President TrumpDonald John TrumpFord’s attorney fires back at Trump: ‘He is a profile in cowardice’ Five takeaways from Nelson and Scott’s first debate O’Rourke hits Trump for mocking Ford testimony MORE’s latest shot in the culture war appeared to backfire Wednesday, as Republicans distanced themselves from comments he had made at a rally the previous evening.
The president, speaking in Southaven, Miss., on Tuesday mocked Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
Trump, to the crowd’s apparent delight, scorned Ford’s inability to remember details surrounding the alleged incident, which she says happened at a Maryland house party in 1982 when she and Kavanaugh were high school students.
Kavanaugh denies the allegations, and the political world has been dominated by claim and counter-claim since the two testified separately before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday.
But Trump’s decision to up the ante by openly deriding Ford drew criticism even from some members of his own party.
“We’re in a very familiar place, where he says something that is obviously outrageous that doesn’t help his cause at all,” said Doug Heye, a GOP strategist and a former communications director of the Republican National Committee.
Trump has been willing to stoke hot-button issues since he began running for the presidency.
Attacks on the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainFox News CEO Scott, New Yorker’s Farrow, ABC’s McCain named to Variety power list Meghan McCain returning to ‘The View’ for first time since her father’s death How the Trump tax law passed: The final stretch MORE’s (R-Ariz.) time as a prisoner of war, on Gold Star parents who appeared at the Democratic National Convention, and on a judge of Mexican parentage, were all predicted, wrongly, to have disastrous effects on his electoral chances.
In the White House, he has frequently fanned the controversy over NFL players “taking a knee” during the national anthem to protest racial injustice and police brutality — and has suffered no clear detrimental effect on his political fortunes for doing so.
But this time could be different, critics say, in part because Kavanaugh’s confirmation is far from certain. Three moderate Republican senators hold the judge’s fate in their hands, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThree former Kavanaugh clerks tell Senate they are ‘deeply troubled’ by allegations Senate GOP coy on when final vote on Kavanaugh will happen Budowsky: The Klobuchar and Kavanaugh moment MORE (R-Ky.) insists a vote must happen soon.
All three undecided Republicans — Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate GOP coy on when final vote on Kavanaugh will happen Budowsky: The Klobuchar and Kavanaugh moment Harvard students file complaints to prevent Kavanaugh from teaching at law school MORE (Maine), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeSenate GOP coy on when final vote on Kavanaugh will happen Budowsky: The Klobuchar and Kavanaugh moment Kellyanne Conway: ‘I don’t plan to speak any further about’ past sexual assault MORE (Ariz.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate GOP coy on when final vote on Kavanaugh will happen Overnight Health Care — Presented By National Partnership for Women & Families — Vulnerable Republican unveils pre-existing conditions resolution | FDA conducts surprise inspection of e-cigarette maker | DHS watchdog examines ‘zero tolerance’ Budowsky: The Klobuchar and Kavanaugh moment MORE (Alaska) — were critical of the comments Trump made at the Mississippi rally.
Collins referred to them as “just plain wrong,” Flake as “kind of appalling” and Murkowski as “wholly inappropriate” and “unacceptable.”
There was even criticism from some figures more closely allied with Trump and Kavanaugh.
Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamO’Rourke hits Trump for mocking Ford testimony Graham: If Kavanaugh goes down under allegations, ‘God help us all’ Sanders: ‘I really just don’t understand’ Graham’s Kavanaugh renomination proposal MORE (R-S.C.), who has been one of Kavanaugh’s staunchest defenders, said during an appearance Wednesday at a conference organized by The Atlantic, that he would tell Trump to “knock it off — it’s not helpful.”
The danger, from a center-right perspective, is that the incendiary nature of Trump’s comments raise the political price that Collins and Murkowski might have to pay for supporting Kavanaugh in a final Senate confirmation vote. Flake, unlike the other two, is retiring from the Senate and is therefore liberated from any calculations about his reelection chances.
Still, some supporters of the president insist that the chances of Kavanaugh’s confirmation failing because of Trump’s comments are being exaggerated.
Brad Blakeman, a veteran of President George W. Bush’s White House, insisted that the confirmation process “isn’t about Donald Trump, it’s about Brett Kavanaugh.”
Referring to the Republican senators whose votes are still up for grabs, he argued that Kavanaugh should be confirmed on his own merits.
“The fact is, they are not going to vote against Brett Kavanaugh because the president has made statements that make them uncomfortable,” he insisted.
Some in the GOP also believe that any lawmaker within the party who opposes Kavanaugh will face political consequences. They note that conservative voters backed the president in 2016, despite his own colorful personal history, in part because they believed he would get conservatives onto the high court.
On the other side of the aisle, Democrats blame Trump for a tone of callousness and dismissiveness that they view as inappropriate for a commander in chief.
Speaking to MSNBC’s Ari Melber on Wednesday evening, Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinDem senator says firing Rosenstein would create ‘extremely dangerous situation’ Overnight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens Bipartisan group wants to lift Medicaid restriction on substance abuse treatment MORE (D-Md.) accused the president of seeking to make the confirmation process a partisan endeavor.
Trump’s rally comments, Cardin said, were “horrible, they should have no place in American politics…It was just disgusting.”
Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisFate of Republican Party is tied to Kavanaugh — so don’t flake on us The supreme hypocrisy of Democrats’ Kavanaugh strategy Democrats: FBI must investigate Swetnick’s allegation against Kavanaugh MORE (D-Calif.), a possible 2020 presidential candidate, lambasted Trump during an interview at the Atlantic conference for “urging a crowd to laugh at [Ford]” while speaking from the stage at a political rally.
“I’m embarrassed that the president of the United States would do that to this woman,” Harris added.
The White House has closed ranks around the president, with press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and senior counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayKellyanne Conway: ‘I don’t plan to speak any further about’ past sexual assault Trump: FBI investigation into Kavanaugh will ‘never be enough’ for Democrats White House defends FBI investigation into Kavanaugh MORE both defending his remarks.
But in the broader Republican Party, there is consternation that the president would risk alienating female voters, in particular, at a time when polls are already showing erosion in the party’s support with women.
“It causes further anger to white, suburban, college-educated women who, to put it mildly, have been skeptical of Trump,” said Heye.
Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchGOP senator suggests criminal referral for third Kavanaugh accuser’s ‘apparently false affidavit’ On The Money: US, Canada strike NAFTA deal | Trump takes victory lap, but Congress must weigh in | Five things to know about the deal | Consumer official regrets writings on racism | New IRS chief sworn in US, Canada reach NAFTA deal MORE (R-Utah) had pithier advice for Trump.
“I wish he would just stay out of it,” he told reporters.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.