Back in February of this year, Axios reported that Donald Trump had a plan for the midterms:
A source close to the White House tells me that with an eye to getting Republicans excited about voting for Republicans in midterms, the president this year will be looking for “unexpected cultural flashpoints” — like the NFL and kneeling — that he can latch onto in person and on Twitter. The source said Trump “is going to be looking for opportunities to stir up the base, more than focusing on any particular legislation or issue.”
I think we can accurately observe that the confirmation of the right-wing political operative and accused attempted rapist Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court counts as just such an “unexpected cultural flashpoint.” And as predicted, Donald Trump is taking full advantage of it. Since it happens to be the same “cultural flashpoint” that hit his campaign at roughly the same moment in 2016, when the “Access Hollywood” tape of him bragging about assaulting women was reported, he undoubtedly sees it as a winning strategy. It worked for him, after all.
Recall that after the tape hit and women started to come forward to say that Trump had assaulted them in exactly the way he described, he went on the offensive — in both senses of the word — by going before his cheering crowds and insulting the women as being too ugly to attack and declaring that they were all liars. He got angry. He promised to sue them all. And his crowds cheered him on. By this point in the campaign it had become nothing more than a rank racist misogyny festival, punctuated with chants of “Build That Wall!” and “Lock Her Up!”
Trump being Trump and believing that his every passing thought is genius, obviously believes that attacking women is an excellent way to win elections. And so, after insincerely proclaiming that he found her testimony credible, he switched gears and went after Kavanaugh’s accuser Christine Blasey Ford:
WATCH: President Trump mocks Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Trump’s Supreme Court pick Judge Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, during rally in Mississippi. https://t.co/pZfWN8IFMV pic.twitter.com/81YEs8oXr5
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) October 3, 2018
After the vote, Trump took credit for getting Kavanaugh over the line with this attack, telling Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro, “There were a lot of things happening that weren’t true and a lot of things left unsaid. I thought I had to even the playing field. Once I did that, it started to sail through.” This was nonsense in terms of the confirmation battle, but according to the Washington Post, GOP strategists believe it does fire up the conservative base.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is certainly on board. He’s been pushing the other “unexpected cultural flashpoint” they’ve adopted, which is that those women who came to Washington to protest the Kavanaugh confirmation, many of them assault survivors, are an angry, threatening mob who frightened those poor senators to death with all their chanting and yelling.
Fox News has taken it to the next level, telling their anxious elderly white viewers that Democrats are coming to kill them in their beds, following Trump’s rallying cry: “You don’t hand matches to an arsonist, and you don’t give power to an angry left-wing mob.” (This would be in contrast to the torch-bearing, murderous Nazis in Charlottesville whom Trump described, at least in part, as “very fine people.”)
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., having fully morphed into a poisonous, reptilian Trump toady, is on it as well. But then, Graham was obviously one of the strategists behind Kavanaugh’s explosive testimony in the hearing. He had telegraphed the white male rage tactic out in the hallway just prior, brushing off a rape survivor who was trying to talk to him by saying, “You should have told the cops.” Clearly that was meant to suggest that women who don’t report their rapes are not to be believed. As Salon’s Amanda Marcotte wrote on Tuesday, the mask has fallen from Republicans’ faces, at least for now, and the misogyny is staggering.
Graham’s line dovetailed nicely with the president’s sarcastic tweet:
I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 21, 2018
Republicans have also exploited their insulting thesis that #MeToo is really about lying or delusional women falsely accusing men, which they are trying to spin into a female lament about sons and husbands and fathers and brothers being the real victims. Graham, naturally, finds a clever way to make the point:
Twenty-nine days from now you’ve got a decision to make, America. Do you want to live in the world of Sen. [Mazie] Hirono where you’re guilty until proven innocent because you’re a Republican, or do you want to live in the Susan Collins world where you will be listened to and evaluated?
Graham likes to use Hirono as his example of the angry woman trying to railroad the poor, white male, mostly because she made the statement “Men, shut up and step up” which he instinctively understands are fighting words to misogynist abusers. The fact that she is a woman of color makes it all the more potent.
But what of our nice Republican white lady, Sen. Susan Collins, the woman the entire political world, including Democrats, has put on a pedestal for years as the representation of modest, feminine moderation? Trump was effusive in his compliments after her speech — and her vote to confirm Kavanaugh. He told the press, “I thought that Susan was incredible yesterday. She gave an impassioned, beautiful speech yesterday. And that was from the heart, that was from the heart.”
He was referring to the speech in which Collins gaslighted the entire country with a paean to a man who doesn’t exist, calling him “an exemplary public servant, judge, teacher, coach, husband and father.” She told the entire country that the real Brett Kavanaugh was not the angry, petulant, bully they watched testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. She whitewashed his record on health care and women’s rights, insisting that the man who just months ago, as a federal appeals court judge, voted to force a 17-year-old rape victim to give birth against her will, was not a threat to Roe vs Wade.
She attacked the protesters complaining about “dark money” being used to whip them into a “frenzy.” Worst of all, she adopted the absurd line that while she believed Christine Blasey Ford had likely suffered an attack, Kavanaugh was not the attacker. This has become the “empathetic” approach among Republicans who can read polls and see that women are running from the party as fast as they can.
But this line is nothing new. Women have been told they were “crazy” when they say things that people don’t want to hear since the beginning of time. And the echoes of the cruder formulation deployed against Anita Hill back in 1991 — “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty” — are obvious. It’s progress, I suppose, that they dropped the “slutty” part in 2018.
Collins was lobbied heavily by George W. Bush, Kavanaugh’s benefactor, and her deceitful speech shows the final absorption of the tattered remains of the GOP establishment into Trumpism. Collins and Trump are now two sides of the same coin, bound together with a common willingness to tell their voters that they can believe them or they can believe their lying eyes. It’s all there is.