“I view a central issue here as credibility,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut and a member of the Judiciary Committee, adding, “The drinking issue is a very, very significant one because it goes to his veracity as well as his conduct.”
To the extent that it is a contest of credibility, Judge Kavanaugh’s categorical denial arguably made his task harder. He left no room to explain away the allegations by saying that anything that might have happened with Dr. Blasey was a misunderstanding. Instead, he initially portrayed himself as a studious churchgoer, an image that seems belied by the stories of booze-binging parties and sexual innuendo in his yearbook.
Judge Kavanaugh has undergone practice sessions in which advisers pretending to be senators hurled tough and sometimes even over-the-top unfair questions at him to help him figure out how he would respond and maintain his composure. Unlike his mock sessions before his first hearings, these practices have been kept to a smaller set of people.
His interview on Fox on Monday was, in effect, a dress rehearsal, albeit in a less hostile environment. He was not rattled, answering the questions calmly and, toward the end at least, with evident emotion as he seemed to hold back tears. But he seemed nervous and kept retreating to the same lines, the same phrases, clutching onto them like a lifeline in white water rapids rather than risk going off course. He said he treated women “with dignity” four times, he “never sexually assaulted anyone” six times and he wanted a “fair process” 17 times.
While providing encouragement publicly, Mr. Trump has privately told advisers that he thought Judge Kavanaugh appeared weak and that he hoped he would be more aggressive on Thursday. While such an approach might be uniquely Trumpian, even some of Judge Kavanaugh’s friends, advisers and allies worried that he was not forceful enough in denying the charges.
In his hearing, Justice Thomas put senators off guard by complaining angrily that the process had become a “high-tech lynching.” That accusation dramatically introduced race as an issue, and white senators of both parties were reluctant to appear too prosecutorial with an African-American nominee, despite the fact that his accuser was herself African-American.