Slipping the Trap

There was a plan. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee was going to defend himself in a single one-day Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. There had been no drunken attempted rape long ago. The woman who said that was just what had happened long ago was going to explain just what had happened – in detail. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee would deny it ever happened and that would be that – he’d be off to the Supreme Court in a jiffy. Trump and the Republicans knew what would come next. The women of America would be outraged that this woman was treated as if as if she were either a liar or a ditzy confused bimbo – or some sort of feminist harridan out to destroy a good man, or all men – but the outraged women of America would get over it, because the economy is doing so well, or because Trump is ridding the country of Mexicans and Muslims and Canadians and uppity black football players. That should do the trick, but it was possible that the outraged women of America would not get over this.

Trump and the Republicans could live with that. Who cares what they think? Trump and the Republicans would have their man on the Supreme Court – the swing vote. Abortion would be illegal again, treated as murder, and all forms of birth control would be illegal too – those are murder too. All the equal-pay laws would be tossed out too – to keep America’s businesses humming along. Trump and the Republicans didn’t hide that this was what they expected of this guy. There was nothing hidden about him either. His trail of legal decisions from the past showed exactly what he would do in the future. Women will obey men. That’s the future. That would outrage most women, but the women of America were going to be outraged sooner or later anyway. The might as well be outraged now, to get it out of their system.

Christine Blasey Ford knew what was coming. She was going to be attacked as a liar or a fool. Fine, but she wanted anyone attacking her – as a liar or fool – to base their accusations on established facts. Otherwise, this would be no more than nonsense. She wanted the FBI to investigate the evidence from long ago – not much of it really – that might clear up at least a few things. The Republicans said no. She wanted other witnesses to testify – she named a few. The Republicans said no. She wanted a bit more time to prepare. The Republicans said no – Monday, September 24, or just shut up. If she didn’t show, well, that meant she didn’t really care about any of this and they’d vote to confirm the guy the next morning. And that would be her fault, for not appearing before them to be called a liar and a slut and a feminist harridan by old white Republican senators, sneering at her. They’d have their questions for Brett Kavanaugh – “You’re wonderful, aren’t you?” They’d have their questions for Christine Blasey Ford – “You’re a liar, aren’t you?”

They had her trapped, and then they didn’t:

An attorney for Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers, said Thursday that her appearing at a hearing on Monday to detail her claims is “not possible” but that she could testify later in the week.

Debra Katz, Ford’s lawyer, relayed the response to top staffers on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, requesting to set up a call with them to “discuss the conditions under which Ford would be prepared to testify next week.”

“As you are aware, she’s been receiving death threats which have been reported to the FBI and she and her family have been forced out of their home,” Katz wrote to the committee.

“She wishes to testify, provided that we can agree on terms that are fair and which ensure her safety. A hearing on Monday is not possible and the committee’s insistence that it occur then is arbitrary in any event.”

Why the rush? Explain that. Ford’s lawyer put them an awkward position, and there was this:

Amid the maneuvering, the nomination was roiled further late Thursday by incendiary tweets from a prominent Kavanaugh friend and supporter who publicly identified another high school classmate of Kavanaugh’s as Ford’s possible attacker.

Ed Whelan, a former clerk to the late justice Antonin Scalia and president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, pointed to floor plans, online photographs and other information to suggest a location for the house party in suburban Maryland that Ford described. He also named and posted photographs of the classmate he suggested could be responsible.

This was Watermelon Dan Burton all over again. Burton led the House inquiry into the death of Vince Foster – he said that was a murder, not a suicide, and Hillary Clinton probably pulled the trigger. He re-enacted the crime in his backyard with his own pistol and a cantaloupe standing in for Foster’s head – and made the tape available to everyone. The cantaloupe became a watermelon as the whole thing became a joke.

Ed Whelan is Dan Burton here – with his “proof” – and of course Brett Kavanaugh was working for Ken Starr on all the Clinton stuff at the time, assigned to determine whether Hillary really did grab a gun and shoot Vince dead. Kavanaugh decided she didn’t do that. He hasn’t yet commented on Ed Whelan’s “proof” of a vast conspiracy in this case, and he may not:

Ford dismissed Whelan’s theory in a statement late Thursday: “I knew them both, and socialized with” the other classmate, Ford said, adding that she had once visited him in the hospital. “There is zero chance that I would confuse them.”

Republicans on Capitol Hill and White House officials immediately sought to distance themselves from Whelan’s claims and said they were not aware of his plans to identify the former classmate, now a middle school teacher, who could not be reached for comment and did not answer the door at his house Thursday night.

Oops. These guys did not have the Ford woman trapped at all:

Democratic senators, pointing to the highly charged Anita Hill hearings in October 1991, have defended Ford’s request to have the FBI do its own probe before she testifies. Back then, the FBI report into Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment against now-Justice Clarence Thomas was finished on Sept. 26, 1991 – three days after its inquiry began, according to a Washington Post report at the time.

“Someone who is lying does not ask the FBI to investigate their claims,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said Thursday at an event on Capitol Hill. “Who is not asking the FBI to investigate these claims? The White House. Judge Kavanaugh has not asked to have the FBI investigate these claims. Is that the reaction of an innocent person? It is not.”

Logic can be deadly, so it was time for trivia:

A senior Senate Democratic aide noted that reopening FBI background checks was fairly routine – ten such probes into judicial nominees had been reopened in the past three months alone, the aide said. A Republican aide didn’t dispute the figure but said those updates can be relatively minor, such as adding a nominee’s tax records or educational information that had been inadvertently excluded.

That didn’t change the logic of what Gillibrand was saying, so there was this:

Meanwhile, the Judiciary Committee has interviewed lawyers to be potential outside counsel who would lead the questioning in the highly charged hearing, according to two people familiar with the process. If the outside counsel was a woman, it could help with an optics issue facing the 11 Republican senators on the committee, all of whom are men…

A variation of this plan had been discussed since at least Tuesday, when Republicans had discussed a proposal to hire a female attorney and have her do all the questioning, while the GOP senators on the committee would ask no questions, according to another Senate GOP official.

“There is a deliberate and conscious effort to not seem like we are attacking the woman in any way,” this person said.

They know better. Even Donald Trump knows better:

White House aides who steeled themselves for what President Donald Trump would say when he finally addressed the sexual assault allegation against his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh were quietly stunned when Trump said the process should be followed and the accuser should be heard.

In recent days, Trump has bragged about the positive coverage he’s received for his response, according to multiple sources. That response has contributed to him continuing to say Christine Blasey Ford should come forward with her story, they said.

So, who is this man and what has he done with the real Donald Trump? This is odd:

Rather than lashing out in anger or defensiveness, Trump said Monday he’d like to “see a complete process.”

“I’d like everybody to be very happy. Most importantly, I want the American people to be happy, because they’re getting somebody that is great,” he said.

Kellyanne Conway was the first White House official to appear on television after Ford came forward publicly. During an appearance on Fox News, Conway said Kavanaugh’s accuser should testify.

“This woman should not be insulted and she should not be ignored,” Conway said. “I think the Senate is headed to a reasonable approach in that it seems to be allowing this woman to be heard in sworn testimony, allowing Judge Kavanaugh to be heard in sworn testimony.”

There’s only one explanation for this:

Aides have noted that the President’s measured response is partly because the allegation isn’t against him.

That may explain this odd mellowness, but others are not mellow at all:

Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono’s voice dripped with disgust as she evaluated how Republicans have treated the woman accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were in high school.

“You know what? They’ve extended a finger,” the junior senator from Hawaii said in an interview Thursday. “That’s how I look at it.”

She’ll have none of their nonsense:

Hirono has emerged as a leading critic of the GOP’s handling of Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation against Kavanaugh and one of Ford’s staunchest defenders, eclipsing higher-profile Democratic senators, including some with presidential aspirations who have angled for attention.

The 70-year-old first-term senator has gained national notice for urging men to “shut up and step up,” and telling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in a Capitol hallway this week to “do the right thing.”

Hirono can get right to the point:

Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), two potential presidential candidates, grabbed the spotlight during Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings by fighting Republicans over confidential documents and pressing Kavanaugh over special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe.

When she questioned Kavanaugh, Hirono made two personal inquiries that have become routine parts of her vetting of Trump’s nominees this year.

“Since you became a legal adult, have you ever made unwanted requests for sexual favors or committed any verbal or physical harassment or assault of a sexual nature?” she asked. Kavanaugh replied, “No.”

“Have you ever faced discipline or entered into a settlement related to this kind of conduct?” she asked next. He said he had not.

She knows Trump’s nominees now. These two questions come first. She knows Trump’s world. She knows our world now.

Jennifer Rubin knows something else too, that this woman isn’t trapped:

Trump, whom a flock of women has accused of harassment and assault, and the all-male Republican contingent on the Senate Judiciary Committee, might think they have Ford cornered. The reality is that she has many options, some of which are far more dangerous to Republicans than what she has demanded, namely an FBI investigation.

Ford might choose to appear on Monday, and make a powerful opening statement accusing Republicans of running a sham investigation.

Rubin suggests she simply make these points:

This concerns attempted rape, something far more serious than the allegations raised by Anita Hill against Clarence Thomas during his 1991 confirmation hearings.

The FBI investigated Hill’s claims within three days (Republicans could have sent the FBI and gotten a report back by now if they hadn’t been stalling).

Mark Judge allegedly witnessed the attack, but Republicans refuse to call him as a witness, so we can assume that they regard him as a person who would harm Kavanaugh’s defense.

Republicans’ insistence that Ford provide even more detail is hypocritical (since they don’t want an FBI investigation) and misguided, given the large body of research concerning memories of victims of sexual assault (e.g., gaps in memory are common).

If Kavanaugh was an excessive drinker in high school, as has been alleged, he’s in no position to testify accurately as to what he did and didn’t do.

Now add these two:

The unsubstantiated attacks on Ford by members such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) reveal that they have predetermined the outcome of the hearing. (“She had plenty of chances to bring it up, she did not,” Graham said. “We’re not going to play this game anymore. We [want] Miss Ford to be heard but clearly to me, in August, she hired a lawyer who’s a very activist lawyer, who does not like President Trump and paid for a polygraph.”) But this is no “game,” and Ford has every right to seek counsel to fend off attacks like the very ones that Republican senators are making.

