conservation bill before time runs out PPP application window closes after coronavirus talks deadlock  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 HarrisObama to campaign for Biden in Florida Biden appears on Brené Brown's podcast to discuss 'empathy, unity and courage' The Hill's Campaign Report: Obama to hit the campaign trail l Biden's eye-popping cash advantage l New battleground polls favor Biden 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 ConwayBillboard warns Trump's Iowa rally will be 'superspreader event' White House Halloween to be 'modified' to meet CDC guidelines: report Minnesota health officials connect COVID-19 cases to Trump, Biden campaign events 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 HatchMellman: What happened after Ginsburg? Bottom line Bottom line 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.