Voting gender gap may be a chasm if GOP rams Kavanaugh onto Supreme Court
As Donald Trump and the Republican men of the Senate Judiciary Committee (and it’s a men-only club for the GOP) downplay the credible claims of Brett Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual assault of Christine Blasey Ford when they were teens, they might be feeling smug that they’re getting away with something. But women in this country aren’t having it — and they won’t let those men get away with it for long.
Kavanaugh, despite demonstrable instances of lying to the Judiciary Committee with false or evasive answers, seemed headed for swift confirmation as the newest justice to the Supreme Court. Despite valiant attempts by several Democratic senators to expose Kavanaugh as being unfit and unsuitable to sit on the nation’s highest court, he was ready to be measured for his new robes.
But 2018 isn’t 1991, when Anita Hill got raked mercilessly over the coals during her questioning by the same committee at hearings for now-Justice Clarence Thomas. Women’s attitudes have changed, because so many women have lived through a similar experience of unwanted and unwelcome sexual advances, whether it was kissing, groping, or grinding, even if it never got as far as an actual rape. Women know that the #MeToo movement is real, even when men refuse to admit it.
Ford’s story rings true because women know such stories are true. They take seriously her recollection, corroborated by evidence that she told the same story to a therapist six years ago — that a drunken Kavanaugh forced himself on her, groped her, covered her mouth to stop her screams, and tried to remove her clothes until she was able to flee when a second teenage boy caused them to fall off the bed (Kavanaugh denies the allegation). It’s why nearly 1,200 (and counting) alumnae of Ford’s high school, the Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, Maryland, have signed letters of support and launched a website that says “We stand with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford,” along with a separate letter from members of her class of 1984, stressing that they represent all political parties.
And now, a fellow Holton-Arms alum also has corroborated Ford’s story, posting on her Facebook page that she recalls hearing about the incident. “Many of us heard a buzz about it indirectly with few specific details. However Christine’s vivid recollection should be more than enough for us to truly, deeply know that the accusation is true.” They truly, deeply know, because women with similar experiences know that they need to warn each other against male predators.
Even worse for Kavanaugh, a second woman has come forward with an accusation of sexual misconduct — that he exposed himself to her during a party when they were undergraduates at Yale University. Deborah Ramirez recounted that the two were taking part in a drinking game at a dormitory party and that Kavanaugh “thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away,” according to the account in The New Yorker. Kavanaugh also denies this allegation, calling it a “smear.”
A hearing for both Ford and Kavanagh is set for September 27, now that she has agreed to testify. Even corroboration from a fellow Holton-Arms student, however, is unlikely to change any GOP senator’s mind.
The Republican senators apparently have decided that a swift Kavanaugh confirmation is worth whatever blowback there might be in public opinion or from most pundits, especially women. After learning of the second accusation, their choice was to push forward with a quick confirmation vote rather than an FBI investigation. But they might not expect the depth of anti-Kavanaugh sentiment that could register itself at the ballot box.
Welcome to 2018, gentlemen. It’s the Year of the Woman all over again.
Public support for Kavanaugh was already low, and it’s getting lower. The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll showed that support for the Kavanaugh nomination had dropped to only 31 percent. Opposition to Kavanaugh has grown six points to 36 percent. And the number of women opposed to having Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court is climbing.
Of course, the American public doesn’t vote directly on who is named to the Supreme Court. That opportunity was lost when Trump won a narrow Electoral College victory, despite losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes. But the American public will get a chance to vote in the midterm elections. All signs point to a #BlueWave, if not a #BlueTsunami, with Democrats likely to pick up the 23 House seats needed for a majority and possibly having a fighting chance to edge over the 50-member mark in the Senate. The Kavanaugh allegation, and the subsequent treatment of Ford by Republicans, could provide the needed push.
All polling already was showing what could be a historic gender gap between men’s preference for Republican candidates and women’s preference for voting for a Democrat. Two polls showed a record-breaking gap of over 24 points. While we haven’t yet seen how the Kavanaugh-Ford accusation is affecting polling or the gender gap, I suspect we will soon, and it’s not likely to bring good news for the GOP. Data from Pew Research showed that “Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to see men getting away with sexual harassment and women not being believed as major problems.” The partisan gap is even larger than the gender gap.
In one of their roundtable chats, the crew at FiveThirtyEight had their own prognostications on how the allegation might affect the midterms. Being the number-crunchers they are, they’re going to wait for numbers to crunch. But all agreed that there’s no way this helps the GOP. Some of their comments:
- If Trump, McConnell, and the other Republican men minimize Ford’s comments, that will hurt the GOP politically.
- Shifts among independent women in the suburbs could be consequential.
- It seems like something that does more to activate a Democratic base and make Republican-leaning women more squeamish.
