The 2018 midterm elections were always going to be about President Donald Trump, and whether the liberal backlash to his election and his policies would have concrete electoral results. But after this week, it's is clear that the Kavanaugh accusations and the handling of them by Republicans in the Senate will fuel the existing backlash — especially among women.
Thousands if not millions of people watched the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford; many women watched and felt some familiarity with her story. That's likely because one in three women will face sexual violence in her lifetime and, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, two out of three sexual assaults go unreported — an important statistic for Senators to have considered, especially when openly questioning why Ford didn't previously come forward. The Sexual Assault Hotline staffed by RAINN, for instance, saw a 201 percent increase in calls on Thursday alone.
Take that with a Fox News poll released this week showed that 50 percent of voters oppose Kavanaugh’s confirmation — and, most significantly, that women are more likely than men to believe Dr. Ford’s accusations by 10 points. Among suburban women, that jumps to 17 points.
Since August, support for Kavanaugh’s confirmation dropped 12 points among independents and 11 points among suburban women — two key demographics for the GOP who were swing supporters for Trump in the 2016 election.
Women are watching, and are clearly very concerned by how these allegations are being handled.
These allegations have been mishandled from the beginning; all Republicans should have allowed for a full investigation from the beginning, as well as immediately called for an open and fair platform for Dr. Ford, as Sens. Flake, R-Ariz, Collins, R-Maine, and Murkowski, R-Alaska, did when they pushed Senate leadership for a hearing at which Dr. Ford could provide testimony.
Then, Senate Republicans chose to hire an outside prosecutor with experience in sex crimes, Rachel Mitchell, to participate in the hearing on their behalf but, once she had finished questioning Dr. Ford for them, dismissed her efforts to similarly question Kavanaugh and instead stood in ardent defense of him. That made it seem like they aren’t taking these allegations seriously, but are standing by their prejudgment of the accusations and keeping their eye instead on that coveted Supreme Court seat.
What’s more, despite the fact that Dr. Ford testified on Thursday, the Senate moved for a committee on Kavanaugh's nomination less than 24 hours after she finished. Those optics are just plain bad. Any Republican rush to confirm Kavanaugh will impact their standing with the many female voters who see Dr. Ford as a credible witness.
The process for evaluating any nominee must be thorough and thoughtful, and we can't honestly say that about this process — even the American Bar Association has called for an FBI investigation in the wake of Thursday’s testimonies. Senator Flake apparently agreed in part: He voted on Friday to bring the vote to the Senate floor, but only with the understanding that there would be an FBI investigation prior to the full confirmation vote; Murkowski has now said the same.
On Friday afternoon, Senate leadership asked Trump to order the FBI to investigate over the course of the next week, though they're limiting that investigation to "current credible allegations." Whether that will be enough to win back women voters' trust remains to be seen.
Why does it matter? In the 2016 election, over 47 percent of Trump’s voters were women but that has been the demographic Republicans could well lose in 2018. Nearly 30 percent of those women have a very cold impression of Trump, according to a recent Pew Research Poll — which doesn’t even account for how women feel about Trump after the Kavanaugh allegations.
The fact that women who voted for him in 2016 have grown cold to the president is not shocking given the Trump administration’s often degrading rhetoric toward women. It started on the campaign trail when the Access Hollywood tape showed him bragging about grabbing women by their genitals. While many voters were willing to brush off those disgusting statements and offer him a chance, he has yet to change course when it comes to his language and treatment of women — and the Republican Party has turned a blind eye to it. During his presidency we have seen him denigrate sexual assault victims, name-call women who oppose him, mock the #MeToo movement, support an accused child molester for the Alabama Senate and harshly deny affairs with adult actresses.
It’s no secret that Republicans will struggle among suburban women voters in the upcoming midterm elections — but it’s the reason why that should give us pause. Some women may be willing to ignore the disparaging and appalling comments that Trump makes, but many are not going to be able to turn a blind eye to an entire party that is willing to embrace that type of rhetoric, let alone worse. Republicans have already been sending the message that it is OK to disparage and degrade women, and the Kavanaugh situation has not helped.
After Thursday's hearings, it should be clear that Kavanaugh no longer meets the high standard expected of Supreme Court justices. His credibility has been diminished and his confirmation would threaten to tarnish the integrity of the court itself.
But beyond that, Republicans are focusing on the wrong political considerations, prioritizing the need to placate Trump's base rather than the women they need to win in November. In the “year of the woman” it would have been smart for Republicans to watch their rhetoric and to recognize the social moment in which we all find ourselves. Instead, have put themselves and their majority in peril by rushing this confirmation to get a temporary political win, which will only work to the long-term detriment of the Republican Party.