CNN is reporting that the president has become increasingly frustrated at the way the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh has become bogged down by allegations of sexual assault. In response, CNN adds, Trump now believes “that he must personally take charge of defending his embattled nominee ahead of Thursday’s critical appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Trump made the decision to hold a news conference on the eve of the hearing, making it the fourth he has held as president.”
Trump of course, is an old hand at fending off accusations of sexual misconduct, with more than 20 women making allegations of varying severity against him. Trump has very strong views on how to handle such accusations. In Bob Woodward’s book Fear, there is an account of the president speaking to “a friend who had acknowledged some bad behavior toward women.”
According to Woodward, Trump said, “You’ve got to deny, deny, deny and push back on these women. If you admit to anything and any culpability, then you’re dead. That was a big mistake you made. You didn’t come out guns blazing and just challenging them. You showed weakness. You’ve got to be strong. You’ve got to be aggressive. You’ve got to push back hard. You’ve got to deny anything that’s said about you. Never admit.”
This strategy has worked for Trump before, even if it is combined, after the release of the Access Hollywood tape, with a partial admission of wrongdoing (by describing his boasting of sexual assault as “locker-room banter”). But Trump was able to bluster through these accusations because he was in a zero-sum contest where the alternative was a widely unpopular politician (Hillary Clinton). The Kavanaugh nomination is different: Success hinges not on winning an electoral college majority but in persuading a handful of swing senators such as Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Jeff Flake of Arizona.
The danger for Kavanaugh’s chances of confirmation is that Trump’s “push back on these women” strategy will alienate the swing senators. There are signs this is already happening, given a speech made by Flake on the Senate floor that specifically castigated Trump:
The other danger is that Trump’s intervention will turn the nomination process into an even bigger circus than before. This can be seen in Trump’s exchange with the attorney Michael Avenatti, who is representing one of Kavanaugh’s accusers.