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The GOP’s strategy for the Ford hearing isn’t working.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Republicans have defended their decision to outsource their questions to a prosecutor (or “female assistant” in Mitch McConnell’s phrasing) as an effort to depoliticize Christine Blasey Ford’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The whole purpose is to create an environment where it is what Dr. Ford has asked for—it be professional and not be a circus,” Committee Chair Chuck Grassley said. “That’s what we’re up to.” In their telling, the Democrats—and Ford—are turning Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination into a political circus. The decision to hire Maricopa County prosecutor Rachel Mitchell was an effort to transcend the sideshow.

It’s now clear that Mitchell is there for two reasons. First and foremost, she’s a human shield. All eleven Republicans on the committee are white men. Mitchell’s presence keeps their fingerprints off attempts to undermine Ford. Judging by Grassley’s own comments—in which he has appeared to be more troubled by the fact that Ford did not come forward sooner than by her testimony about a harrowing alleged sexual assault—Republicans have good reason to believe they are better off not speaking directly to Ford.

Second, she’s there to poke at Ford’s credibility by nitpicking. She has focused on details of her story that are, notably, unrelated to her recollection of the alleged sexual assault itself. She has questioned her memory of being at a country club before the party where the alleged sexual assault took place. She has asked whether or not she drove herself there. She has questioned whether Ford really has a fear of flying by pointing out she flew to Washington for this hearing. She’s focused on inconsistencies within Ford’s testimony, rather than on what the hearing is about: the allegation that Kavanaugh committed sexual assault while in high school.