There is no need to rush to a vote in the next few days. None. Republicans have set an artificial deadline for fear that more damaging information might come out.

And here’s the short version:

In short, Ford can use the hearing to put the senators, who have behaved shabbily, on defense.

But wait, there’s more:

Ford has another option: Hold a news conference with her own experts and make the case directly to the American people. She can sit down for an interview with a respected TV journalist. She can say whatever she wants, make certain that experts are heard and even recount the much more extensive investigative efforts undertaken when Hill stepped forward. To make her case to the American people and convince them that she is sincere, honest and credible, Ford doesn’t need the Senate.

Ford also might have the ability to go to local police to investigate if the White House refuses to activate the FBI. The Hill reports: “Can Brett Kavanaugh be investigated for an attempted rape he allegedly committed over three decades ago? In Maryland, it’s entirely possible under the law, according to some experts. Now members of the American public are calling for Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh to open an investigation, especially if the FBI doesn’t.” That would be a process over which neither the Senate nor the Trump administration would have any control.

Who is trapped here? It isn’t Christine Blasey Ford. It’s those who would trap her:

More American voters now oppose Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination than support it after he was accused of committing sexual assault while he was in high school, with opposition increasing 9 points since last month, according to a new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll…

In the poll – which was conducted Sunday (when the accusation from Christine Blasey Ford was first made public) through Wednesday – 38 percent of voters say they oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination to serve on the nation’s highest court, including 27 percent who “strongly” oppose him.

That’s compared with 34 percent who support his nomination, including 25 percent who “strongly” support him. Twenty-eight percent say they don’t enough to have an opinion.

The trap that the Republicans set for Christine Blasey Ford trapped Kavanaugh:

This is the first time in the NBC/WSJ poll – dating back to John Roberts’ nomination in 2005 – that a Supreme Court nominee has been underwater on this confirmation question. It’s also a reversal from the NBC/WSJ poll earlier this summer, when more voters said they supported Kavanaugh than opposed him. In July, 32 percent backed his nomination, versus 26 percent who opposed it (+6). And in August, it was 33 percent support, 29 percent oppose (+4).

This had to happen. The women of America were going to be outraged sooner or later anyway. It happened sooner:

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) suburban women (-6 in August and -11 now), independents (who were +15 in August and -16 now) and seniors (+9 in August to -10 now).

Note the shift was more than women. It was also those who actually like and respect and enjoy strong and smart women, with this obvious exception:

Despite those changes, support for Kavanaugh breaks down largely along party lines.

Republicans are about one hundred percent behind Kavanaugh. Now they stand alone, and there’s another trap for them:

Worried their chance to cement a conservative majority on the Supreme Court could slip away, a growing number of evangelical and anti-abortion leaders are expressing frustration that Senate Republicans and the White House are not protecting Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh more forcefully from a sexual assault allegation and warning that conservative voters may stay home in November if his nomination falls apart…

The evangelist Franklin Graham, one of Mr. Trump’s most unwavering defenders, told the Christian Broadcasting Network this week, “I hope the Senate is smarter than this, and they’re not going to let this stop the process from moving forward and confirming this man.”

Trump got all mellow – let’s hear what the woman has to say – and these people hate that:

Social conservatives are already envisioning a worst-case scenario related to Judge Kavanaugh, and they say it is not a remote one. Republican promises to shift the Supreme Court further to the right – which just a few days ago seemed like a fait accompli – have been one of the major reasons conservatives say they are willing to tolerate an otherwise dysfunctional Republican-controlled government.

The reason the prospect of Judge Kavanaugh’s defeat is so alarming to conservatives is that they fear he could be the last shot at reshaping the nation’s highest court for years. If Republicans were to lose control of the Senate, where they hold a 51-to-49 majority, in November, Mr. Trump would find it difficult to get anyone confirmed before the end of the year.

Even if Senate leaders were able to schedule hearings and hold a vote, there could be defections from Republican senators uneasy about using a lame duck session to ram through a lifetime appointment that would tip the court’s ideological balance.

It’s all slipping away because this president, who called each and every one of the women who ever accused him of anything, ever, disgusting ugly liars, won’t call this woman a disgusting ugly liar. Does he want their vote or does he want the vote of the majority of Americans? It’s one or the other.

They have him trapped, except they’re trapped too:

Even social conservatives who describe Dr. Blasey’s account as part of a Democratic plot to upend the nomination acknowledge the bind they are in. While they decry the process as tainted and unfair, some are also arguing that they cannot be indifferent and insensitive to a victim.

“The worst thing that can ever happen to any woman or man who has been a victim is to shut them down and not listen to them,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a group that opposes abortion rights.

So listen to them. But don’t listen to them. Each is a trap in its own way – but Christine Blasey Ford isn’t trapped. Say what happened. No one can trap those who do that.

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A Pause

No column this evening – needed to pause – some troubling health issues – but there are the politics – sometimes enough is enough – at least for this one evening –

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Breaking Bad

Everything was settled. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee was set to defend himself – there had been no drunken attempted rape long ago. The woman who said that was just what had happened long ago was prepared to explain just what had happened – in detail. The two would face off – one on one – in a single one-day Senate Judiciary Committee hearing – but they wouldn’t face each other. Each senator on the committee would have an allotted time to speak on “the issues” at hand, and then another block of time to ask questions of one of the two witnesses. That takes hours. Many senators have a lot to say and never get to their questions. Then they do that all over again, with the second witness in front of them. As for the questions, there are only two of those. “You’re wonderful, aren’t you?” “You’re a liar, aren’t you?”

That’s about it. There’s nothing in-between. There’s no fact-finding. There are statements and refutations of those statements, and now everything was settled. That’s what America would get – presentations. And then someone said no:

The woman who has accused Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexual assault decades ago wants the FBI to investigate her allegation before she testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee – a demand that came as President Trump and Senate Republicans increasingly rallied to the defense of the embattled Supreme Court nominee.

“A full investigation by law enforcement officials will ensure that the crucial facts and witnesses in this matter are assessed in a non-partisan manner, and that the committee is fully informed before conducting any hearing or making any decisions,” lawyers for the woman, Christine Blasey Ford, said in a letter to the panel late Tuesday.

Christine Blasey Ford knew what was coming. She was going to be attacked as a liar or a fool. Fine, but she wanted anyone attacking her – as a liar or fool – to base their accusations on established facts. Otherwise, this would be no more than nonsense.

And there was this:

The letter from Ford’s lawyers described death threats and harassment since The Washington Post published her account Sunday.

“In the 36 hours since her name became public, Dr. Ford has received a stunning amount of support from her community and from fellow citizens across our country. At the same time, however, her worst fears have materialized,” the letter said. “She has been the target of vicious harassment and even death threats. As a result of these kinds of threats, her family was forced to relocate out of their home. Her email has been hacked, and she has been impersonated online.”

This really is nonsense, which the FBI could clear up, but not at the moment:

In a statement late Tuesday night, Committee Chairman Charles Grassley disputed that the FBI would need to investigate before Ford appeared before the committee and said: “The invitation for Monday still stands.”

“Dr. Ford’s testimony would reflect her personal knowledge and memory of events,” Grassley said. “Nothing the FBI or any other investigator does would have any bearing on what Dr. Ford tells the committee, so there is no reason for any further delay.”

In short, she’ll say stuff. She has no right to prove any of it is true, using government resources, and this Justice Department already did all it plans to do:

The FBI declined to comment Tuesday after the letter from Ford’s lawyers was made public. The Justice Department said previously that the FBI updated Kavanaugh’s background-check file to include the allegation and suggested that that is the extent of what the agency plans to do.

They knew there was an allegation. They noted that. They will not investigate that unless the Senate Judiciary Committee makes a formal request – unlikely – or President Trump does – even more unlikely.

And that was that. The accuser won’t show up until something happens that won’t happen and the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote to confirm this guy, because she didn’t show up, maybe:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, urged Republicans to delay Monday’s hearing after Ford’s lawyers sent their response. The high-stakes hearing was set without consultation with Ford, although Grassley’s office has said his staff offered Ford multiple dates for a potential hearing.

“I agree with her 100 percent that the rushed process to hold a hearing on Monday has been unfair and is reminiscent of the treatment of Anita Hill,” Feinstein said, referring to the woman who testified in 1991 that now-Justice Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her. “I also agree that we need the facts before senators – not staff or lawyers – speak to witnesses.”

That’s a novel thought, as is this:

Earlier, Democrats protested Republicans’ decision to limit the witnesses at Monday’s hearing to just Ford and Kavanaugh, saying it would turn the testimony into a “he said, she said” spectacle.

It was too late for that:

Though Kavanaugh’s confirmation prospects looked shaky earlier this week after Ford’s allegations became public, senior Republicans on Tuesday were increasingly determined to press forward with his nomination.

“All I can say is that we’re bringing this to a close,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.). “They’ve had tons of time to do this. This has been a drive-by shooting when it comes to Kavanaugh. I’ll listen to the lady, but we’re going to bring this to a close.”

And there was this:

Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, sharply questioned Ford’s credibility. Speaking to reporters, Cornyn said he was concerned by “gaps” in the account of Ford, who told The Washington Post that, at a house party in the early 1980s when the two were in high school, Kavanaugh drunkenly pinned her to a bed, groped her and put his hand over her mouth to stifle her screams.

“The problem is, Dr. Ford can’t remember when it was, where it was or how it came to be,” Cornyn told reporters at the Capitol.

Asked whether he was questioning the accuser’s account, Cornyn said, “There are some gaps there that need to be filled.”

They’ve decided where they stand already. Move on, but there is one key witness:

In another part of the dispute, Democrats insisted that Mark Judge, a Kavanaugh friend from their time at Georgetown Preparatory School, should appear before the panel to testify about the alleged incident…

Judge, who Ford said was in the room at the time of the alleged assault, said in a letter to the committee that he did not wish to speak publicly. In the letter, relayed by his attorney, Judge said that he has “no memory of this alleged incident.”

