During her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, this past Thursday, Christine Blasey Ford was asked what stuck out most in her mind about the night, thirty-six years ago, when she says that Brett Kavanaugh attacked her while a friend of his looked on. (Kavanaugh has denied the allegations.) Ford, a psychology professor, said it was hearing them laugh. “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter,” she said. “The uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.”
After Ford came forward, Senate Republicans avoided directly attacking her, trying to insulate themselves from accusations of sexism and partisanship by being polite. For this past Thursday’s hearing, they flew in a veteran sex-crimes prosecutor from Arizona to ask Ford questions rather than interrogate her themselves. They have professed to empathize with both her and Kavanaugh, claiming at times, for instance, to believe that something happened to Ford that night in 1982, but that she has confused Kavanaugh for someone else. It’s an unsteady pose to strike, but they have stuck with it. And President Trump appeared to be mostly going along—until Tuesday night, when he spoke at a campaign rally in Mississippi.
“How did you get home? ‘I don’t remember.’ How did you get there? ‘I don’t remember.’ Where is the place? ‘I don’t remember.’ How many years ago was it? ‘I dunno, I dunno,’ ” Trump said, mocking Ford’s testimony as if he were playing both roles in a vaudeville routine. “What neighborhood was it in? ‘I dunno.’ Where’s the house? ‘I dunno.’ Upstairs, downstairs, where was it? ‘I dunno, but I had one beer, that’s the only thing I remember.’ And a man’s life is in tatters.” As Trump gained steam, his audience was delighted, and there it was again, the laughter—the fun being had at Ford’s expense.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump famously said that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue, in Manhattan, and his supporters would stick with him. What would he have had to say, on Tuesday, to make them hold back their laughter? The press has mostly fallen out of the campaign habit of enumerating Trump’s ugliest outbursts: his attack on the Khan family, or Judge Gonzalo Curiel, or Megyn Kelly. The people standing behind the President at the rally on Tuesday—smiling, clapping, elbowing one another in the ribs—surely remembered those moments, and had their chance to react to this moment. They chose to laugh. These past few weeks, Senate Republicans have channelled the fury that they can’t direct at Ford instead at the prospect of Kavanaugh—their guy—having his life “ruined” by this nomination process. Now the President has sought to make Ford a national laughingstock for coming forward to tell her story of being sexually assaulted. What about her life? What will Senate Republicans choose?