In 2015, Brett Kavanaugh gave a speech at Catholic University of America in which he said the following:
To be a good judge and a good umpire, it's important to have the proper demeanor. Really important, I think. To walk in the others' shoes. ... To keep our emotions in check. To be calm amidst the storm. On the bench, to put it in the vernacular, don't be a jerk. I think that's important. To be a good umpire and a good judge, don't be a jerk. [Brett Kavanaugh, via Mother Jones]
That does not describe the Brett Kavanaugh who sat before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. And you can probably blame Trump.
Let's back up. If Kavanaugh is being accused by multiple women of acts of cruel sexual violence he did not commit, that is an injustice. Also, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) could probably have handled Christine Blasey Ford's accusations that Kavanaugh tried to rape her in the early 1980s more discreetly, and President Trump could have conceivably cleared things up — let the facts land where they may — with a prompt and independent investigation of his Supreme Court nominee.
But here's the thing: You have very little control over the slings and arrows life fires your way, but you have near total control over how you react to them. And judges, especially those who want to sit on the highest court in the most powerful country in the world, should be able to handle adversity exceptionally well.
Yet in front of more than 20 million TV viewers — most importantly, Trump — and countless more Americans watching online, Kavanaugh berated Democratic senators, raged, deflected and evaded questions, spun a conspiracy theory about a vast left-wing effort to take him down, and — to put it in his own vernacular — acted like a jerk. He also bent the truth, at least up to the point of telling lies under oath if not over that line — about the amount of alcohol he consumed, whether he could legally drink it in high school (no), the things he wrote in his yearbook, whether he'd watched Ford's testimony, and other things.
In other words, Kavanaugh disqualified himself from a Supreme Court seat.
"When Kavanaugh was nominated, I became aware of some of his bad rulings on 4th Amendment and other issues, but I did not have reason to think he was unfit to serve," Daniel Larison writes at The American Conservative. Then, in Thursday's hearing, "Kavanaugh's anger and accusatory tone were bad enough for someone who aspires to sit on the highest court, but the real problem lies with the multiple lies he told during his testimony." For an honor and responsibility this big, he added, "it doesn't really matter why he lied or what he lied about. The fact that he knowingly gave false statements under oath should disqualify him."
But don't take Larison's word for it. Ask Kavanaugh's most passionate defender on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who said this in 1999:
‘I have argued to you that when you found that a judge was a perjurer, you couldn’t in good conscience send him back in a courtroom because everybody that came in that courtroom thereafter would have a real serious doubt’
— @LindseyGrahamSC (January 1999) pic.twitter.com/A5D3yx2iIS
— RetroNewsNow (@RetroNewsNow) September 28, 2018
Now, Kavanaugh is responsible for his own behavior and comportment. But in a way, Trump is also to blame for Kavanaugh's judicial temper tantrum. Why? Because until the Senate votes on Kavanaugh's nomination, there's only one person not named Brett Kavanaugh who can scuttle it: Trump.
That's right: Before he could show Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) what a judicious umpire he would be on the court, Kavanaugh had to assuage the concerns of his TV-adoring, counterpunching patron, Trump. That first meant sitting down for an unprecedented TV interview on — where else? — Fox News. (A Fox News staffer told The Daily Beast that the White House set up the interview, and that Kavanugh's camp was uneasy about the decision; The Washington Post reports that Kavanaugh "didn't need much persuading.")
But apparently that wasn't enough. Trump "told allies that he wished Kavanaugh's Fox News interview Monday had gone better, believing it was a missed opportunity to change the momentum around the story," three Republicans close to the White House told The Associated Press. Then, after Ford testified on Thursday, "White House aides and allies expressed concern that Kavanaugh, whose nomination already seemed to be teetering, would have an uphill climb to deliver a strong enough showing to match hers," AP adds. "White House officials believe Kavanaugh's passionate denials of Ford's claims, including the judge's tearful description of the impact the accusations had on his family, met the challenge." Trump affirmed that in a tweet right after his testimony.
Kavanaugh probably gave the type of pugilistic performance needed to stave off defections from Republicans — well, one Republican in particular — and salvage his nomination. But in "appealing less to judicial tradition or to the idea of fairness than to pure partisanship," as Daniel D'Addario puts it at Variety, Kavanaugh won the battle and lost the war. He had an audience of one, and that one man was pleased enough to stick with him. But he is irrevocably damaged goods.
A different president might not have nominated a committed partisan like Kavanaugh in the first place. But once Trump picked Kavanaugh and Kavanaugh ran into the buzzsaw of the #MeToo reckoning, Trump demanded fight or flight. Kavanaugh chose fight, and whether or not he makes it onto the Supreme Court, he fought hard, he fought dirty, and he fought poorly.
"No one can serve two masters," Jesus is quoted as saying in Matthew 6:24. "Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." Kavanaugh decided to serve Trump's demand for all-out partisan fisticuffs and no-holds-barred denials, but in doing so he showed contempt for the institution of the Supreme Court. And he proved that he doesn't have the temperament or character for the job. The 2015 Brett Kavanaugh would probably agree.