President Donald Trump says “we’ll have to make a decision” if Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual-assault accuser “makes a credible showing” before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Sept. 19)
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s defense of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh from allegations of sexual assault has sparked fear among some Republicans that it will remind voters of Trump’s own complicated history with women.
No matter how voters feel about Kavanaugh or Christine Blasey Ford, the professor who accused Trump’s nominee of a decades-old sexual assault, the allegations are at the fore as both parties court suburban women before the midterm elections Nov. 6.
Trump’s approach to the scandal is being watched closely by GOP strategists, who worry the memory of Trump’s lewd remarks on an “Access Hollywood” tape from 2005 combined with more recent allegations of infidelity have eroded the party’s standing with a key voting demographic. On the tape, Trump bragged about groping women.
“Trump already has a problem with suburban women,” Republican consultant Liz Mair said. “The way that this is going, I don’t see any great upside here for the GOP.”
Republicans must be careful not to offend swing voters, including women, who could be put off if the Senate brushes aside Ford’s allegations to rush Kavanaugh to confirmation to the court, Mair said. On the other hand, they must be mindful of Kavanaugh’s supporters who view the allegations as a smear campaign by the president’s opponents.
“They’re in a ‘can’t win’ situation,” Mair said.
Trump – who often relishes going on the attack – has navigated a careful line in his response to the accusations that endangered his Supreme Court nominee. In the four days since Ford went public, Trump has sent about three dozen tweets, but only one has been about the Kavanaugh issue.
Instead of taking on Ford directly, Trump excoriated Democrats for revealing the allegations late in the confirmation process. He has stood staunchly behind Kavanaugh and expressed sympathy for what he is going through.
“Justice Kavanaugh has been treated very, very tough,” Trump said Wednesday. “ I think it’s a very unfair thing.”
He said that if Ford testifies on Capitol Hill and “makes a credible showing, that will be very interesting, and we’ll have to make a decision.” But he said it was “very hard for me to imagine that anything happened.”
Senate Republicans suggested sticking to a strict timetable for a vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
Ford’s lawyers, Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, who said her life has been turned upside down by the public attention on the case, want the FBI to investigate her claims before she testifies at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing set for Monday.
Trump had a 62 percent unfavorable rating among women in a USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll released this month, 8 points worse than the rating among men. The poll, conducted before Ford’s allegations emerged, found that three out of four voters had no preference between voting for a male or female candidate for Congress.
Voters will decide control of Congress and 36 governors races in the election in November.
At least 19 women have publicly accused Trump of kissing them, touching them inappropriately or having an affair with him. Stormy Daniels, a porn star, and Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model, filed lawsuits over their allegations.
The political risks for both parties in the Kavanaugh matter are significant.
Donald Trump Jr. drew quick criticism for making light of Ford’s accusations in an Instagram post over the weekend. The post included a fake letter, written in crayon, suggesting Kavanaugh was too young to have harmed Ford.
“This is sickening,” Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., wrote on Twitter Wednesday in response to the post. “No one should make light of this situation.”
Mike DuHaime, a Republican strategist, said Trump and GOP candidates need to approach the issue with care. DuHaime said he believes Trump has done exactly that by not taking on Ford directly.
“Republicans are already far too often seen as insensitive to issues such as this,” DuHaime said. “Our leaders must be cautious not to further this unhelpful narrative.”
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