“Brett Kavanaugh and I were friends in high school, but I do not recall the party described in Dr. Ford’s letter,” Judge said. “More to the point, I never saw Brett act in the manner Dr. Ford describes.”

He doesn’t remember anything. Slate’s William Saletan explains why that might be:

The most likely reason for Judge’s uncertainty is that Judge is a confessed recovering alcoholic. He knows that in their high school days, he sometimes got drunk to the point of not remembering what he had done. Therefore, he understands that even if he can’t believe he or Kavanaugh would have done what Ford alleges, it’s possible that it happened. In a statement issued on Tuesday by his attorney, Judge says: “I have no memory of this incident.”

In her letter and in her interview with the Post, Ford says Kavanaugh and Judge were “highly inebriated,” “very drunken,” and “stumbling drunk.” Specifically, she recalls that Kavanaugh’s impairment thwarted his attempts to pull her clothes off.

That’s where things get interesting:

That part of her account raises two questions that can be investigated. First, did Judge and Kavanaugh have a history of drinking? Second, did their drinking sometimes lead to them do things that they later didn’t remember?

In Judge’s case, the answer to both questions is yes. He has written two books about his alcoholism and his high school years. He admits that he drank at teen parties, got “completely annihilated,” and sometimes woke up with no idea how he ended up where he was. He also depicts a character named “Bart O’Kavanaugh” who “puked in someone’s car” and “passed out on his way back from a party.”

How closely does that character match Kavanaugh? We don’t know. But we know from Kavanaugh’s yearbook entry that he drank. He claimed to belong to the “Keg City Club” (“100 kegs or bust”) and the “Beach Week Ralph Club.” Photos showed him and Judge at the beach together. During “beach week,” Judge recalls in one of his books, “Most of the time everyone, including the girls, was drunk. If you could breathe and walk at the same time, you could hook up.”

After they graduated, Kavanaugh went to Yale, where, according to the Yale Daily News and the Hartford Courant, he joined a “party-hearty” fraternity that “reviv[ed] a beer-drinking competition that college officials had banned from campus.” Kavanaugh also drank at Yale Law School. In a speech four years ago, he recalled organizing “a night of Boston bar-hopping,” with students “doing group chugs from a keg” and “falling out of the bus.” “We had a motto, what happens on the bus stays on the bus,” said Kavanaugh.

Saletan then makes this simple:

The committee needs to look at two questions. One is whether Kavanaugh’s history with alcohol casts doubt on his assurances that he couldn’t have done what Ford alleges. The second question is whether his refusal to entertain such doubts reveals a lack of humility, candor, or openness to evidence.

One does wonder, given this too:

Georgetown Prep’s unofficial saying, according to Brett Kavanaugh: What happens there, stays there.

The Supreme Court nominee made the crack in a 2015 speech at Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law, which he said was the alma mater of three of his friends. Kavanaugh said the trio had also been classmates when he attended Catholic high school at Georgetown Prep.

“But fortunately, we had a good saying that we’ve held firm to, to this day, which is: What happens at Georgetown Prep, stays at Georgetown Prep,” Kavanaugh said, according to a video of the speech. “I think that’s been a good thing for all of us.”

Kavanaugh gave no other context for the joke…

He didn’t have to. Social media provided the context. The video of that part of that speech went viral:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted the clip of Kavanaugh joking about Georgetown Prep adding: “I can’t imagine any parent accepting this view. Is this really what America wants in its next Supreme Court Justice?”

Things were breaking bad for Donald Trump, and Gabriel Sherman still has his sources:

According to three sources, Kavanaugh’s imperiled confirmation has unsettled Trump and the White House. “Everyone knows his predisposition is to punch back, but this is a different situation than an election,” a former West Wing official briefed on the strategy discussions said. In the past, Trump responded to allegations of sexual misconduct by channeling his mentor Roy Cohn: deny everything, and go on the attack. But he’s been surprisingly measured in his defense of Kavanaugh…

According to sources, several factors are at play. White House advisers are worried that more damaging information about Kavanaugh could come out. Two sources told me the White House has heard rumors that Ford’s account will be verified by women who say she told it to them contemporaneously. People worry, without apparent evidence, of another Ronan Farrow bomb dropping. One source says Ivanka Trump has told her father to “cut bait” and drop Kavanaugh.

That might be tempting, but for an odd reason and for a good reason too:

Another reason Trump hasn’t gone to the mat for Kavanaugh is that he’s said to be suspicious of Kavanaugh’s establishment pedigree. “‘He’s a Bush guy, why would I put myself out there defending him?'” Trump told people, according to a former White House official briefed on the conversations. Trump also has expressed frustration with White House counsel Don McGahn, who aggressively lobbied for him to choose Kavanaugh, a source said. “Trump wants this guy on the court, but Trump knows there are five other people he could put on the court if this falls apart,” a former official said.

But the threat of losing the House and Senate seems to have helped convince Trump not to go scorched-earth on Ford. If Trump antagonizes women voters, it could increase the odds Republicans would lose both houses in Congress. “Trump knows the Senate is not looking good,” an outside adviser said. “It’s all about the impeachment, he knows it’s coming.”

But that would not be his fault:

Even before the Kavanaugh crisis, Trump has been worried about Republicans’ declining fortunes, and he’s been finding ways to shift the blame. Trump told a friend in the Oval Office last week that it would be Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan’s fault if Republicans lost the House and the Senate, according to a person familiar with the conversation. “This is the election about Ryan and McConnell – it’s about those guys,” Trump said. Trump referred to his 2020 campaign as “the real election.”

“It’s pure Trump. He has to come up with a way he’s not responsible if Republicans lose,” a former West Wing staffer said.

Something odd is going on here, and then there’s Michelle Goldberg’s Devil’s Theory of ramming Kavanaugh through:

There is a small, dark part of me that thinks it would be fitting if Republicans shove Kavanaugh through despite the allegations against him. Anyone Trump nominates is going to threaten Roe v. Wade. Kavanaugh would at least make plain the power dynamics behind forced pregnancy. We would lose Roe because a president who boasted of sexual assault, elected against the wishes of the majority of female voters, was able to give a lifetime Supreme Court appointment to an ex-frat boy credibly accused of attempted rape. Kavanaugh, helped by an all-male Republican caucus on the Judiciary Committee, would join Clarence Thomas, whose confirmation hearing helped make the phrase “sexual harassment” a household term. They and three other men would likely vote against the court’s three women. The brute imposition of patriarchy would be undeniable.

If the Kavanaugh nomination is scuttled, chances are Republicans will try to replace him with someone like Amy Coney Barrett, who is in some ways more conservative. She would put a softer, female face on the culture war. But that’s a fight for another day.

On Sunday, Politico quoted a lawyer close to the White House as saying that the administration had redoubled its support for Kavanaugh in light of Blasey’s claims: “If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried.”

If the Kavanaugh nomination goes forward, it’s because Trump and his allies believe that a certain class of men accused of sexual assault deserve impunity.

The question now is whether any Republican senators believe otherwise.

That adds a bit of perspective. Everyone expected that big Senate showdown, a more intense version of the 1991 Anita Hill testimony against Clarence Thomas – this time about attempt rape, not that now rather quaint sexual harassment stuff. Women would side with the woman. Old white Republican men would scream in her face, calling her a liar – only them this time. Democrats have women on the Senate Judiciary Committee now. It was going to be quite a show – and then Christine Blasey Ford said no, let’s get the facts and deal with those.

Damn – now the Senate Republicans and President Trump will have to say no. let’s NOT get the facts and deal with those. No one expected that. No, wait. Everyone expected that. This administration always breaks bad.

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Of All Possible Worlds

There used to be books that made a difference. In 1759 it was Voltaire’s Candide, ou l’Optimisme – the young man, Candide, is told by his mentor, Pangloss, that we do live in the best of all possible worlds – just look around. Candide looks around – he becomes the ultimate optimist – and then learns a thing or two, rather comically. The world is just the world, for better or worse. It’s not perfect. It never will be. Don’t expect that. This is as good as it gets. Accept that. Nothing’s perfect. Ask Candide – he eventually decided it was best to “cultivate his own garden” and not worry about such things – but Pangloss had been right. We do live in the best of all possible worlds.

That’s the problem. This is the only possible world. This is what we get. There never seems to be a simple solution to anything. There never seems to be that one good alternative, just an array of unpleasant alternatives, with one, perhaps, being a bit less unpleasant than the others. That’s why Donald Trump is president. Just enough voters in just the right places decided he was a bit less unpleasant than Hillary Clinton, but even that isn’t working out. He is far more nasty and vindictive and unpleasant than anyone could have imagined. But he is who he is. He was the alternative. It’s been said before. The optimist believes that we live in the best of all worlds, while the pessimist fears this is so. He would have to do.

There never seems to be that one good alternative, and now that’s playing out in a different way:

Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh and the woman who has accused him of sexually assaulting her decades ago will testify publicly before the Senate on Monday, setting up a potentially dramatic and politically perilous hearing that could determine the fate of his nomination.

Republicans, including President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), remained defiant as they scrambled to protect Kavanaugh’s nomination in the wake of the allegation by Christine Blasey Ford, who told The Washington Post in an interview published Sunday that Kavanaugh drunkenly pinned her to a bed on her back, groped her and put his hand over her mouth at a house party in the early 1980s.

But by the end of the day, Senate Republicans had effectively delayed a committee vote planned for Thursday and abandoned tentative plans for the matter to be handled behind closed doors amid growing calls by members of both parties for Kavanaugh and Ford to testify publicly under oath, injecting uncertainty into the nomination.

Senate Republicans settled for the only possible alternative. Trump has called those seventeen women who had accused him of sexual misconduct liars – he said he would sue them. He called the accusers of Bill O’Reilly and Rogers Ailes liars too. He called the accusers of Judge Roy Moore liars too. Stormy Daniels and the McDougal woman are liars too. Women are liars. Trump could have tweeted out that Christine Blasey Ford was a liar too – but the Senate Republicans seem to have told him that he really shouldn’t do that. The midterm elections are coming. They’d rather not defend him on this. They’d rather not defend the notion that all women are liars and sluts – as the official party position. Someone got to Trump, probably Mitch McConnell, and told him that his preferred alternative in these situations would mean a Senate controlled by the Democrats for the next two years. Do not tweet. That is not an alternative here.

