The Memo: Times correction gives GOP lifeline in latest Kavanaugh controversy

New allegations against Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughDemocratic group plans mobile billboard targeting Collins on impeachment January reminds us why courts matter — and the dangers of 'Trump judges' Planned Parenthood launches M campaign to back Democrats in 2020 MORE have sparked a political furor, but the picture has been complicated by a media misstep.

A Sunday New York Times story highlighted a fresh sexual misconduct complaint against the Supreme Court justice, only to belatedly clarify that the woman involved is said by friends to have no recollection of the incident.

ADVERTISEMENT

Conservatives have seized on that point to blame the media for a supposed witch hunt against Kavanaugh. 

They say that prior outrage about the treatment of Kavanaugh was a key motivating factor for right-leaning voters to turn out in last year’s midterm elections — and they assert the same pattern could be repeated in the wake of the current controversy.

But their argument skips past the fact that the same Times story also found that at least seven people were aware of a pre-existing charge: that Kavanaugh, while a student at Yale, had pulled out his penis and thrust it toward a female student of the time, Deborah Ramirez.

The newspaper’s story, adapted from a book by Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly, also noted that the two FBI agents who interviewed Ramirez found her “credible” and that the bureau had not interviewed any of the 25 people whom her lawyers said might have evidence to corroborate her account.

Those details have rejuvenated Democratic anger against Kavanaugh, who was narrowly confirmed to his position by the Senate last year despite allegations from a third woman, Christine Blasey Ford, that he had sexually assaulted her while placing a hand over her mouth at a party in the 1980s.

Several Democratic presidential candidates, including Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenEx-Obama official on Sanders-Warren feud: 'I don't think it played out well for either of them' Former Vermont Governor: Sanders 'will play dirty' Hill.TV's Krystal Ball rips Warren over feud with Sanders MORE (Mass.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisOvernight Energy: Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate impact | Republicans offer details on their environmental proposals | Microsoft aims to be carbon negative by 2030 Here are the 10 senators who voted against Trump's North American trade deal Team Trump criticizes Sanders for vote against USMCA MORE (Calif.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas) and former Cabinet secretary Julián Castro, have called for Kavanaugh’s impeachment since the weekend.

So, too, has progressive icon Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezAyanna Pressley's 'squad' of congresswomen offers support after she opens up about alopecia Here are the 10 senators who voted against Trump's North American trade deal Artist paints Michelle Obama, other women as battered in campaign against domestic violence MORE (D-N.Y.).

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersEx-Obama official on Sanders-Warren feud: 'I don't think it played out well for either of them' Former Vermont Governor: Sanders 'will play dirty' Hill.TV's Krystal Ball rips Warren over feud with Sanders MORE (I-Vt.) has said he would “support any appropriate constitutional mechanism” to make Kavanaugh “accountable.”

Democratic strategists told The Hill they saw no reason to believe those people were over-reaching.

ADVERTISEMENT

“I think Democrats need to stand on principle. I think Democratic voters expect that, and they expect consistency,” said consultant Tara Dowdell, who also noted that Democrats had moved against members of their own party who have been accused of sexual misdeeds, notably former Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenBill Press: Don't forget about Amy Key moments in the 2020 Democratic presidential race so far Al Franken mocks McConnell: 'Like listening to Jeffrey Dahmer complain about the decline of dinner party etiquette' MORE (D-Minn.).

Dowdell suggesting that the new Kavanaugh controversy was likely to hurt the GOP, especially with female voters.

There is significant evidence in opinion polls that the Republican Party and President TrumpDonald John TrumpLev Parnas implicates Rick Perry, says Giuliani had him pressure Ukraine to announce Biden probe Saudi Arabia paid 0 million for cost of US troops in area Parnas claims ex-Trump attorney visited him in jail, asked him to sacrifice himself for president MORE are in particular peril in this respect.

In 2016, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFormer Vermont Governor: Sanders 'will play dirty' NYT: Justice investigating alleged Comey leak of years-old classified info New Hampshire state lawmaker switches support from Warren to Klobuchar MORE bested Trump among white college-educated women by 7 percentage points. Two years later, the Democratic edge over Republicans with that group had grown to 20 points in the midterm elections.

The Kavanaugh furor also refocuses the spotlight on the president’s own checkered history with women — a record that infamously includes the “Access Hollywood” tape of him boasting about grabbing women by the genitals, as well as a number of allegations of sexual assault.

While Democrats do not expect either Trump’s record or the Kavanaugh allegations to cause cracks in the Republican base, they say they could influence moderate voters — not only in the presidential election but in the battle for the Senate, where a number of vulnerable Republicans are trying to defend their seats next year.

“Nationally, Republicans have proven that allegations of sexual harassment don’t seem to make much of a difference, because otherwise Donald Trump would not have been their nominee,” said Democratic strategist Julie Roginsky. “But for someone like [Sen. Susan] Collins, whose vote [to confirm Kavanaugh] was already problematic, I would be hard-pressed to believe that Maine voters will overlook this.”

Dedicated partisans can seem to reside in different universes form each other in today’s polarized political climate, however. Republicans are convinced that voters will recoil from what is, in their telling, an unfair attempt to tar Kavanaugh’s name.

A Republican National Committee spokesman emailed reporters on Monday afternoon to slam what he termed “a ridiculous smear” against Kavanaugh by the Times. The spokesman, Steve Guest, asserted that the episode “shows just how far Trump derangement syndrome has engulfed the elite media and the Democrat Party.”

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDemocratic group plans mobile billboard targeting Collins on impeachment Paul predicts no Republicans will vote to convict Trump Roberts sworn in to preside over Trump impeachment trial MORE (R-S.C.) tweeted Monday afternoon that in his position as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, “I promise you Justice Kavanaugh will not be impeached over these scurrilous accusations.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPoll shows Collins displaces McConnell as most unpopular senator Hill.TV's Saagar Enjeti on impeachment: 'CNN can see through this nonsense' Trump says impeachment trial should move 'very quickly' MORE (R-Ky.) also blasted Democrats for “hysterically” calling for Kavanaugh’s impeachment.

Kavanaugh himself has previously denied all allegations of wrongdoing. The president, in a Sunday tweet, suggested the justice should sue for libel, and that the allegations were an attempt to influence his decisions from the bench.

Doug Heye, a former communications director for the Republican National Committee, told The Hill the confusion over the new allegation against Kavanaugh meant “it appears that the New York Times has essentially given the Trump campaign an in-kind contribution.”

But that argument will cut no ice with figures on the left such as Ocasio-Cortez. In a Monday tweet, she accused Kavanaugh of having told a “lie under oath to secure a Supreme Court seat.”

“He must be impeached,” the New York congresswoman insisted.

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