Interestingly, new data from FiveThirtyEight shows that the gender gap might be narrowing. But it’s not because more women are turning to Republicans. It’s because more men might be turning to Democrats.
Robert Costa of The Washington Post also is reporting on many Republicans who privately admit how bad the optics could be for the GOP, finding “Republican lawmakers and strategists unnerved by the charged, gender-infused debates that have upended this campaign season.”
Already burdened by an unpopular president and an energized Democratic electorate, the male-dominated GOP is now facing a torrent of scrutiny about how it is handling Kavanaugh’s accuser and whether the party’s push to install him on the high court by next week could come at a steep political cost with women and the independent voters who are the keystone for congressional majorities.
In a CNN story, several Republicans worried that Ford’s accusation could be driving away suburban women voters. “You could hardly think of a more galvanizing news event,” Democratic strategist Krystal Ball said. “This election is about backlash to Trump. And this turns it up to 11.”
Ford is receiving much support from her fellow school alumnae. How does Kavanaugh remember his time at Georgetown Preparatory High School and at Yale? At a 2014 speech to the Federalist Society, he told tales of heavy drinking at Yale Law. As for his high school days, a video clip of a 2015 speech showed him updating the frequently used cliché: “What happens at Georgetown Prep, stays at Georgetown Prep. That’s good for all of us.”
Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook includes references to a “Keg City Club” membership. Kavanaugh’s high school friend Mark Judge has been identified as the second male involved in the alleged sexual assault. And while Judge denies that the incident occurred, he has written extensively about the drinking that he says was common at Georgetown Prep, including a time someone identified as “Bart O’Kavanaugh” vomited in someone’s car. The New Yorker report of the second accusation also quotes multiple contemporaries describing Kavanaugh’s partying habits, including one (Kavanaugh’s roommate) who says the would-be justice was “frequently, incoherently drunk.”
No one claims that drinking and partying at college — or even in high school — should exclude a person from success later in life. But there’s a wide gulf between the youthful indiscretion of frequent inebriation and sexual assault.
Kavanaugh also will face questions about another scandal — whether he was involved in the “doppelganger theory” espoused in a series of tweets by his close friend Ed Whelan, a legal operative who was forced to take a leave of absence from his post at a conservative Washington think tank. Whelan floated the theory that Ford’s naming of Kavanaugh was a case of mistaken identity, and he named and posted a photo of a Georgetown Prep classmate who might really be the culprit. Whelan was forced to apologize and delete the tweets, but it strains credibility that Kavanaugh wasn’t at least aware of Whelan’s actions. Whether he took part in the ridiculous conspiracy is another matter.
There’s a reason that millions of women (men, too, but the majority were women) turned out for the historic women’s marches in January 2017 and 2018 to register their opposition to the pussy-grabber-in-chief and to vow to vote on Nov. 6. It’s the same reason that a record number of women, most with a “D” after their names, are running for office in Congress and in statewide elections: 234 are running for House seats, 22 for the Senate, and 16 for governor. It’s the reason that Democratic voter turnout jumped sharply during the primaries, more so than Republican turnout. It’s also the reason that women voters have an edge in voting enthusiasm. And it’s why more women are donating money to Democrats and women candidates.
From the viewpoint of too many men, however, not much has changed at all. Too many men are still backing Kavanaugh, either saying there’s no way of knowing the truth, or it happened too long ago to matter, or that he was only a teenager, or that “boys will be boys.”
The most outrageous take is from the men who argue that, if Kavanaugh loses his SCOTUS appointment, all men lose. From an essay by Lili Loofbourow in Slate:
Per this dark vision of the future, any consequence for committing assault — even being unable to move from one lifetime appointment to another lifetime appointment — is the beginning of the end of a just society. …
“The thing happened — if it happened — an awfully long time ago, back in Ronald Reagan’s time. … No clothes were removed, and no sexual penetration occurred.” What’s a little assault — or fearing for your life and having to fight free and hide—if no penises made insertions and the Gipper was in charge? …
It is now clear, and no exaggeration at all, that a significant percentage of men — most of them Republicans — believe that a guy’s right to a few minutes of “action” justifies causing people who happen to be women physical pain, lifelong trauma, or any combination of the two. They’ve decided — at a moment when they could easily have accepted Kavanaugh’s denial—that something larger was at stake: namely, the right to do as they please, freely, regardless of who gets hurt.
It’s cynical to say that we’re not surprised, but we’re not surprised.
All of those men who are feeling entitled and who think the Ford accusation is an affront to what they see as their rightful place in society also may get a stark wake-up call on Nov. 6.
To those white Republican men in the Senate: Think twice before you vote for Kavanaugh. For a few of you, it might be one of the last Senate votes you cast.
Originally posted on Daily Kos on Sept. 23, 2018.