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

New allegations against Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughSusan Collins raises .1 million in third quarter Poll: 50 percent of Maine voters disapprove of Susan Collins's job performance Collins challenger raises .2 million in third quarter 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.

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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 WarrenButtigieg tweeted support for 'Medicare for All' in 2018 Overnight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — House Dems change drug pricing bill to address progressive concerns | Top Republican rejects Dem proposal on surprise medical bills | Vaping group launches Fox News ad blitz Hillicon Valley: FCC approves T-Mobile-Sprint merger | Dems wrangle over breaking up Big Tech at debate | Critics pounce as Facebook's Libra stumbles | Zuckerberg to be interviewed by Fox News | Twitter details rules for political figures' tweets MORE (Mass.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHillicon Valley: FCC approves T-Mobile-Sprint merger | Dems wrangle over breaking up Big Tech at debate | Critics pounce as Facebook's Libra stumbles | Zuckerberg to be interviewed by Fox News | Twitter details rules for political figures' tweets Democrats have reason to worry after the last presidential debate 2020 Democrats recognize Pronouns Day 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-CortezOcasio-Cortez, Thunberg, Rapinoe make BBC's 100 most inspiring women of 2019 Former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey endorses Biden Democratic strategist on Sanders debate performance: 'I just think he might've topped out' MORE (D-N.Y.).

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — House Dems change drug pricing bill to address progressive concerns | Top Republican rejects Dem proposal on surprise medical bills | Vaping group launches Fox News ad blitz Democrats have reason to worry after the last presidential debate Krystal Ball on Sanders debate performance: 'He absolutely hit it out of the park' 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.

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“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 FrankenTake Trump literally and seriously in Minnesota Ninth woman accuses Al Franken of inappropriate contact Al Franken to host SiriusXM radio show 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 TrumpGOP congressman slams Trump over report that U.S. bombed former anti-ISIS coalition headquarters US to restore 'targeted assistance' to Central American countries after migration deal Trump says lawmakers should censure Schiff MORE are in particular peril in this respect.

In 2016, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP warns Graham letter to Pelosi on impeachment could 'backfire' Hillary Clinton praises former administration officials who testified before House as 'gutsy women' Third-quarter fundraising sets Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg apart 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 GrahamCheney unveils Turkey sanctions legislation Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — House passes resolution rebuking Trump over Syria | Sparks fly at White House meeting on Syria | Dems say Trump called Pelosi a 'third-rate politician' | Trump, Graham trade jabs War of words at the White House 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 McConnellPatient advocates launch drug pricing ad campaign Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — House passes resolution rebuking Trump over Syria | Sparks fly at White House meeting on Syria | Dems say Trump called Pelosi a 'third-rate politician' | Trump, Graham trade jabs War of words at the White House 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.