Conservative women uneasy with Kavanaugh in wake of sexual assault claims | US news

As allegations of sexual misconduct have rocked the hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump’s US supreme court nominee, Republicans in Washington have largely struck a defiant tone, accusing Democrats of mounting a “smear campaign” to derail the nomination.

But some conservative women are expressing discomfort with Trump’s pick to replace the retiring justice Anthony Kennedy – with potentially grave consequences for a party already struggling to resolve a longstanding problem with gender.

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And with six weeks remaining before the November midterms, some fear the controversy around Kavanaugh could further energize the left, while suppressing turnout among Republicans. Others fear the implications of supporting a supreme court nominee accused of sexual assault in a political climate where the president’s own treatment of women is under constant scrutiny.

“A lot of women on the right feel that, from a professional standpoint, he’s qualified,” said Liz Mair, a Republican strategist, of Kavanaugh. “They are not convinced that he did this.

“That said, I think there are a lot of conservative women who can envision how some of what’s being alleged could have happened, given what was deemed to be more culturally acceptable in the late 70s and early 80s.”


White House suggests ‘left wing conspiracy’ as third Kavanaugh allegation set to emerge – video

Until just over 10 days ago, Kavanaugh appeared to be on a path toward swift confirmation to the highest court in America. Then the first shoe dropped: Christine Blasey Ford, a professor, alleged that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a party more than three decades ago.

The White House and Republicans in Congress were still contending with the fallout of Ford’s claim when a second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, came forward and alleged that she, too, had been harassed by Kavanaugh decades prior. In an interview with the New Yorker published on Sunday, Ramirez said Kavanaugh had exposed himself to her at a party while attending Yale University in the early 1980s.

A third woman is expected to go public with new allegations this week.

Kavanaugh has denied the allegations against him and on Monday defended his record in an interview with Fox News, taking a highly unusual step for a supreme court nominee by engaging with the media.

“What I know is the truth, and the truth is I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone,” Kavanaugh told Fox News’s Martha MacCallum.


‘I have never sexually assaulted anyone’: Brett Kavanaugh denies allegations on Fox News – video

“I want a fair process where I can defend my integrity, and I know I’m telling the truth,” the judge added.

“I know my lifelong record and I’m not going to let false accusations drive me out of this process.”

That Kavanaugh chose to sit down with the president’s preferred network signalled both a play to the Republican base and a tacit admission his nomination might be in peril.

A Fox News poll taken in the wake of Ford’s allegation found a record number of voters oppose the Kavanaugh nomination. The survey also found that voters believed Ford’s claims over Kavanaugh’s denials by a six-point margin.

Women were more likely to believe Ford by 10 points overall, with the same number climbing to 17 points among suburban women. Men, by contrast, sided with Ford by just one point.

Two of the Senate’s most prominent conservative women, senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, have been largely silent amid the controversy. Both are regarded as key swing votes who could make or break Kavanaugh’s fate and are being targeted by ad campaigns.

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Senator Lisa Murkowski has been largely silent on the controversy surrounding the US supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Neither of their offices returned a request for comment when reached by the Guardian on Monday about Ramirez’s allegation.

Alice Stewart, a former aide to Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign, said conservative women were torn. On the one hand, she said, they are intimately familiar with the culture of sexual harassment; on the other, the allegations stood in contrast to what they knew until now of Kavanaugh’s reputation.

“They know him as someone with the utmost character and integrity and principle,” Stewart said. “And these kinds of actions are not consistent with the man that they know.”

She nonetheless disagreed with efforts to discredit Kavanaugh’s accusers.

“The women deserve to be heard, and what they’ve gone through is something tragic and heartbreaking … That’s the most important thing.”

The allegations against Kavanaugh have carried echoes of the controversy that engulfed the confirmation process of Clarence Thomas, one of the supreme court’s other conservative justices, in the early 1990s. Thomas was ultimately confirmed, despite being accused of sexual harassment by Anita Hill, who had worked under him at the United States Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

But the climate has since shifted dramatically, with the MeToo movement having prompted a widespread moment of reckoning around sexual misconduct and gender inequality. Prominent men have been pushed out of powerful positions across multiple industries, including entertainment, media and politics.

The MeToo movement was incidentally galvanized in part by the election of Trump, who has been accused by as many as 17 women of sexual assault and once boasted in a leaked tape about groping and kissing women without their consent.

Jess McIntosh, a Democratic strategist and founder of the progressive group ShareBlue, said Republicans were underestimating the potential backlash if they moved ahead with Kavanaugh’s nomination.

“You don’t get to the kind of levels of opposition to Kavanaugh that we’re seeing with just Democrats,” she said. “The average Republican woman is not pro-attempted rapist on the supreme court.”

“Republican women know there is a reason why women wait, why they would choose not to report … We are having louder and larger conversations about the trauma around sexual assault than we have ever had as a country.”

Mair agreed that despite the partisan climate on Capitol Hill, sexual assault cut across partisan lines. While she did not believe the evidence against Kavanaugh was necessarily overwhelming, Mair said she could not foresee the Republican party would emerge from the Kavanaugh controversy unscathed.

“Some of us are wondering if there isn’t an alternative at this point.”

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