The second alternative would have been to plow ahead and just confirm the guy right on schedule, ignoring all this nonsense from the past – but that never was a real alternative. Too many women think this sort of thing, no matter how long ago it happened, isn’t nonsense. And they still vote. No one has repealed the Nineteenth Amendment yet. There was no way to shrug and just move on – and the third alternative – have Senate staffers get on the phone and get statements about what happened from each side, for the record, the sealed record – wasn’t going to fly either. Even conservatives were saying that the public had the right to know what was going on here.

That left the fourth alternative, the only possible alternative, an open public hearing. That’s still a lousy alternative for Republicans. All of their guys on the Senate Judiciary Committee are guys – no women at all – so the questioning of the Ford woman would, first, just look sexist. The “visuals” would look bad, and their questions, in open session can, logically, amount to no more than calling this woman a liar – in a nice way of course. That’s the job here. Be nice. Be respectful. Be sympathetic. Be humble – and make sure everyone knows that this woman is a liar – unless she’s just confused – a lovable sweet young thing in over her head – the poor little thing, the poor dear. That might work too – but not really. She has to be a liar.

The fourth alternative will be nasty:

Ford is “willing to do whatever it takes to get her story forth,” her attorney, Debra Katz, said in an appearance on NBC’s Today show.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a crucial swing vote, indicated that if it emerged that Kavanaugh had been untruthful about the incident, he would not be fit to serve on the court.

“Obviously, if Judge Kavanaugh has lied about what happened, that would be disqualifying,” Collins said, adding that “having the opportunity to observe her being questioned, read a transcript and a deposition and make that kind of assessment is so important.”

Katz on Monday characterized Kavanaugh’s actions as “attempted rape,” adding that Ford feels “that if it were not for the severe intoxication of Brett Kavanaugh, she would have been raped.”

And on the others side:

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said that Kavanaugh had told him that he was not present at the party in question — which prompted some to wonder how Kavanaugh could make such a claim given that Ford had never specified the exact date or location of the gathering.

Trump broke his silence on the allegations Monday, praising Kavanaugh as “one of the finest people that anybody has known” and signaling that he supports a hearing on the allegations.

“If it takes a little delay, it’ll take a little delay,” Trump told reporters at an event on workforce development. “It will, I’m sure, work out very well.”

And elsewhere:

As news of the allegations rippled across Washington, supporters of Kavanaugh and Ford rallied to their defense.

Former high school classmates of Ford drafted an open letter applauding her for coming forward with her story and affirming that her experience “is all too consistent with stories we heard and lived.”

Two former girlfriends of Kavanaugh, meanwhile, issued statements defending him as “respectful” and a “perfect gentleman.”

And elsewhere:

On Capitol Hill, the debate over the allegations spilled over onto the Senate floor as leaders of both parties made uncharacteristically impassioned remarks.

“Republicans and their staff cannot impartially investigate these allegations. They’ve already said that they are not true,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.

“The double standard – the twisting of this body into a cruel, nasty partisanship, unprecedented in a feverish desire to fill the bench with people that the other side agrees with – it’s one of the lowest points I have seen in my years here,” he added.

His remarks came shortly after McConnell took to the floor to blast Democrats for not raising Ford’s accusation earlier in the process.

“But now – now, at the 11th hour, with committee votes on schedule after Democrats have spent weeks and weeks searching for any possible reason that the nomination should be delayed – now, now, they choose to introduce this allegation,” McConnell said.

And so on and so forth. It shouldn’t have come to this, but these two facing off in a nationally televised public Senate hearing was the only possible thing that could have happened. All the other alternatives were even more unpleasant. And things will get even more unpleasant, as Michael Scherer reports here:

Republicans are bracing for political aftershocks from the sexual assault accusation against Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh, with some expressing fear that the coming investigation will refocus the nation’s attention on an issue that could drive up the Democratic vote in the midterm elections.

The initial hope that the conservative Kavanaugh’s appointment would encourage turnout by grateful GOP voters this fall has been tempered by new fears that more voters, especially independent women, might head to the polls with fresh anger about Republican handling of sexual impropriety after a new round of public hearings.

Even before the accusation against Kavanaugh surfaced, polls showed women preferred Democrats more than men did and were more likely to disapprove of President Trump, who faced accusations of sexual misconduct by 19 women before his 2016 election. A Washington Post-ABC News poll in late August found 58 percent of female registered voters intended to cast a ballot for a Democrat for Congress, compared with 45 percent of men.

In an illustration of the changing dynamics, Democratic candidates for the House and the Senate enthusiastically expressed support for Kavanaugh’s accuser Monday, while calling for delays in the confirmation process to investigate the claims. Republican leaders pledged to properly look into the matter “by the book,” despite vocally expressing frustration over the timing of the claim.

“I believe she is credible,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said of Kavanaugh’s accuser during an appearance Monday on ABC’s “The View,” a show that targets a female audience. “We have to get to the bottom of this.”

Everything seems to be going wrong for Republicans with all this, but that may have been inevitable. Donald Trump made that inevitable. Republicans are in more trouble than ever with women. That MeToo stuff is hard to navigate when Donald Trump is who Republicans are now – and that is where things diverge. Trump narrowed the possibilities for Republicans. They seem to have no good alternative much of the time. Democrats have gone the other way. They’ve made things more possible on their side.

Peter Beinart sees that this way:

In the year since the #MeToo movement began, Americans have relearned one old truth and learned one new one. The old truth is that, when it comes to perpetrators of sexual harassment, politics doesn’t matter. Liberal men and conservative men, socialist men and fascist men, anti-feminist men and avowedly feminist men – some percentage of all these subspecies prey on women. For every Clarence Thomas, there’s a Bill Clinton.

The newer truth, which was less clear a year ago, is that while politics may not determine your propensity to abuse women sexually, it does determine your ability to get away with it.

Beinart explains that this way:

The divergence between how liberals and conservatives respond to sexual harassment only really became significant last December, when Al Franken resigned from the Senate.

The Franken resignation, in retrospect, was a historical crossroads. It was a crossroads because Democrats had plenty of excuses for standing by him. His apparent penchant for groping unsuspecting women, while hideous, was milder than the accusations against many other alleged sexual harassers, including the president. He was a champion of women’s rights. The ethics committee had not begun an investigation. Even some prominent feminists said he should keep his job. And yet he was forced to resign.

And that was smart:

The push came primarily from Kirsten Gillibrand and other women senators. Part of their logic was that unless Democrats kept their own house spotless, they’d lack the moral authority to challenge Trump and other Republican harassers. “For the last decade, Democrats have been pointing the finger at the Republican Party for devaluing women,” explained Guy Cecil, former executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “This is a requirement to be able to look at them with a straight face and say we’re the party that cares about them.”

Missions accomplished:

This weekend’s accusation that Brett Kavanaugh assaulted a woman in high school shows just how wise that logic was. Republicans desperately want the public to believe the assault charge is a smokescreen: that Democrats are looking for any opportunity to defeat a nominee whose politics they oppose. That’s true: Democrats are looking for any opportunity to block Kavanaugh’s confirmation. But Democrats can also credibly demand an investigation into the allegations against Kavanaugh because, when it comes to sexual harassment, they have earned the moral high ground. They earned it with Franken. Yes, Kavanaugh’s alleged incident occurred while he was in high school. But, if true, it’s worse than anything Franken is alleged to have done – and Democrats ditched him without even the benefit of a hearing. When it comes to Kavanaugh, Democrats may be opportunists, but they’re not hypocrites.

And that leaves the Republicans with no good alternatives at all:

I suspect that at this point Republicans would suffer more from ditching Kavanaugh than sticking by him. After all, the party has already stuck by Trump, Roy Moore and Jim Jordan. At this point, Republicans have already lost the anti-sexual-assault voter. Their best hope in the midterms is to motivate their base, which includes a lot of anti-anti-sexual assault voters. According to a 2015 Public Religion Research Institute poll, more Republicans think, “there is a lot of discrimination” against white men than think “there is a lot of discrimination” against women. Some of those rank-and-file Republicans will feel betrayed if GOP senators turn their backs on Kavanaugh. It will show that they won’t stand up against the victimization of men.

And that’s absurd, and a win for the Democrats:

Even if Democrats can’t use the sexual-assault charges to defeat Kavanaugh, Gillibrand has achieved her goal. In this year in which women are mobilizing politically as never before, she and her fellow female Democrats in the Senate have made accountability for sexual harassment and assault a partisan issue.

So, Republicans, unlike Democrats, are now the party that proudly stands against any accountability for sexual harassment and assault. Cool.

These things add up:

Ohio’s wealthiest Republican donor, Leslie H. Wexner, has left the party, saying he is fed up with its antics, the Columbus Dispatch reported.

“I’m an independent,” Wexner said at an event for Ohio business leaders Thursday night, noting that he had been a Republican since his college days. “I won’t support this nonsense in the Republican Party.”

Here again the inevitable happened:

Wexner is the founder and CEO of L Brands, a company whose holdings include Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works. He’s been a long time and major donor to Republican politicians and committees. Wexner gave $250,000 in 2012 to a super-PAC backing Mitt Romney’s campaign; in 2016, he and his wife Abigail donated more than $2 million to candidates, with Leslie contributing $500,000 in support of Jeb Bush’s presidential bid.

Since the election, the billionaire has been critical of President Trump, noting in a speech to his employees last year that he felt “dirty” and “ashamed” by the president’s response to a white nationalist and far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that turned violent. At the time, Wexner, who is Jewish, said he was unable to sleep because of the incident, telling himself that “I have to do something because the leader of our country is behaving poorly.”

He has seen the opposite:

The announcement, made at a panel discussion, came the same day Obama visited Columbus before heading to a rally in Cleveland to support Democrat Richard Cordray’s run for governor.

“I was struck by the genuineness of the man; his candor, humility and empathy for others,” Wexner said of Obama.

Wexner seems to have been that pessimist who feared that we do live in the best of all possible worlds – and the real possibilities are narrow and depressing. Republicans and then Trump were the best that this world could come up with – the only real possibility – disheartening and depressing.

