Republicans seem worried about the prospect of their Judiciary Committee members questioning Christine Blasey Ford when she testifies on Thursday about her sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, an allegation the nominee denies. They are concerned about the optics of having only Republican men interviewing Ford, since there are no Republican female senators on the Judiciary Committee.
And now, according to The New Yorker, a classmate of Kavanaugh’s at Yale, Deborah Ramirez, has come forward with an additional allegation of inappropriate sexual behavior by Kavanaugh – which Kavanaugh has also denied. (CNN so far has not spoken to anyone who is willing to corroborate Ramirez’s story.)
In the face of these two allegations, Republicans are right to be worried. The Republican Party’s stock with women voters in the midterms – and beyond – is at stake.
In July, when Kavanaugh’s nomination was announced, a Morning Consult/Politico poll suggested a slight plurality of voters supported his confirmation. And in a July Fox News poll, 38% of voters said they would vote to confirm Kavanaugh, while 32% said they would not confirm him and 30% were undecided.
But in polling conducted in the days after Ford made her allegations public, the numbers had shifted – and not in Kavanaugh’s favor. In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, more American voters now oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination than support it. In that poll, 38% of voters oppose Kavanaugh’s confirmation, while just 34% support it.
That’s a problem for Trump and Republicans in general, but especially when it comes to women. As NBC reports, “The increased opposition to Kavanaugh has come, in particular, from women over 50 (who were +3 on Kavanaugh’s confirmation in August and are -7 now) (and) suburban women (-6 in August and -11 now).”
The divide is still largely partisan. Republican women actually increased their support for Kavanaugh between August and the recent allegations, while Democratic women decreased their support. But, most significantly, independent women had net support of 1% for Kavanaugh in August; they’re now net opposed by 13%.
All this is before Christine Blasey Ford has even testified – or been cross-examined by the Republican Judiciary Committee’s flank of all men, some of whom have suggested that Kavanaugh should be confirmed no matter what Ford says. “I’ll listen to the lady, but we’re going to bring this to a close,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina. Later, Graham added, “Unless there’s something more, no I’m not going to ruin Judge Kavanaugh’s life over this.”
And Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said that even if Ford’s allegations were true, “I think it would be hard for senators to not consider who the judge is today,” insisting that Kavanaugh is “a really good man.”
Still, it will be hard not to view the way these men handle the accusations as a proxy for their party as a whole. And, in recent days, GOP politicians haven’t helped their cause. Just consider Republican Rep. Ralph Norman joking that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was groped by Abraham Lincoln, or Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher suggesting that, even if Kavanaugh assaulted Ford, it was back in high school, so “Give me a break.”
I don’t think women in either party will take well to Republican men making light of serious allegations of sexual assault. Of course, many of these same women voted for our current President, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by over a dozen women himself – accusations which he, too, denies.
But will they keep overlooking the Republican Party’s seemingly pervasive culture of misogyny? And how many other women will be newly motivated, or extra motivated, to kick the Grand Old Party out of office and replace them with candidates, especially female candidates, who take sexual assault claims seriously?
President Donald Trump was already slipping in his approval numbers among the white women voters who played a key role in his electoral college victory. For instance, Ron Brownstein observes in the Atlantic, “Compared to his 2016 vote, his 2017 approval among blue-collar white women in the Rust Belt represented some of his largest declines anywhere – 18 percentage points in Ohio and 19 in Wisconsin and Minnesota.”
And these latest allegations won’t help Trump or his party’s approval ratings – unless Republicans take Ford and Ramirez’s allegations seriously.
To treat both women with respect and take the time needed to investigate is not a rush to judgment. This is about preserving the integrity of our Supreme Court and also sending a message to all Americans that sexual assault of any kind, at any age, is not okay.
Republicans should handle this situation the right way because it’s the right thing to do, for our democracy and our society and our women. But Washington being Washington, that’s not always motivation enough.
Too many Republican politicians remain in the dark ages when it comes to even the most basic dynamics of gender equity and liberation. Botch this any further and the whole party could be cast into political darkness for generations.