WASHINGTON — Who is this man, and what have they done with President Trump?
One can imagine the quantity of supplies — duct tape? zip ties? sweat socks? — needed to get the job done, but somehow White House staffers managed it: They kept Trump quiet for more than 24 hours after The Washington Post's Emma Brown reported Christine Blasey Ford's sexual-assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh.
And one can imagine what techniques of persuasion — hypnosis? medication? shock collar? — were employed to get Trump to speak, when he finally addressed reporters Monday afternoon, with peaceful equanimity. Though saying "I wish the Democrats could have done this a lot sooner" (as if they controlled when Ford decided to go on the record), he was preternaturally calm, taking no shots at the accuser.
"We want to go through a full process," he said, "and hear everybody out." He said that he wouldn't be troubled by "a little delay" and that "I'd like everybody to be very happy." Only when a reporter asked if Kavanaugh had offered to withdraw did Trump return to form, calling it a "ridiculous question."
Republicans in the Senate were similarly, and uncharacteristically, mild. Many said nothing, and those who spoke did it gingerly. Roy Blunt, Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins and even Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley said Ford deserves to be heard. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican, who previously mocked the "secret letter regarding a secret matter and an unidentified person," shifted to saying, "the Judiciary Committee should treat this with the seriousness it deserves."
And Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell was resolutely silent until late Monday, when the architect of the plan to deny President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, a hearing for 293 days went to the Senate floor and complained that Democrats didn't follow "standard bipartisan process" by raising the allegations earlier. But he said the allegations would be reviewed "by the book."
McConnell, like his colleagues, was careful not to defend Kavanaugh, and for good reason. Not only can Republicans hardly afford to do more damage to themselves with women on the eve of the midterm elections, but they seem genuinely caught off-guard by the allegation against Kavanaugh and not eager to defend him without knowing the details.
This is what happens when you try to jam through a nominee to the highest court in the land for a lifetime appointment. Republicans on the Judiciary Committee were so effective at keeping Kavanaugh's pre-judicial paper trail under wraps that for Republicans, as well as Democrats, he's a pig in a poke. This isn't to say a more robust confirmation process would have uncovered Ford's allegations, but the short-circuited process has left lawmakers in a position where they don't know what they don't know about Kavanaugh.
The Trump administration outsourced its vetting of candidates to the Federalist Society. And Grassley, Democrats complain, requested 15 percent or less of Kavanaugh's records from his time in the George W. Bush White House — 937,000 of 6 million to 7 million. Of those 937,000, only 457,000 were produced, of which 86,000 were duplicates and half were declared "confidential" by committee Republicans. Six Democratic requests to subpoena Kavanaugh documents were shot down.
Kavanaugh's answers during testimony, like those of previous nominees, were evasive, and his follow-up written responses absurd. For two questions about Roe v. Wade, for example, Kavanaugh replied: "See my answer to Question 5a." His answer to 5a? "Please see my response to Question 4."
A few Republicans mindlessly leaped to disparage Ford. Donald Trump Jr. posted on Instagram a crayon drawing mocking the "Judge Kavanaugh sexual assault letter."
But even Trump mouthpiece Kellyanne Conway sees the danger in this, telling Fox News, "this woman should not be ignored and should not be insulted."
Grassley, whose confirmation process might have been titled "Avert Your Gaze," was inclined to continue his secrecy. Though both accused and accuser offered to testify, Grassley tried to satisfy his Republican colleagues by having private "staff calls" with both Kavanaugh and Ford, then continue with the vote.
He didn't persuade them. Instead, they will have a public hearing in which 11 Republicans on the Judiciary Committee — all men — question a woman who has alleged attempted rape. It's an unpalatable choice, but for a group that already tried hard to shield Trump's nominee from scrutiny, sweeping the matter under the rug wasn't an option.