The power of a named accuser: Kavanaugh's future now hangs in the balance

CNN/ Newswire | 9/17/2018, 10:39 a.m.
Brett Kavanaugh's accuser now has a name, and the Republican Party's bid to swiftly lift him onto the Supreme Court ...
Brett Kavanaugh

Analysis by Stephen Collinson, CNN

(CNN) -- Brett Kavanaugh's accuser now has a name, and the Republican Party's bid to swiftly lift him onto the Supreme Court may be spinning out of control.

The coming hours could decide whether the GOP can stabilize the confirmation process of President Donald Trump's nominee or whether his hopes of being the man to enshrine a conservative majority for a generation could begin to crumble.

California professor Christine Blasey Ford's emergence sent a jolt through the White House and Capitol Hill on Sunday, prompting demands from Democrats for all votes on Kavanaugh to be put on hold pending an investigation. Even some Republicans conceded the issue needed to be addressed before things go further.

Ford told The Washington Post that she went public because of the magnitude of Kavanaugh's appointment.

"Now I feel like my civic responsibility is outweighing my anguish and terror about retaliation," Ford told the paper, ahead of what is likely to be an ordeal characterized by political attacks and fearsome scrutiny of her life, family, mental health and political leanings.

Ford's gambit looked set to provoke the kind of spectacle triggered by attorney Anita Hill's harassment claims against Clarence Thomas during his confirmation process in 1991. If so, it will elevate the debate on Kavanaugh from a Washington squabble to a national zeitgeist moment.

The showdown will unfold amid the still-unsettled politics of the #MeToo movement, which has transformed the way allegations by women of sexual harassment by now-powerful men, even from decades ago, are viewed by society. But it also takes place at a pivotal moment for the conservative movement, which is within reach of a goal it has pursued for decades of cementing a majority on the Supreme Court at a time of key rulings on issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and the role of religion in American life.

That turbulent backdrop has not, so far, changed the relentless math of the GOP's Senate majority, but it could significantly increase the political cost to the party of confirming him.

Ford's move puts a human face on what had previously been more an indirect, impersonal controversy and made it more difficult for Republicans simply to dismiss what, after all, is an accusation of a crime against a pivotal nominee.

Democrats on Sunday demanded that a Senate Judiciary Committee vote to move forward on Kavanaugh's confirmation, due on Thursday, should be put on hold to allow time for a full investigation, grabbing a fresh opening to try to slow his progress after one of the nastiest confirmation fights in recent years.

Until Sunday, there was a feeling among many Republicans that Kavanaugh had been unfairly targeted, and was the victim of an 11th-hour Democratic bid to destroy his nomination. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein had known about the allegations for weeks, but did not bring them up during the confirmation hearings. That feeling was especially acute because Ford had chosen to make her allegations anonymously -- although advocates pointed out that the privacy of women who say they have been assaulted must be preserved.