Two weeks after the first of several bombshell sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh became public—and just a few hours after his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, delivered several hours of compelling and heart-wrenching testimony before a national TV audience—Kavanaugh took his seat in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and absolutely lost it.
There were two basic alternatives available to him here: He could present as reflective and thoughtful, demonstrating that even under immense professional strain and personal humiliation, he nonetheless understands both the seriousness of the accusations against him and the importance of getting the confirmation process right. Or, he could lash out: angry, combative, defiant, and speaking only in absolutes, denying everything and attacking everyone. He could interrupt senators, laugh sarcastically at questions, and allege the existence of a vast left-wing conspiracy designed to take him down, just for good measure.
Guess which route the man who Donald Trump tapped for the Supreme Court elected to take?
“I will not be intimidated into withdrawing from this process,” Kavanaugh barked, his voice at a shout, addressing the Committee’s Democrats in a fiery opening statement. He dismissed the allegations as part of an attempt to get “revenge on behalf of the Clintons” for the 2016 election, and a “calculated and orchestrated political hit.” He vowed to see the process through to its conclusion, whatever the result may be. “You may defeat me in the final vote, but you’ll never get me to quit. Never.”
He spoke with the pent-up rage of a man who had never been held accountable for his behavior like this until the moment he reached the precipice of what would be his life’s most significant achievement. He snapped at Dianne Feinstein, the first Democrat to question him, when she asked if he’d be open to an FBI investigation. “You’re interviewing me, you’re interviewing me. You’re doing it, senator,” he said. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but you’re doing it.” When Dick Durbin suggested that he call for the law enforcement inquiry that Senate Republicans had refused to seek, Kavanaugh sat back in his chair, silent. “I said I would welcome anything,” he said at last. But he wouldn’t take the next step. “I’m innocent.” When Amy Klobuchar asked if he had ever blacked out while drinking, he grinned, taunting her. “I don’t know. Have you?” (He apologized for this remark after a break.)
The White House’s unofficial-official defense of Kavanaugh came from Lindsey Graham, who once positioned himself as a proud moderate voice in Washington and now serves as one Donald Trump’s most dependable marionettes. “Boy, you all want power,” he snarled across the aisle, his voice shaking, abandoning whatever pretenses of seeking the truth during this process that he had intended to maintain beforehand. “God, I hope you never get it. This is hell.” Any senators who vote no on the nomination, he concluded, will be complicit in “legitimizing the most despicable thing I have seen in my time in politics.”
His audience of one immediately expressed its pleasure with his performance.
After Thursday’s debacle, it is difficult to see how Brett Kavanaugh can ever serve as the somber, dignified ninth member of an institution that depends so heavily on earning and keeping the public’s trust. He was at his fullest Republican self, betraying a worldview and temperament more akin to that of a Fox News panelist than an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court. He proved that he is manifestly unfit for the job he seeks, and it is a damning indictment of this country that he may get it anyway.