What can one do about that? Voltaire’s Candide gave up a decided to drop out and cultivate his own garden. That’s odd. There are other alternatives.

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That Monster Hiding In the Walls

It used to be funny. It seemed harmless. The Telegraph (UK) offered the Donald Trump Sexism Tracker: Every Offensive Comment in One Place – everything from the early eighties through July 2017 – all the comments about women being fat and ugly and disgusting, or hot and sexy as hell, like his daughter, or sluts, or idiots, are just pieces of ass to be used, and to be used to impress other lesser men, up through that item from July 2017 when he told the French First Lady that she had a hot body. And then the Telegraph abandoned the feature. What was the point? Everyone knows all this.

No one cared anymore. Other things were more alarming about President Trump – he seems to want to end NATO and break up the EU and plunge the world into a trade war where everyone imposes massive tariffs on everyone else and everything grinds to a halt, worldwide, to prove that the United Sates won’t be laughed at any longer – or he won’t be – not to mention daring Iran to build those nukes now and telling the world that the United States is now committed to running on coal – that Paris climate accord was for suckers. Donald Trump’s scorn for women, or his fear of them, or whatever that was, seemed relatively unimportant. Yes, he was, and is, a sexist pig. Many men are sexist pigs. This one could blow up the world. How he feels about women is a minor matter.

David Atkins argues that is no longer the case:

It seems like outrageous hyperbole, but we must confront the dystopian reality. A president credibly accused of multiple sexual assaults and who bragged forcibly grabbing women by the genitals without their consent, who was helped into office by a large number of men in powerful media positions who have also been forced out their jobs due to allegations of sexual harassment and assault, as well as by the clandestine government services of a nation famous for its misogynistic exploitation of women, is nominating an accused rapist to the Supreme Court with the express intent of eliminating women’s right to an abortion and other reproductive health services.

And a Republican Party which recently endorsed a Senate candidate credibly accused of statutory rape against teenagers, and whose favored candidate for next Speaker of the House is alleged to have long ignored sexual predation on his charges while he was coach, is preparing to go full steam ahead in confirming him…

Are there even two decent Republican Senators who will look this in the face, see it for what it is, and step forward to do the right thing? Or will the Republican Party cement itself forever as the party of sexually abusive and misogynistic old white men?

That’s the question and that’s not hyperbole:

President Trump’s bid to confirm Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court was thrown into uncertainty on Sunday as a woman came forward with explosive allegations that Mr. Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers more than three decades ago.

The woman, Christine Blasey Ford, 51, a research psychologist at Palo Alto University in Northern California, said in an interview with The Washington Post that during a high school party in the early 1980s, a drunken Mr. Kavanaugh pinned her on a bed, groped her and covered her mouth to keep her from screaming.

“I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” the newspaper quoted her as saying. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.”

That sounds like attempted rape, not the standard Fox News or Clarence Thomas workplace sexually harassment, or Donald Trump being a sexist jerk for decades, so there was only once possible response:

Judge Kavanaugh has denied the accusations, and in a terse statement on Sunday, the White House said it stood by those denials. It signaled that it had no intention of pulling the nomination.

But it’s not that simple:

Ms. Ford’s decision to put her name behind accusations that began to circulate late last week – a choice made after weeks of reluctance – appeared to open a door to a delay in a Senate committee vote on the nomination scheduled for Thursday. The disclosure also injected a volatile #MeToo element into the confirmation debate, one that is playing out in the overwhelmingly male Republican-led Senate during a midterm election that has energized Democratic women.

In short, Republicans are in more trouble than ever with women. That MeToo stuff is hard to navigate when Donald Trump is who Republicans are now. Do they sympathize or not? Do they offer support to the MeToo people? They’re hooked to a sexist pig. They can say that this woman is a liar, even if they don’t believe that, and stay in the good graces of Trump and his base, and then lose the votes of not just Democratic women, and then lose in the midterms. They can say they believe this woman, or at least want to hear her out, and face the wrath of Trump and his base and Fox News too.

That’s not much of a choice, but some made that choice:

One Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jeff Flake of Arizona, told Politico that he was “not comfortable voting yes” on the nomination until he learned more about Ms. Ford’s account. A single Republican objection on the committee, which has 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats, could force a delay.

Another Republican on the panel, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said on Twitter that “if Ms. Ford wishes to provide information to the committee, I would gladly listen to what she has to say and compare that against all other information we have received about Judge Kavanaugh.”

But he said he hoped to keep the process on schedule.

He wants it both ways. See Jeff Flake, Traitor and Jeff Flake Calls For Delay in Kavanaugh Confirmation. Can the Rest of the Vichy Republicans Be Far Behind?

Everyone got the message:

Senate Republican leaders in the hours after The Post’s article was published indicated that they intended to move forward with voting on him. Republicans planned to argue that, unless corroborating information came to light, they had no way of verifying her story and saw no reason to delay the vote, according to a person involved in the discussions.

And if corroborating information comes to light later, then… well, that would be unfortunate. Perhaps they’d be sad. But it would be too late to do anything about that. These things happen.

These things also need to be managed carefully:

The White House, which has taken great pains to portray Judge Kavanaugh as a champion of women, sought to bolster him by pointing to statements by women who have known him and testified to his character. Those included a letter from 65 women who said that they knew him in high school and that he had “always treated women with decency and respect.”

Advisers to Mr. Trump were trying to avoid publicly assailing the accuser while hoping that the lack of contemporaneous corroboration for Ms. Ford’s account would mean that Senate Republicans could move ahead without addressing it in detail.

More delicately, advisers were privately urging Mr. Trump, who has been accused of sexual harassment by more than a dozen women, not to speak out about the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh on Twitter for fear that he would only inflame the situation.

In short, shut up, Mister President, for once, just this once, but others won’t shut up now:

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, called the accusations “extremely serious” and said they “bear heavily on Judge Kavanaugh’s character.” She urged critics of his accuser to stop “the attacks and stop shaming her.”

Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, went one step further, invoking Anita Hill, who came forward during Justice Clarence Thomas’s 1991 confirmation hearings to accuse him of sexual harassment.

“I was motivated to run for the Senate after watching the truly awful way Anita Hill was treated by an all-male Judiciary Committee interrogating her about the sexual harassment she endured at the hands of now-Justice Clarence Thomas,” Ms. Murray said in a statement, adding that the hearings must be delayed.

The Republicans walked right into this again, although this “incident” happened a long time ago:

Ms. Ford’s account opens a window into the exclusive prep school culture in which Mr. Kavanaugh grew up. The alleged assault occurred while he was a student at Georgetown Preparatory School, and Ms. Ford was a student at another private school, Holton-Arms, where she was a cheerleader in her senior year. She graduated in 1984.

That is an odd rarified world, but Garrett Epps, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Baltimore, argues that the actual subtext of Kavanaugh’s nomination just burst into the open:

The last scene of the horror story that is President Trump’s Supreme Court nomination is what any screenwriter would have predicted: a cast of panicky strangers trapped in a haunted house, trying desperately not to say the words that will loose a monster hiding in the walls.

That monster is sex – gender, women’s rights – as lived in America in 2018. From the beginning, gender, and nothing else, is what this confirmation struggle has been about. The nomination of Sandra Day O’Connor in 1981, the first female justice, was a milestone for many women; in 1993, that of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a feminist trailblazer, electrified equal-rights advocates. But neither of those, to me at least, conveyed the ominous gendered subtext of the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh.

And here it is:

The gendered subtext of this moment is, not to put too fine a point on it, war – war to the knife – over the future of women’s autonomy in American society. Shall women control their own reproduction, their health care, their contraception, their legal protection at work against discrimination and harassment, or shall we move backward to the chimera of past American greatness, when the role of women was – supposedly for biological reasons – subordinate to that of men?

And no one should be surprised by that:

That theme became apparent even before the 2016 election, when candidate Donald Trump promised to pick judges who would “automatically” overturn Roe v. Wade. The candidate was by his own admission a serial sexual harasser. On live national television, he then stalked, insulted, and physically menaced his female opponent – and he said, in an unguarded moment, that in his post-Roe future, women who choose abortion will face “some form of punishment.”

In context, Trump promised to restore the old system of dominion – by lawmakers, husbands, pastors, institutions, and judges – over women’s reproduction. Arguably that platform propelled Trump into the White House: Many evangelical Christian voters chose to overlook Trump’s flagrant sexual immorality, his overt contempt for the basics of faith, because they believed he would end abortion forever.

And this was their big chance:

The appointment of Neil Gorsuch to replace Antonin Scalia in 2017 did not change the landscape of choice; Gorsuch was replacing a resolute foe of reproductive rights, leaving the balance intact. But Trump’s promise came to the fore this year, with the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kennedy’s single vote kept abortion rights alive for a quarter century. Trump’s chosen replacement, Brett Kavanaugh, had referred in a published opinion to “abortion on demand” and, referring only to “existing Supreme Court precedent,” refused even to cite the precedential cases by name.

Anyone with eyes could pick up his disdain for the constitutional guarantee of choice.

In lobbying Trump to nominate Kavanaugh, his defenders had initially insisted that he was reliably anti-choice. “On the vital issues of protecting religious liberty and enforcing restrictions on abortion,” one former clerk reassured fellow conservatives in National Review, “no court-of-appeals judge in the nation has a stronger, more consistent record than Judge Brett Kavanaugh.”

Epps covers what Kavanaugh said in the committee hearings – he would be impartial about everything – he’d make no promises either way – but there was his record:

These hearings have not at any time been an exercise in “advice and consent.” Instead, they have been – as the women screaming in the background have tried to warn us – banana-republic-level pantomime, aimed at installing a hand-picked functionary in lifetime office.

But even so, the way in which chair Chuck Grassley and the 10 other male Republicans on the committee handle Ford’s accusation will tell us a good deal about them and about the state of the gender battlefield. Will these men dismiss the allegation because it was too long ago? Will they attack the accuser and seek to shame her over hidden details of her life? Will they argue there is “only” one claim, and one is not enough? Will they say that 65 women’s signatures on one letter cancel one woman’s accusation in another? Will they turn the occasion into a chance to attack the Democrats and try to motivate their base for the midterms?

