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.”
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.
Will this be enough to stop Kavanaugh’s confirmation? Maybe not—since 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.
But 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. You know all those studies about how diversity makes organizations smarter? Turns out it’s true in political parties, too.
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