Brett Kavanaugh had a “Matt Damon” problem.
The caricature of the Supreme Court nominee by the actor on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend had crystallized what lots and lots of people — including many who were favorably inclined to Kavanaugh’s judicial record — thought while watching his testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday: Why the hell is he so angry?
Kavanaugh’s opening statement — in which he portrayed the allegations brought against him by Christine Blasey Ford and others as the byproduct of Democratic resentment over losing the 2016 election to Donald Trump — was full of invective and defensiveness. And it didn’t stop there — as Kavanaugh verbally feuded with Democratic senators like Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Dick Durbin of Illinois.
Damon’s fuming Kavanaugh — “I’m going to start at an 11. I’m going to take it to about a 15 real quick,” Damon-as-Kavanaugh told senators — quickly became part of the cultural conversation. And a problem for those hoping to confirm him to the court.
The debate shifted from whether he had done the things Ford alleged — the common view was that getting to the capital “T” truth of the matter, even with an FBI investigation, was virtually impossible — to whether someone with the temperament Kavanaugh displayed last Thursday was the sort of person you would want to hand a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court.
“The interaction with the members was sharp and partisan and that concerns me,” said Republican Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake earlier this week in Washington. “And I tell myself, you give a little leeway because of what he’s been through. But, on the other hand, we can’t have this on the court. We simply can’t.”
All of that led to an op-ed by Kavanaugh himself, which posted on The Wall Street Journal’s website on Thursday night. Headlined “I Am an Independent, Impartial Judge,” Kavanaugh wrote:
“I was very emotional last Thursday, more so than I have ever been. I might have been too emotional at times. I know that my tone was sharp, and I said a few things I should not have said. I hope everyone can understand that I was there as a son, husband and dad. I testified with five people foremost in my mind: my mom, my dad, my wife, and most of all my daughters.”
Any word stand out in there to you? How about “sharp” — the exact same way Flake, a vote that Kavanaugh desperately needs, used to describe the judge’s appearance last week.
Lots — and lots — of people rolled their eyes at Kavanaugh’s last-minute attempt to reframe his anger. Some Republicans fretted that it made him look desperate. (Sidebar: He is desperate. His entire career is on the line today!)
But Kavanaugh — and his White House backers — couldn’t care less about any of that. This op-ed wasn’t aimed at any sort of broad audience. It was aimed at three senators: Flake, Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
Those three hold Kavanaugh’s fate in their hands. Flake has been the most outspoken about his concerns with Kavanaugh’s tone and temperament, but you can be sure his verbal jousting with the likes of Klobuchar didn’t sit too well with Murkowski or Collins either. With the FBI’s supplementary background check apparently not offering any corroboration of the claims made by Ford and Deborah Ramirez, the sticking point for this trio of undecideds appears to be whether Kavanaugh’s angry performance last Thursday should trump his generally even-keeled, conservative track record as a federal judge.
Kavanaugh’s op-ed is designed to soothe those concerns. I was angry because I was being unfairly maligned in front of my wife, kids and parents, he argues in the piece. You can understand why I was upset, right? And, that’s not really me anyway.
“Going forward, you can count on me to be the same kind of judge and person I have been for my entire 28-year legal career: hardworking, even-keeled, open-minded, independent and dedicated to the Constitution and the public good.”
Here’s the real message of those lines: You know me guys! I’m the good guy! Sure, I was angry. But that was a one-time thing! I was under a lot of pressure!
Remember that how that message lands with you or me is immaterial. The only thing that matters is whether it gives Flake, Collins and Murkowski some level of comfort — enough comfort to vote “yes” on Friday. We’ll find out if it worked in a few hours’ time.