Yes, they will – all of it – because they’re trapped now:

For months, the male leaders of the administration and the GOP insisted on silence on the real issue at stake. But despite their best efforts, the monster has finally come out of the walls.

David Frum puts that a different way:

I worked for a president who was arrested for driving under the influence at age 30. One of the most admired and most successful governors of our times was arrested as a college student for industrial-scale drug possession. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke is inspiring liberal voters across the country despite fleeing the scene, at age 26, of a drunk-driving accident that could have many people dead.

Democracy can be a forgiving system, especially when politicians honestly acknowledge their misconduct. But with a Senate-confirmed position, the job of deciding whether misconduct is forgivable falls not to the voters, but to the voters’ representatives – and in this instance to a particularly unrepresentative set of representatives at that.

The Republican majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee is all-male. However keen their intuitive sympathy, however intimately connected they may be to the women in their lives, isn’t one side of the alleged situation involving Supreme Court-nominee Brett Kavanaugh likely to be more legible to them than the other?

They are who they are, and Frum cites a lawyer “close to the White House” about whether the nomination would now be withdrawn:

No way, not even a hint of it. If anything, it’s the opposite. If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried. We can all be accused of something.

Frum translates that:

If it happened at all, it happened 36 years ago. He was only 17 – and probably too drunk to know what he was doing. He grabbed a girl; OK, he should not have done that, but his buddy pulled him away. Everybody went home safe and sound. Really, you’re going to wreck a good man’s career after all this time because of a nothing-story like that?

Frum:

I imagine more than a few male senators think that way. I’m a relative hard-liner on these kinds of questions, and I find myself leaning that way too. But then… we would, wouldn’t we?

Frum recognizes his built-in bias but he doesn’t address what else was said here – “every man certainly should be worried” about women. Any one of them at any time can ruin any man’s life with just a few words and they might do just that, just because they can. Women are dangerous. Women are the enemy. Ridicule them. Intimate them. Humiliate them. Protect yourself. Stay safe.

That’s what Donald Trump has done, and Frum sees that:

These surprise allegations against Kavanaugh are now to be assessed by people pre-committed to dismissing such allegations as irrelevant to public office. Kavanaugh is a Supreme Court nominee because Donald Trump is president. And what is alleged against Kavanaugh that President Trump has not already confessed?

The Kavanaugh nomination will now be assessed by people all of whom voted for the presidential candidate who confessed to grabbing women. On present indications, the allegations against Kavanaugh will not to be assessed in any meaningful sense at all. But “assessed” is the wrong word. They are not going to be assessed in any meaningful sense of that word. The Senate Judiciary Committee has already released a statement dismissing the allegations as unworthy of further attention, and in fact, as an abuse of the hearing process. The candidate has been vetted, there is nothing more to learn or say.

Frum disagrees:

It will be not be easy to ascertain what happened all those years ago. It will not be much easier to judge the relevance of those events, whatever they were, to a confirmation vote 36 years later. But we can judge the judges – and they are the wrong men in the wrong job at the wrong time.

And there they are anyway. The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus looks at that problem:

What happens if, as the nation witnessed 27 years ago with Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas, the two accounts continue to diametrically diverge? Ford says a “stumbling drunk” Kavanaugh and a friend grabbed her at a high school party, when she was 15 and Kavanaugh 17; that Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed and groped her; that he put his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream.

These are allegations that, if true, constitute some form of criminal sexual assault, which makes them inherently more serious than the sexual-harassment allegations, which were of course horrifying in their own way, involving Thomas. Yes, it was high school, but if you do something bad enough in high school, it can lose you your seat on the Supreme Court. And this, to me, constitutes bad enough, even if she managed to get away before worse happened.

But there are other considerations:

One is that Kavanaugh, like Thomas, has vigorously denied the allegations. Not that there was a misunderstanding among inebriated high school students, not that it is a dumb episode he regrets – as with Thomas and Hill, Kavanaugh’s position, or at least his position before Ford went public with her account, is that nothing happened. “I did not do this back in high school or at any time,” Kavanaugh said.

That complicates things:

I don’t doubt that Ford is telling the truth as best she recalls it, but her recollection is fuzzy. She told The Post’s Emma Brown that she did not remember where the incident took place or how she got home. How well did she know Kavanaugh? Is it possible that she misidentified him? She told no one about it at the time – understandable but less than ideal. Hill confided in friends at the time about Thomas’s behavior. Ford did not describe the incident to others until 2012, some three decades afterward.

So what to do if Ford tells her story and Kavanaugh sticks to his, with the same ferocity as Thomas?

There’s no good answer to that question. Call her a liar. Donald Trump’s scorn for women, or his fear of them, or whatever that was, is just a fact of life now – he’s president – he was, and is, a sexist pig. Many men are sexist pigs. Fine – they’ll say she’s a liar. Republicans are in more trouble than ever with women, and that MeToo stuff is hard to navigate when Donald Trump is who Republicans are now, so more and more Americans will say this woman needs to be heard, and say that she’s not lying. And the guy will be confirmed anyway. Republicans have the votes.

Garrett Epps was right. There was a monster hiding in the walls all along.

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No Luck at All

From 1969 to 1971 CBS had a big hit with Hee-Haw – which was a slap-back at Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In – the “irreverent” hit show for the hip antiestablishment counterculture. Not that “Laugh-In” spoke truth to power– it was just a comedy-variety show and only intermittently topical, and even then never biting. But it was urban and almost urbane – the product of smart and witty people in New York and Los Angeles. Those from anywhere in-between, from the fly-over states, might not get the humor. They weren’t supposed to. It’s almost as if they didn’t matter.

They resented that, so CBS created a show for them – the real folk, the simple unsophisticated but good folks, the rural folks, the folks who drove pick-up trucks. Buck Owens and Roy Clark hosted the new show from Nashville – it was country music and rural Southern stuff the folks in the city just wouldn’t get. They weren’t supposed to – now THEY were the real outsiders. This was war, even if a war of lame jokes. Hee-Haw lasted for twenty more years in syndication.

Maybe they won that culture war, but they would always be victims. They loved that. That’s part of that culture. On “Hee-Haw” each week, the male chorus would sing this:

Gloom, despair and agony on me-e!
Deep dark depression, excessive misery-y!
If it weren’t for bad luck I’d have no luck at all!
Gloom, despair and agony on me-e-e!

That was either a sly critique of those saying, over and over, that the whole universe is against them, that they are the victims in this world – the message was get over your damned self – or this was a weekly celebration of those notions. Those were not going to change. If you’ve heard one my-woman-left-me-and-my-dog-died country song you’ve heard them all, but something did change a bit. The self-pity slowly turned to anger. The anger turned political. Now, much of country music is simply America-Fuck-Yeah! It’s all anger at Muslims or Mexicans or gays or fancy-pants city folks or all of it mashed up together – “These Colors Don’t Run” or Lee Greenwood singing “God Bless the USA” – with Sarah Palin humming along. The tone is defiance. It’s the same culture war, but with the whining self-pity turned into defiant anger.

Donald Trump fits right into that world. His whining self-pity turns into defiant anger every single day. Only the issues change. And he’s got the worldview right – everyone is out to get him and it’s just not fair. And sometimes he seems like a walking-talking my-woman-left-me-and-my-dog-died country song. If it weren’t for bad luck he’d have no luck at all.

Sometimes everything does go wrong. Donald Trump was having one of those weeks. Politico’s Christopher Cadelago explains that:

President Donald Trump spent Friday confronting the deadly landfall of Hurricane Florence – only to have that disaster eclipsed by the revelation that his former campaign manager cut a cooperation deal with special counsel Robert Mueller and that a growing #MeToo crisis is surrounding his Supreme Court nominee.

The trifecta culminated a week of the president careening from one fiasco to another, before he had fully recovered from the publication of damning excerpts from Bob Woodward’s new White House account “Fear” and an op-ed published anonymously by The New York Times claiming that senior staff are working to undermine him.

But wait, there’s more:

Trump drew criticism for double fist-pumping as he greeted supporters en route to a Sept. 11 memorial in Pennsylvania. He fumed at San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz on Wednesday while defending his response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, amid replays of him tossing paper towels at storm victims during a visit to the island last year. On Thursday, he questioned the Maria death count, effectively minimizing the pain and suffering of millions of Americans with ties to the island – and undermining his own defense of his administration’s response.

Everything had gone wrong, but things can always get worse:

The president remained out of sight and off Twitter for most of Friday, focusing on hurricane warnings, as aides inside the White House retrenched, telling themselves and one another that the president was being unfairly targeted by his political opponents in every instance, according to conversations with half a dozen people close to the White House, including current and former officials.

That doesn’t mean things will get better:

“Two things motivate almost 100 percent of his behavior: self-preservation or self-aggrandizement,” said Trump biographer Tim O’Brien. “There never is a strategy because he’s not a strategic thinker.”

He’s not a strategic thinker because he’s a professional outraged and defiant victim.

That won’t serve him well this time:

Paul Manafort agreed on Friday to tell all he knows to the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, as part of a plea deal that could shape the final stages of the inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The deal was a surrender by Mr. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, who had vowed for months to prove his innocence in a case stemming from his work as a political consultant in Ukraine. And it was a decisive triumph for Mr. Mueller, who now has a cooperating witness who was at the center of the Trump campaign during a crucial period in 2016 and has detailed insight into another target of federal prosecutors, the network of lobbyists and influence brokers seeking to help foreign interests in Washington.

Everything did go wrong for Trump:

Mr. Manafort’s decision, announced at a federal court hearing in Washington in which he pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges, was likely to unsettle Mr. Trump, who had praised Mr. Manafort for standing up to prosecutors’ pressure and had hinted that he might pardon him.

Donald Trump is not a strategic thinker. He hardly knew this Manafort guy. This Manafort guy was only with the Trump campaign for a few days. None of this had to do with Trump anyway – and then this Manafort guy was a great guy. He wasn’t going to fold. He wasn’t going to flip. He said so. He had real courage. He’d go to jail for the rest of his life to protect Donald Trump – and that’s loyalty! What a guy!

