Why Conservatives Defend Kavanaugh
The answer to this puzzle is Trumpism. Trumpism, at its core, is a rebellion against changes in American society that undermine traditional hierarchies. It’s based on the belief that these changes, rather than promoting fairness for historically oppressed groups, actually promote “political correctness”: the oppression of white, native-born Christian men. To understand the conservative response to the allegations against Kavanaugh, a few data points are useful. Between 2013 and 2018, according to the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), the percentage of Republicans who said that in the U.S. “there is a lot of discrimination against women” fell by half, from 28 to 14 percent. (Among Democrats during the same period it rose from 55 to 71 percent). By contrast, between 2012 and 2016, the percentage of Republicans who said men face a “great deal” or a “lot” of discrimination doubled from 9 to 18 percent. (Among Democrats it declined slightly). And in 2016, according to PRRI, 68 percent of Trump supporters said American society is becoming “too soft and feminine.”
If you’re already inclined to believe that America increasingly victimizes men simply for acting like men, the accusations against Kavanaugh confirm your fears. First, because if these charges can sink Kavanaugh, they can sink lots of other men too. “Is there any man in this room that wouldn’t be subjected to such an allegation?” asked Iowa Republican Representative Steve King earlier this week. The #MeToo movement has established just how pervasive sexual harassment and assault are, and conservatives suspect that Democrats and the media will weaponize such allegations to destroy as many prominent Republicans as possible. Which means that if the GOP can’t hold the line on Kavanaugh, it faces an endless series of Kavanaugh-style scandals. As the conservative pundit Erick Erickson tweeted on Wednesday, “If they cannot confirm Kavanaugh, they cannot confirm anyone. This is the beginning of a new age of judicial character assassination and it only gets worse from here.”
Close, but not quite. I am hearing from conservatives who can’t stand Trump (people like, well, myself), who are standing with Kavanaugh, not because we have any regard for Trump, but because what liberals are doing here is so transparently vicious and unjust. Beinart is correct that we look at what’s being done to Kavanaugh and fear, but it’s very much not because we want to see a sexual assailant elevated to the Court. I can see why liberals tell themselves that, but it’s not true. We fear because Kavanaugh is being publicly destroyed on the basis of flimsy accusations made at politically opportune times. We fear because #MeToo has created a climate in which mere accusation is tantamount to an imposition of guilt.
Honestly, Trump deserves much of the scorn and loathing he routinely inspires on the Left. He invites it. Kavanaugh, though? Conservatives look at Kavanaugh and see an ordinary, bland Republican man who is not getting a fair shake, who is being vilified primarily for being a conservative male who is believed to be against abortion (though I don’t know why they think that).
Kavanaugh might actually be guilty of these terrible things. But that has yet to be demonstrated. The Democrats have created an environment in which the truth scarcely matters. What is true is what serves the Party.