Christine Blasey Ford is apparently Kryptonite, if you're a Republican senator: Direct exposure might cause damage.
At a hearing that began Thursday morning, ostensibly to plumb the truth of Blasey Ford's allegation that U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh tried to rape her at a high school party more than 30 years ago, GOP senators were keen to avoid the optics of 1991, when law professor Anita Hill alleged that then-nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her at work: A U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee comprising entirely white men, dismissive of Hill's claims, casting her as a scorned woman out for revenge, a fantasist with a loose grasp on reality, an erotomaniac – in short, a liar.
It was a bad look.
Hill's treatment at the hands of those senators, both Democrat and Republican, prompted a wave of women (including U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and now ranking member of the committee) to run for, and win, elected office.
So the GOP senators serving on the judiciary committee, wary of seeming to demean or degrade another well-spoken, professionally accomplished woman, this time in the midst of a cultural reckoning with cultural misogyny and rape culture, instead tapped Maricopa County assistant prosecutor Rachel Mitchell to serve as a protective female barrier between Blasey Ford and the party's diligent efforts to preserve both the candidacy of its tainted nominee and its Senate majority.
I don't think anyone could have predicted how off-putting the results would be.
Mitchell, asking questions in five-minute intervals ceded to her by the entirely white, male, GOP membership of the committee, seemed more like a defense attorney working on Kavanaugh's behalf than a prosecutor attempting to establish the facts of a claim (something U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii didn't let slide). By turns cordial and cold, Mitchell's questions seemed calibrated to create reasonable doubt about Blasey Ford's claims, or at minimum to establish that even if Blasey Ford's claims were credible, Democrats were to blame for ... everything.
A spate of afternoon questions seemed aimed at demonstrating that someone other than Blasey Ford had stage managed her testimony, and suggested that she should have been interviewed by a seasoned interviewer (something that certainly could have happened, had committee chair U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa, backed her request for an FBI investigation).
Punctuated by questions or statements directly from Democratic senators – including women like Hirono, Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris – Mitchell's presence didn't insulate the Republican senators. It distanced them.
Republican senators were certainly eager to speak after Blasey Ford's testimony concluded. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina repeated the party's line to reporters outside the hearing room: Something happened to poor Dr. Ford, but there's no reason to believe poor Brett Kavanaugh did it, they're both victims and Dianne Feinstein is the problem.
It's a strategy aimed at seeming to give Blasey Ford a fair hearing, while providing cover for senators who'd always wanted to support Kavanaugh to cast a yes vote, with the side goal of casting Democratic obstructionists as the bad guys, if Kavanaugh's candidacy can't survive.
It remains deeply unclear whether it will work.
Almost every woman has a story like Blasey Ford's. For some of us, it wasn't as bad; for others, much, much worse. But for many women watching Blasey Ford's testimony, composed, halting, heartfelt, it is difficult for not to see ourselves in her. To feel our own hearts pounding, to worry that our voices would waver, that we'd cry, or remain dry-eyed. The strand of hair that fell in front of Blasey Ford's glasses, the terminology of her academic discipline, employed to describe how her own memory registered the assault she described, the carefully chosen navy suit ... and how all of that would look to those charged with evaluating your words, your honesty.
To ascribe only political motives to either Blasey Ford or Democratic senators who supported her is to profoundly misunderstand what women are saying.
To engage, GOP strategists gauged, was a risk. But it may have been the safer bet.
– Nancy Kaffer is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press.