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Jacob Heilbrunn Liberalism US Politics

Has Jeff Flake put Brett Kavanaugh back to square one?

The Arizona senator has changed his mind and called for an FBI investigation into the Supreme Court nominee

September 28, 2018

5:03 PM

28 September 2018

5:03 PM

If Brett Kavanaugh makes it across the finish line, he may resemble Hugh Glass in the movie The Revenant — almost mauled to death, using all of his survival to wreak revenge by tormenting his tormentors from the bench. Today Kavanaugh’s nomination faces a fresh peril as Senator Jeff Flake calls for a weeklong FBI investigation, something that most Republicans were seeking to avoid. Now it’s happening. In retrospect Kavanaugh would have been shrewder during his hearing to look more concessive by agreeing to an investigation. In the end his bluster did not buy him much. He’s back to square one.

Still, the danger may not be the investigation so much as more delay. The longer the delay, the more imperiled Kavanaugh’s nomination becomes. Will a new accuser pop up? Will Michael Avenatti emerge for another round of cable news with new evidence? And what about Donald Trump himself?

Trump called Christine Blasey Ford a ‘very fine woman’ on Friday, but he has tied himself to Kavanaugh, and appears to have been outmanoeuvred by Flake…for now. For his part, Kavanaugh apprenticed himself to Trump during his hearing even if he was something of a sorcerer’s apprentice as he assailed his Democratic inquisitors. A defeat of his little protégé would be a body blow to Trump. The delay is further evidence that Trump’s hold on the GOP is not as absolute as he would prefer. The Murkowskis and the Collinses are not so much anti-Trumpers as non-Trumpers. They seek cover to vote Kavanaugh in but if it doesn’t arrive, or if damning details emerge — if, say, Kavanaugh’s high school buddy Mark Judge manages to put down his Superman comic books and tell the FBI about their less than heroic exploits — then it might be judgment day for Mr. K.

But if the FBI furnishes a report with no conclusive evidence, then Flake and Co. will have received the go-ahead to vote Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court. If it discovers that his record is as tawdry as his detractors suspect, then Flake may well have saved the GOP from itself by forcing the ultimate exposure of Kavanaugh’s misdeeds before, not after, he is approved. If Kavanaugh, who once helped to besiege Bill Clinton with the prurient Starr investigation, gets wind that he is about to be outed, look for him to best a hasty retreat.

Either way, America gets another week to ponder and agonise over Kavanaugh. Seldom has so much energy been expended in behalf of such a banal mediocrity. But the fight is no longer over Kavanaugh himself. He has become a proxy for a wider culture war that began in the 1960s and is now once more engulfing America.


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