Kavanaugh takes a crisis-management cue from the Clintons

When Donald Trump talks about how to deal with sexual harassment allegations, Brett Kavanaugh should listen,...

Posted: Sep 25, 2018 12:24 PM
Updated: Sep 25, 2018 12:24 PM

When Donald Trump talks about how to deal with sexual harassment allegations, Brett Kavanaugh should listen, but he seems also to be taking some historical cues from Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Trump was accused by more than a dozen women of sexual harassment and assault in 2016. Denying every single allegation and arguing they were part of a conspiracy against him, he became President anyway.

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Trump blocked for Kavanaugh Monday in New York, helping pivot Republicans to a new strategy of dismissing the allegations as part of a smear campaign orchestrated by Democrats.

"Brett Kavanaugh is an outstanding person, and I am with him all the way," Trump said. "We'll see how it goes with the Senate, and we'll see how it goes with the vote. I think it could be -- there's a chance that this could be one of the single most unfair, unjust things to happen to a candidate for anything. ... And for people to come out of the woodwork from 36 years ago, and 30 years ago, and never mentioned it, all of a sudden, it happens, in my opinion, it's totally political."

Trump, when dealing with his own allegations, had to hope a majority of voters would look past the allegations against him, which were delivered in the late summer and early fall of 2016 through press conferences, lawsuits, media interviews and more. More total voters chose Hillary Clinton, but Trump did do very well in the Electoral College.

The allegations against Kavanaugh, which he has repeatedly denied, will be aired by his first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, in more formal setting: broadcast live on TV to the country from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In the US Senate, Kavanaugh has got something similarly politically weighted toward red states as the Electoral College -- albeit his audience is a little bit different than a presidential candidate's. But the Republicans' defense of him is starting to have all the trappings of a political campaign. The party is uniting behind Kavanaugh and defending him to the rooftops ahead of the hearing Thursday at which he and one of his accusers, Ford, will testify.

It's another piece of political defense that borrows from the Clintons, however. Kavanaugh tried to get ahead of the public accusation from Ford when he appeared alongside his wife Ashley on Fox News on Monday.

A public interview by an embattled nominee is something new in US politics. Clarence Thomas did one with People magazine only after he was confirmed. Usually, justices, trying to appear above it all, do not get publicly involved in the fights about their confirmations. Aside from written denials in statements and a letter, Kavanaugh had remained quiet for more than a week after the first allegation, and later the second, were brought forward by women who say they knew him when he was in high school and college.

The images of Kavanaugh sitting beside his wife for the interview are not completely unlike those of the Clintons, who fought Gennifer Flowers' allegations of a long-term affair by appearing on "60 Minutes" with a huge audience just before the Super Bowl and two weeks before the Iowa caucuses. (When he was faced by allegations of harassment and abuse, Trump's wife Melania notably did not do an interview next to her husband.)

Back in January of 1992, in an incredible political moment, the Clintons discussed their own marital problems. Bill Clinton dismissed Flowers' allegations as made-up for the tabloids, and most importantly, Hillary Clinton defended her husband with some memorable language.

"You know, I'm not sitting here, some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette," she said, sitting on a couch next to her husband. "I'm sitting here because I love him, and I respect him, and I honor what he's been through and what we've been through together. And you know, if that's not enough for people, then heck -- don't vote for him."

Two weeks later, Clinton came in third in the Iowa caucuses, which was somehow enough for him to dub himself the comeback kid. He won New Hampshire a week later and the rest is history.

The current Supreme Court nominee should know all about the Clintons; he worked for special counsel Kenneth Starr and helped write the Starr report, which started as an investigation into a land deal, spread to an investigation of alleged sexual harassment and ended with a recommendation that Clinton be impeached for lying about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

All that came after the Clintons sat on that couch together for the TV cameras.

Kavanaugh, on the smaller platform of Fox News, is hoping for a little TV magic of his own.

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