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December 15, 2018

A nomination tee-totaled: Why Trump may be praying the FBI blows up Kavanaugh

October 3, 2018
No drinking buds (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP)

With an expanded FBI investigation in full swing, and Mitch McConnell still predicting a Senate floor vote later this week, one would think that the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation to the Supreme Court is more a sure thing than not — barring, of course, a bombshell revelation adding credence to the accusations of Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez.

But it’s not a slam dunk yet. The questions about Kavanaugh’s high school and college drinking may, ironically, turn out to be a more late-inning concern than most might think, and not just because of Democrats’ seeming Calvinist turn against demon rum.




If I were Kavanaugh, I might be a wee bit nervous about President Trump’s comments in the Rose Garden Monday: “I was surprised at how vocal he was about the fact that he likes beer — and that he’s had a little bit of difficulty, I mean, he talked about things that happened when he drank, I mean, this is not a man who said that alcohol was absent, that he was perfect when it came to alcohol.”

Superficially, this is supportive: The President is saying that Kavanaugh was upfront about his drinking and not hiding anything. On the other hand, Trump goes beyond Kavanaugh’s actual words. Kavanaugh never admitted to having “a little bit of difficulty” with alcohol. Sure, he said that, on occasion, he may have had “a bit” much — but nothing to suggest an extended problem with holding his drink (unlike his high school pal, Mark Judge). So, why would Trump expand that to “a little bit of difficulty” — a misleading conflation he usually reserves for his political foes (or an attorney general he’s pissed off with)?

Well, keep in mind that — as he himself pointed out a short time later — Trump doesn’t drink. His older brother died an alcoholic and he committed himself to never having a drop of alcohol. As Margaret Hoover astutely pointed out on CNN Monday, for a teetotaler, the distinction between, “one drink, two drinks and blackout drunk may be more black and white” than a casual drinker might affirm.

In other words, while on the face defending Kavanaugh, Trump wasn’t really happy to hear that his Supreme Court nominee couldn’t stop opining over his love of beer while testifying before the Senate (hunch: Trump hated Matt Damon’s “Saturday Night Live” beer-guzziling takedown of Kavanaugh even more than the Alec Baldwin’s usual Trump parody).

But he’s stuck with Kavanaugh now, right? Well, not if the FBI ends up finding more evidence of excessive drinking, spilling (as it were) into his college and early professional years. Is there enough there to suggest he was overly deceptive during his Senate testimony? Sens. Jeff Flake and Chris Coons both said that lying to the Senate would be enough to deep-six him — completely separate from the initial sexual-assault charges. So, might Trump be secretly hoping that the agency that he’s been in a cold war with over the Mueller investigation might actually come up with something that could cause the senators on the fence to jump fully off into the “no” category? In a Tuesday press availability, Trump also added that lying to Congress would be a big problem for Kavanaugh.

Well, there is, frankly, a political argument to be made for Republicans blowing up Kavanaugh on their own.

Yes, the conventional wisdom says that this nomination going down would be catastrophic for GOP midterm hopes. But, the last few weeks may well have changed that calculation. For one, over the course of this year, Democrats have been way more energized than Republicans. The Kavanaugh hearings have seemingly awoken Republicans. A new poll on the North Dakota race shows Rep. Kevin Cramer jumping out to a 10-point lead over incumbent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp — and the Kavanaugh confirmation is the lead issue. And this poll comes out after Cramer made a seeming flub disparaging Ford.

Meanwhile, both the President and his son Donald Trump Jr. are pushing the “men unfairly accused line” — which may be breaking through to the general public. So, what if the votes aren’t there to get Kavanaugh through? Trump pulls the nomination and takes the bloody shirt of “last-minute unfair accusation” that derailed this “fine man” — and make it a campaign issue.

As things stand now, many Republicans fear that they could win the Kavanaugh battle and lose the war, with millions of outraged women voters punishing them at the polls. Why not, Trump might think, take a narrow risk, lose the battle and possibly win the war? Turn out an outraged conservative base to counter the blue wave — saving the Senate and, maybe, against all odds, the House too?

And then nominate Amy Coney Barrett during a lame-duck session?

Heck, with that history-defying result, Trump might raise a toast to Judge Kavanaugh.

With a Diet Coke, of course.




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