And now he’s flipped:

In court on Friday, Mr. Manafort agreed to an open-ended arrangement that requires him to answer “fully, truthfully, completely and forthrightly” questions about “any and all matters” the government wants to ask about.

The president’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, quickly sought to distance Mr. Trump from the plea deal.

“Once again an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign,” he said in a statement. “The reason: The president did nothing wrong and Paul Manafort will tell the truth.”

Giuliani quickly cleaned that up – the words “Paul Manafort will tell the truth” were scrubbed from any further copies of the statement. They’re worried that he WILL tell the truth. They’ll have to say that what Manafort says is NOT the truth. Giuliani is not a strategic thinker either.

He needs to worry about this:

Mr. Manafort was a participant in the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower that had been arranged by a Moscow lawyer who said she was delivering damaging information about Hillary Clinton on the Kremlin’s behalf. His cooperation could help Mr. Mueller establish how much, if anything, the Trump campaign knew about Russia’s efforts to boost Mr. Trump’s candidacy.

Manafort may know quite a bit:

Of all Mr. Trump’s campaign advisers, Mr. Manafort arguably had the deepest ties to Russian operatives and oligarchs. He worked for years in Ukraine with Konstantin V. Kilimnik – a Russian citizen who prosecutors have said had ties to a Russian intelligence service that continued into 2016.

He also had a business relationship with Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with ties to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. At one point, Mr. Deripaska lent Mr. Manafort $10 million that prosecutors suggested was never repaid.

In July 2016, just before the Republican National Convention when Mr. Manafort was heading the Trump campaign, he sent a message to Mr. Deripaska through Mr. Kilimnik that he was ready to provide “private briefings” about the presidential race.

Manafort “was” the collusion. Trump hired him. What did Trump know and when did he know it? Manafort can explain. That’s his best option:

Mr. Manafort, 69, had insisted for a year that he would not help the special counsel’s office. But after being convicted on eight felony counts in a federal court in Virginia last month, and facing a second trial on more felony charges in federal court here, Mr. Manafort was confronted with the very real prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison.

Under the agreement announced on Friday, prosecutors replaced a seven-count indictment with one that charged two counts of conspiracy that carry a maximum penalty of 10 years behind bars. No sentencing date has been set for those charges or the ones he was convicted of in Northern Virginia.

Mr. Manafort also agreed to surrender most of his once-vast personal fortune including three houses and two apartments – one in Trump Tower in Manhattan.

That has to sting. A modest two-bedroom apartment in Trump Tower sells for two to five million dollars. Half of the units are sold and stand empty – they were sold to strange people for faraway countries, for cash, no questions asked – and sometimes sold at ten times the amount anyone would normally pay. Trump Tower has always been a place to park vast amounts of money from questionable sources, converting it into a wholly legitimate rather boring physical asset. These strange people from faraway countries don’t actually live in the building. Why would they? Very few actually people live there. Trump Tower is no more than a cash cow – and now the Department of Justice will own one of the units – one that they got for free. It will generate no money now. That’s the sort of thing that drives Trump crazy.

That’s the least of his worries, as Politico’s Christopher Cadelago explains here:

Trump allies, exasperated by the succession of events, said they were most concerned about the new threat to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh after The New Yorker published details of claims by an unnamed woman that the judge tried to force himself on her at a party when they were both high school students, drowning out her protests by covering her mouth and turning up music.

White House aides began hearing about the allegations a week ago, according to a White House aide, but the specifics – contained in a letter sent to California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein – only landed on White House counsel Don McGahn’s desk on Thursday.

Trump was briefed on the letter, and the White House made the quick decision to push back hard against the Democrats, framing the matter as a Hail Mary and purely political attack against a respected judge.

It’s not that simple:

The anonymous allegation against Kavanaugh, whose team carefully scripted his reverent approach to women – including a statement describing his respect for his mother – in anticipation of efforts to paint him as a threat to the right to abortion enshrined in Roe v. Wade, casts a shadow over the nomination ahead of the midterm election.

Hill Republicans on Friday pushed out a letter signed by 65 women who knew Kavanaugh during his high school years attesting to his good character.

White House aides expressed hope that efforts to take down Kavanaugh would ultimately backfire amid questions about Feinstein’s handling of the allegation, and they expressed optimism that he will still be confirmed. “If this stuff was credible,” one White House official told POLITICO, “the timing renders it extremely suspect and raises serious credibility questions about the nature of the release.”

People handling the Kavanaugh hearings remained confident that the allegations – which echo last-minute harassment claims lodged decades ago by Anita Hill against Justice Clarence Thomas days before his confirmation vote – would not preclude his confirmation.

Okay, that might work, and might be beside the point:

People close to Trump were instead worried that it would be the guilty plea and cooperation agreement by former campaign chairman Paul Manafort that would do the most lasting damage. The plea deal on federal conspiracy charges in Washington, D.C., three weeks after his conviction on separate federal tax evasion and fraud charges in Virginia, open the door to a stunning betrayal by someone whom the president has considered pardoning, according to people familiar with Trump’s thinking — and signal that the Russia investigation is far from over.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the plea had nothing to do with the campaign. “It is totally unrelated,” she said.

That may be so, but no one knows that yet, and Paul Waldman lists the possibilities about what Manafort knows:

He has information about crimes, but they have nothing to do with the Trump campaign. For years, Manafort was deeply involved in a shady world of Russian oligarchs, possible Russian intelligence operatives and post-Soviet corruption. He may have information that would help prosecutors bring cases against other figures from that world, and perhaps help American intelligence officials understand it better in ways that assist American national security.

He has information about what happened in the Trump campaign, but that information doesn’t touch the president directly. There were multiple people on the Trump campaign who had contacts with Russians during the campaign and who may have been entry points for a Russian attempt to develop a cooperative relationship. Those included Michael Flynn, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Jeff Sessions. Manafort could shed more light on how those Russian contacts came about, what they amounted to and what kind of cooperation, if any, actually took place.

He has information about Trump himself. This would obviously be the most explosive possibility. So far we have no direct evidence that Trump was involved in an attempt by his campaign to coordinate with representatives of the Russian government, even though he did publicly implore Russia to hack into Hillary Clinton’s emails, which it apparently began doing that very day.

Furthermore, there is a good deal of circumstantial evidence to suggest that Trump knew about the infamous Trump Tower meeting with representatives of the Russian government before it happened, which he has denied. Manafort could shed light on this question, in addition to others that we may not yet have even heard of, since it’s a fair bet that Mueller is investigating some matters that have yet to be publicly revealed.

Trump should worry. His sons should worry. Things just keep getting worse and worse, which, oddly enough, may be one additional reason Trump’s base loves him. He really is a walking-talking my-woman-left-me-and-my-dog-died country song. If it weren’t for bad luck he’d have no luck at all. He’s their kind of guy, the guy whose whining self-pity turns into defiant anger day after day – the guy who has no luck at all, ever. And now we’re all out of luck.

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New Fault Lines

Coaches need to know their players. Teachers need to know their students. Managers need to know their employees. It’s all the same. Some people respond to encouragement – sure, it’s hard (whatever it is) – but they can do it. And failure at first is learning for inevitable success later. Don’t worry about messing up. You’ll get there. In short, stand behind them. They’ll do fine – but others respond to challenges. They respond to insults. Tell him or her that he or she is an idiot, and a total loser. Mock them. Laugh at them. Ridicule them, in front of everyone if possible. Rub it in – and then they’ll do their damnedest to prove you wrong. They’ll do fine too – but don’t mix up the two personalities here. Don’t devastate the one who needs encouragement. Don’t patronize the one who wants to show you, and the world, that he or she is a winner who never whines and doesn’t need anything from anyone, ever.

That’s not all that hard. Know which is which, but there’s that other problem in coaching and teaching and management, the odd duck whose attention wanders, the one with personal issues that keep getting in the way of getting anything done. Anyone who has coached a seventh-grade girls’ soccer team knows all about this. There’s always that great kid storming down the field, blowing by everyone and about to score the game-winning goal, who suddenly stops dead in her tracks to look at that pretty bird in the sky, or to chat with a teammate about some cute boy. Shout out. Pay attention!

That never works. That great kid has other things on her mind. Those others things can’t be erased. What can you do? The only thing to do is to wait for the kid to grow up – but this one game is lost. Accept that. She’s just a kid.

Republicans are discovering that Donald Trump is that great kid whose mind wanders, as Politico reports here:

In an alternate universe, President Donald Trump would be heading into the midterms relentlessly touting his stewardship of a strong economy with results that include historically low unemployment, solid economic growth, sky-high enthusiasm among small businesses and shattered records for job openings.

Instead, the president is repeatedly muddling that message with easily debunked falsehoods or hyperbole about the state of the economy while pressing on with unpopular trade wars that frustrate establishment Republicans and business groups worried about price increases. His undisciplined approach – coupled with his obsessing about the Russia investigation, Hillary Clinton and the 2016 election is damaging what many Republicans say should have been a political slam-dunk for the GOP heading into the fall.

They need to shout out. Pay attention! But they don’t. They don’t want to anger him. His anger will become his base’s anger, in an instant, and that’s their base too. They’re trapped. He’s going to lose them this game, but he is going to talk about what HE wants to talk about. Accept it. He’s not going to grow up anytime soon.

And he has his personal issues. Gabriel Sherman checks with his own sources deep inside the White House and reports this:

According to sources, Trump has been furious at former economic adviser Gary Cohn and staff secretary Rob Porter for their apparent cooperation with Bob Woodward’s book. “Trump thinks he took Gary in and gave him a job when he was going nowhere at Goldman,” a Trump adviser told me. According to the adviser, Trump let it be known to Cohn and Porter that he would attack them publicly if they didn’t disavow the book.

“The president has had it,” a former West Wing official said. “When books like this come out, he tends to shut down and calls up people he sees on TV saying good things about him.”

But Trump’s anger over Woodward’s book is dwarfed by his continuing fixation on the anonymous New York Times op-ed. Sources told me Trump is “obsessed,” “lathered,” and “freaked out” that the leaker is still in his midst. His son Don Jr. has told people he’s worried Trump isn’t sleeping because of it, a source said. Meetings have been derailed by Trump’s suspicion. “If you look at him the wrong way, he’ll spend the next hour thinking you wrote it,” a Republican close to the White House said.

