The news that Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee had proudly hired a non-male human being—more popularly known outside the GOP Conference as a woman—for Thursday’s Kavanaugh hearings was a sobering and embarrassing acknowledgement of reality. As one senator admitted frankly, the optics of a bunch of aging white men grilling a woman on her charges of sexual misconduct were a disaster. “Somebody will do something that you guys will run 24/7,” Bob Corker acknowledged, speaking to reporters, “and inadvertently somebody will do something that’s insensitive.”
Insensitive? You mean like suggesting that the woman they chose to do the grilling—an accomplished prosecutor—might go “cat woman” on the accuser, or calling her a “female assistant”? Something like that? Yep.
These guys—many of them have been in the Senate for 30 years—are in a new era, the #MeToo era, where women are no longer staying silent about patterns of abuse that they’ve suffered, often at the hands of powerful men. Speaking out, in fact, against behavior that was condoned in the Senate for many years.
They were unprepared for this change. They are ill-equipped. They are afraid.
This cluelessness is why many of them seem so angry, bewildered and self-defeating as they confront accusations of sexual misconduct raised against their Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. From trying to rush a confirmation vote even as they knew more accusations were in the offing, to entertaining loopy evil twin theories, to heeding the advice of that expert on women, President Donald Trump, Republicans are committing acts of self-sabotage not seen since Roseanne got her TV show back. It’s no wonder that approval ratings for the party—even among Republican women—is cratering.
It’s time for the party to get its act together or, if you’ll excuse the pun, “man up.” Republican senators’ wince-inducing behavior has been notably unhelpful to Judge Kavanaugh, to victims of sexual violence, to the Senate, and to their hopes of reversing their rapidly shrinking level of support from women in this country.
Since pretty much everything they have said and done has been wrong, a crash course in basic messaging seems desperately in order. So let’s begin.
Rule No. 1: Don’t prejudge a case you haven’t heard.
This axiom from former Speaker of the House John Boehner could not be more apt: You don’t get in trouble for what you don’t say. There is no reason why any Republican senator has to pontificate on the guilt or innocence of anyone involved in this dispute until they’ve seen all of the evidence. Otherwise, what’s even the point of pretending you are giving both sides a chance to speak if it’s clear you made up your mind?
Senator Orrin Hatch said the other day that the accusations made by one of Kavanaugh’s accusers, Deborah Ramirez, were “phony.” He figured this out without talking to the accuser, or the reporters who broke the story, and without examining any evidence. Which I guess is why he’s known around town as Sherlock Hatch. Others have also said the allegations, which again they have not yet heard directly, lacked credibility or, as Senator Grassley put it, were “confused.”
Someone responsible on the Republican side—there’s got to be one or two who fit that description—should have long ago called a meeting of the entire Republican caucus on the Kavanaugh nomination, told everyone it would be televised so that minute-by-minute opiners like Lindsey Graham were sure to show up, confiscated all cellphones, and then locked them all in a room until Thursday’s hearing is over. It still might not be a bad idea, come to think of it.
I’m proud to say that my former boss, returning U.S. Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, has been among the few to figure out the right approach. Although he had been in charge of Kavanaugh’s confirmation strategy before agreeing to fill the vacancy left after the death of his friend and colleague, John McCain, Kyl has pointedly refused to tell reporters how he will vote until after Thursday’s hearing. Why? Because a careful, deliberate person—as Kyl is—weighs all the information rather than running on TV to score a few soundbite points with their political base. Kyl may very well still vote for the judge, but he will at least give his accusers the courtesy of a listen. The few others who have taken this line, perhaps not coincidentally, are Republican women—Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins. They too seem to appreciate what a responsible member of the highest deliberative body in the world should do. Deliberate.
Rule No. 2: Probably don’t speculate about whether or not attempted rapists are qualified for the U.S. Supreme Court.
This, believe it or not, is pretty much exactly what North Dakota’s Republican Senate candidate, Congressman Kevin Cramer, just did in response to the Kavanaugh accusations.
“Even if it’s all true, does it disqualify him?” Cramer mused aloud, for no apparent discernible reason whatsoever. This question—I must reiterate—was asked in this month of this year of this century by a sitting member of the United States Congress. (The answer, by the way, is “yes.”)
Continuing on in what I guess he thinks is Kavanaugh’s apparent defense, Cramer added, “There was no type of intercourse or anything like that.” Which, by the way, is why the charge, if true, is attempted rape. And yes, before you ask, Congressman, attempted rape is still a morally abhorrent act, and also by the way a crime. Criminals should not be on the Supreme Court. Does that really have to be spelled out to—once again—a sitting member of Congress? Cramer is currently narrowly ahead in a very tight race with Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp, whose Senate staffers, because of this total cluelessness, are probably unpacking their boxes as we speak.
Rule No. 3: Don’t pretend to be a criminal profiler.
Senator Lindsey Graham, deploying his previously hidden expertise on women and sex offenders, declared that “you don’t become a serial rapist for a couple of years and then hang it up.” First, no one has accused anyone in this case of being a serial rapist. Second, Graham allegedly went to law school, and yet also has repeatedly declared Kavanaugh innocent before any witnesses have been called or heard.
One might call Graham’s rush to every microphone in town to defend the judge a little awkward, considering his own past behavior. He was, after all, a manager of Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1999. While the case dealt in part with Clinton’s recent conduct with Monica Lewinsky, Republicans like Graham also dredged up much older allegations of sexual misconduct and an even earlier charge of rape. Back then, Graham was determined to remove Clinton for office for these allegations, which to this day have not been proven. “The reason we’re here today is not because somebody wanted to look into the personal life of the president for no good reason,” Graham said during his remarks at the impeachment trial. “We’re here today because somebody accused him when he was governor, of picking them out of a crowd, asking her to come to a hotel room, and if you believe her, did something very crude and rude that you wouldn’t want to happen to anybody in your family.”
Alas, like nearly all of his Republican colleagues and the president, who have whined repeatedly and quite unattractively about the unfairness of dredging up decades-old allegations against a man most of them hardly know, they imposed no such statute of limitations on Democrats.
Rule No. 4: Don’t assume a man accused of misconduct has an evil doppelgänger and their accuser is “confused.”
I can’t believe this one is even necessary. In what will surely live on as the most absurd and offensive political defense in history, leading Republicans for days nursed the theory that one of Kavanaugh’s accusers, Professor Christine Blasey Ford, was telling the truth but suffered from a case of mistaken identity. (Republicans seem to have a penchant for calling women accusers “confused.”) As the theory went, a woman who was nearly raped and in fear of her life just decided to throw accusations at any man who had a passing resemblance to her true attacker.
That crackpot notion made Judge Kavanaugh look guilty—the explicit assumption was that his accuser was being truthful—and all but drove its chief proponent out of a job. We can be grateful he hasn’t yet had a chance to put forth his Man in the High Castle theory: These women are telling the truth, but they are in the wrong reality.
Rule No. 5: Don’t assume a woman who alleges sexual misconduct has been hypnotized.
If you don’t see how deranged this one is, even though it does come from one of Trump’s top advisers, and a woman, too, then forget everything you’ve just read. You’re a lost cause, my friend.