It’s been nearly a week now since Christine Blasey Ford stepped forward to attach her name to allegations of attempted rape made against Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Yet little has become clear about the allegations or their impact on the Supreme Court nomination fight. One thing that is clear, though, is this: Trump should have nominated Amy Coney Barrett to replace Anthony Kennedy on the Court instead of Kavanaugh, for four very significant reasons.
First, let’s acknowledge the obvious. Whether one believes Ford, Kavanaugh, or simply isn’t sure, it’s a hell of a lot easier for an attempted rape accusation to be lobbed at a man—innocent or guilty—and have some credibility attach to it than it is where the same accusation is made against a woman. Oh sure, there are instances of women committing sexual assault. It’s just that they’re far less common than instances of men doing it. A Coney Barrett nomination would not have been derailed by these kinds of accusations.
Second, the notion that Coney Barrett would have been derailed over accusations that she was some sort of back-alley-abortion-forcing monster is nonsense. Yes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was reported to have pushed Trump away from Barrett because of her perceived willingness to overturn Roe v. Wade. But it’s harder to tar a smart, pretty lady with a bevy of adorable children as some sort of closet Ayatollah than it is, say, an obviously conservative, older, white man.
Let’s not forget that Kavanaugh hardly appears to be a Kennedy reboot (i.e., a squish) where abortion is concerned, either. But that hasn’t derailed his nomination. Ford is the only reason he’s in jeopardy.
Remember that leaked email Kavanaugh wrote back in 2003 that hinted that Roe might not be settled law quite to the degree that he signaled it was to Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski? It didn’t do him in with either senator—though the Ford accusation yet may.
And let’s keep in mind that no matter what Kavanaugh said to Collins or Murkowski about the importance of “precedent,” basically every conservative within and outside the Senate sees him as a vehicle for flipping Roe. This is, in fact, the main reason that many of them want him on the bench. We’ll never know for sure, but it’s unlikely there’s much real daylight between Kavanaugh and Coney Barrett on attitudes regarding the constitutionality of abortion—even if staunchly pro-life Republicans have to be careful how they talk about Roe, precedent, and judicial qualifications. So why choose him over her?
In general, Kavanaugh was supposed to be “safer” than Coney Barrett, if not entirely “safe” given his lengthy paper trail. He’s the establishmentarian, she was the radical; he was the mainstream conservative, she was the ideologue—or that’s what we were told, anyway.
But a third reason Trump should have chosen Coney Barrett over Kavanaugh is this: while she was supposed to be the “too risky” gamble, it now looks like he is a big potential political risk to the GOP. Depending on how the next 72 hours unfold, the GOP sticking with him could (further) turn off suburban women voters on whom the 2018 midterms are expected to hinge. The next few days’ events could also either excite or massively depress the GOP base, which would love to see Republicans stick it to Democrats by confirming him yesterday, if that were possible.
The upshot is, Kavanaugh’s nomination has delivered a potentially lose-lose situation for the GOP. That wouldn’t be the case if Trump had nominated Coney Barrett. If Senate Republicans were fighting Democrats tooth and nail to get her onto the bench, they’d not only have the base fired up (as they do now), but in addition, at least some of those suburban women would see a president they loathe and are convinced is a sex offender nominating a woman to the highest court in the land, which has got to be better than the spectacle we have now.
Moreover, Trump would have made these inroads while putting moderate Democrats like Sen. Claire McCaskill and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in a jam. Both of these senators are up for reelection in red states. The conventional wisdom is that it hurts them politically to vote against a qualified, if conservative, nominee. And it’s always good for a President, politically, to have his choices confirmed with bipartisan votes. But as it stands now, both McCaskill and Heitkamp have a potentially great excuse for voting against Kavanaugh (if Ford shows up to testify Monday). That gets them off the hook, makes life a little less easy for their GOP challengers, and denies the president a bipartisan win he’d love to bank. If Trump had nominated Coney Barrett, it would be harder for McCaskill and Heitkamp in particular to vote “no” and sink her. Which means she would have been the politically smarter choice.
Fourth and finally, let’s look beyond the current nomination fight to Kavanaugh’s potential tenure on the court itself, assuming he does limp through—or even is wheeled through on a stretcher. Let’s say the Supreme Court overturns Roe 5-4. The five justices in the majority will all be conservative men, and two of them will be accused sexual harassers, while all the women justices will be stacked on the minority, pro-Roe side.
You want to see Americans start seriously thinking of splitting the country in two and taking up arms against each other again? That’s a scenario to get us there. If Trump and Senate Republicans are determined to send a justice to the Supreme Court who would vote to flip Roe, for the sake of the country not ripping itself to shreds, it would be far better if that justice were a woman.
Of course, a lot of the country actively does want to rip itself to shreds over literally anything these days. But that is generally not the desired outcome for most Americans. If Kavanaugh makes it onto the bench, it’s potentially a little more likely to occur than if Coney Barrett had.
The bottom line is this: President Trump erred in picking Kavanaugh and Senate Republicans erred in pushing him away from Coney Barrett. Trump, and Senate Republicans, should have learned the biggest, easiest lesson from #MeToo: When in doubt, just pick the woman.