Forget the economy, or any other matter under discussion. He will find out who wrote those awful things about him. He will have his revenge, and he won’t grow up.

Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog sees things a bit differently:

Trump can’t focus on talking up the economy because whenever a new or perceived enemy pops up, he has a compulsion to declare total war against that enemy… He’s also obsessed with old enemies, for instance, any country that has a trade deal with the U.S. (Every trade deal negotiated prior to Trump’s presidency is the worst deal ever, according to Trump.)

But this is good for Democrats:

If Democrats were challenging Trump on the economy, the conflict might get his juices flowing. But Democrats aren’t doing that – they’re arguing (correctly) that the good numbers now are just a continuation of the progress made when Barack Obama was president, and they’re questioning the wisdom of Trump’s trade war and of the budget-busting, unevenly distributed tax cuts. But no Democrat is against GDP growth and low unemployment.

As a result, Trump can’t motivate himself to focus on the economy. He needs an enemy. He needs someone getting in his face and saying that the unemployment rate and GDP suck.

Democrats aren’t doing that – so Trump simply has no choice. He has to follow his compulsions and engage in pointless vendettas instead. Damn sneaky Democrats!

That is sneaky, and unintentional. They’re just being grown-ups. Donald Trump is that kid who just cannot help himself:

Nearly 3,000 people died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. President Donald Trump denied this reality as a hurricane barrels toward the Carolinas.

“3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000,” he said in a tweet Thursday morning as Carolinians prepared to be pummeled by Hurricane Florence.

That called for some clean-up:

After Trump received backlash from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers over this false claim, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley released a statement Thursday that said, “As the President said, every death from Hurricane Maria is a horror. Before, during, and after the two massive hurricanes, the President directed the entire Administration to provide unprecedented support to Puerto Rico.”

“President Trump was responding to the liberal media and the San Juan Mayor who sadly, have tried to exploit the devastation by pushing out a constant stream of misinformation and false accusations,” the statement read.

That wasn’t going to fly:

Earlier this month, the island’s governor formally raised the death toll from Hurricane Maria to an estimated 2,975 from 64 following a study conducted by researchers at The George Washington University. The university study accounted for Puerto Ricans who succumbed to the stifling heat and other aftereffects of the storm and had not been previously counted in official figures. Much of the US territory was without power for weeks.

Even Republicans knew that:

House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters he has “no reason to dispute those numbers.”

“Casualties don’t make a person look bad, so I have no reason to dispute these numbers,” he said Thursday.

“It was devastating. It was a horrible storm. I toured the entire island. It’s an isolated island that lost its infrastructure and power for a long time, you couldn’t get to people for a long time,” Ryan said.

“I have no reason to dispute those numbers,” he added. “Those are just the facts of what happened.”

They are? That was the argument:

“I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful,” Trump said Tuesday in the Oval Office, noting that the island location is “tough” during a hurricane due to the inability to transport vital equipment and supplies by truck. “It was one of the best jobs that’s ever been done with respect to what this is all about.”

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, a vocal critic of the administration’s handling of the storm, has cast blame on the federal government for failing to provide adequate assistance in the aftermath of the storm, and she slammed Trump’s assertion Tuesday.

“In a humanitarian crisis, you should not be grading yourself. You should not be just having a parade of self-accolades. You should never be content with everything we did. I’m not content with everything I did, I should have done more. We should all have done more,” Cruz told

“But the President continues to refuse to acknowledge his responsibility, and the problem is that if he didn’t acknowledge it in Puerto Rico, God bless the people of South Carolina and the people of North Carolina,” Cruz said.

But that wasn’t all:

In a second tweet Thursday, Trump cast blame on Democrats, who he said are trying to make him look bad.

“This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!” he wrote.

Ah, not exactly:

The death toll study was commissioned by Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, a member of Puerto Rico’s “New Progressive Party.” It was conducted by the nonpartisan George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health.

There has been no evidence to indicate that partisan politics has played a role in the calculation of the death tally, and George Washington University released a statement Thursday that said it stands by its work.

Rosselló told CNN on Thursday that the Puerto Rican government is “confident” in the results of the study and that he has no reason to believe the estimate was part of an effort by Democrats to undermine the President.

This was just embarrassing. There was a new giant hurricane headed straight for the Carolina coast. Pay attention!

But maybe this was understandable:

As he prepares for one natural disaster and tries to spin his way out of another, President Donald Trump, aides and friends say, is guided by a singular obsession: never to have a hurricane dubbed his “Katrina.”

That obsession became painfully evident this week as Trump, in the midst of preparing for Hurricane Florence’s landfall, took time on Thursday morning to trumpet post-facto justifications of the federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island of Puerto Rico last year…

It read like a shocking bit of insensitivity from the White House just at the moment that it was preparing for another potentially deadly storm. But those familiar with Trump’s approach say he does in fact care about the widespread devastation and loss of life that resulted from Maria and could potentially result from Florence – if for no other reason than he also has an intense fixation on managing public perception of his performance in these moments.

“Multiple times I’ve heard him talk about how you don’t want a Katrina moment,” recalled a former senior Trump White House official. “You can’t do anything about what weather is going to do, but you can certainly manage the response and the optics of what you’re doing in addition to the substance of what you’re doing.”

So this is all about the ratings, so to speak. He really does want things to go well this time. The only issue is that he had his Katrina already, with Maria in Puerto Rico and he wants to prove that was nothing of the kind – when it was. Looking backwards, he’s nuts. Looking forward, he might do good things. He’d do them for the shallowest of reasons – to look good – but they’d still be good things.

That may have to do, but he still tends to get distracted and suddenly stop cold in the middle of the field, to deal with something suddenly bugs him, and then lose the game. That is the worry:

Florida Republicans are angered by President Donald Trump advancing a conspiracy theory casting doubt on Hurricane Maria’s estimated death toll in Puerto Rico. Even Trump’s two top Florida allies, Gov. Rick Scott and GOP gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, disagreed with his insensitive comments.

Exploding on Twitter two months before Election Day, Trump’s comments have the potential to intensify voter registration efforts and perhaps election turnout. And that, Republicans and Democrats say, could prove crucial in Florida’s hotly contested races for U.S. Senate and governor, which are essentially tied races.

That’d like to win:

“I disagree with @POTUS – an independent study said thousands were lost and Gov. Rosselló agreed. I’ve been to Puerto Rico 7 times & saw devastation firsthand,” Scott, the Republican nominee for Senate, wrote hours later on Twitter. “The loss of any life is tragic; the extent of lives lost as a result of Maria is heart wrenching. I’ll continue to help PR.”

Facing Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Scott has increasingly put some distance between himself and Trump. But DeSantis, who owes his Aug. 28 gubernatorial primary win to Trump, hadn’t criticized the president publicly. That changed Thursday.

“Ron DeSantis is committed to standing with the Puerto Rican community, especially after such a tragic loss of life. He doesn’t believe any loss of life has been inflated,” DeSantis’ campaign said.

Scott, whose Senate bid was encouraged by Trump and who raised money for Trump’s 2016 super PAC, had no comment through his office or Senate campaign.

But Alan Levine, a Republican appointed Scott to Florida’s university governing board, couldn’t keep quiet.

“Mr. President. SHUT UP,” Levine replied to Trump on Twitter. “Any death, whether one or 3,000, is a tragedy. That doesn’t mean you caused it, and it’s not about you. Show compassion for the families,” Levine wrote. “Learn what we can, so future response can improve. Honestly…”

They all know something is wrong here, and the Washington Post’s David Nakamura and Ashley Parker go back to its source:

The video clip has played on a repeating loop on cable news this week as Hurricane Florence closed in on the East Coast: President Trump casually tosses rolls of paper towels into a cheering crowd at a church in San Juan, Puerto Rico, after the island was devastated by Hurricane Maria a year ago.

White House aides reacted at the time with a mix of grimaces and chuckles over what they saw as classic Trump – acting insensitively but, in his own way, playfully to offer amusement to locals who were happy to see him. A pool reporter that day called the scene “surreal” and described Trump doing his “best Stephen Curry impersonation” as he aimed the towels to the far reaches of the crowd, a performance “they enjoyed.”

But nearly a year later, viewed in the prism of a new report about the lethal legacy of Maria, the moment last October does not seem as lighthearted. Trump’s day in San Juan – limited to the better fortified neighborhoods of the capital and far from the most catastrophic destruction – included other scenes that suggested the president was eager to congratulate himself prematurely and to minimize a rapidly deepening tragedy.

Now, this becomes clear:

The paper-towel moment in particular has come to symbolize what critics say is Trump’s inability to sympathize with others – and his self-absorbed leadership in a time of crisis.

“One could argue it was nothing but then you could argue it was everything,” José Andrés, the celebrity chef who oversaw a massive operation to provide meals on the island, said in an interview Thursday. “It showed such a lack of empathy.”

But there’s nothing new there:

Trump’s performance reminds some of a Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, who declared “mission accomplished” in May 2003 during a visit to an aircraft carrier supporting troops in the Iraq War – which would slog on eight more years. Two years later, Bush rushed to congratulate his Federal Emergency Management Agency director for a “heckuva job” in response to Hurricane Katrina, a storm that was blamed for the deaths of more than 1,800 people.

That was then and this is now:

At the makeshift supply center last October at Calvary Chapel, Trump scoffed at a water purification kit that could help save lives. He awarded “A+” grades for his administration for its response to a pair of other hurricanes that struck Texas, Louisiana and Florida. And he characterized a death toll of 16 in Puerto Rico as a kind of victory, though the count would officially grow to 34 later in the day.

“There’s a lot of love in this room,” Trump, wearing a dark hooded windbreaker, boasted in the church.

He seemed to be saying that everyone in the room loved him, and only him, no one else, so all was right with the world. No one can fault him for anything. No one wants to fault him for anything. That’s how things should be. That’s what motivates him – and that’s why the Republicans will lose this game this November. Their star player cannot seem to pay attention to anything. It seems he never did grow up.

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