To listen to many establishment Republicans, the rise of Trumpism is a perversion of the true GOP. But if the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh revealed one thing, it’s the shared interests of George W. Bush and Donald J. Trump.
Kavanaugh is the bridge between Dubya and Trump. And he is now the shield on the Supreme Court, installed to protect both presidents — following a confirmation fight won with deceitful Swift Boat tactics that recall the heyday of Karl Rove.
The decision by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) to throw her support behind Kavanaugh helped reveal the powerful connection between Bush and Trump. Collins is a Bush loyalist; the Bushes have deep ties to Maine through their Kennebunkport compound, and as The Intercept notes, Collins has long been a member of the Bush inner circle. Over the weekend, America learned that W. Bush repeatedly called Collins to lobby her to vote for Kavanaugh.
JOHN DICKERSON: I heard George W. Bush made a number of calls to you.
SEN. COLLINS: He did. He actually called me three times. He knows Brett Kavanaugh very well and wanted me to know of his personal experience with him and endorsement of him.
— Jonathan Martin (@jmartNYT) October 6, 2018
And her decision to back Trump’s nominee was even praised by Dubya’s ailing father George H.W. Bush:
.@SenatorCollins — political courage and class. I salute my wonderful friend and her principled leadership.
— George Bush (@GeorgeHWBush) October 5, 2018
Why does Kavanaugh matter to the Bushes? To start, the W. Bush presidency flouted the law, repeatedly, and has never been called to account. Recall the failed Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers, a top lawyer from the W. Bush administration. Miers was seen, at the time, as a Bush loyalist who might shield the administration’s legacy for a coming generation, including against court cases arising from the administration’s use of torture, black sites and mass surveillance — to say nothing of its march to war in Iraq under false pretenses.
Kavanaugh is Miers 2.0. He is a former Bush lieutenant who was not only a lawyer in the Florida recount of 2000, but inherited the pivotal job of staff secretary to the president from Miers as she rose through the White House ranks.
Legal experts see Kavanaugh as a presidential protector: He has radical views of executive power and privilege and has repeatedly raised doubts about whether presidents are accountable to other branches of government.
This deference to presidential power is also a key reason Kavanaugh won the backing of President Trump — who is in legal jeopardy from the snowballing investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. In his confirmation hearings, Kavanaugh pointedly refused to comment on whether a sitting president must respond to a subpoena or has the power to pardon himself.
Both W. Bush and Trump share an interest in seating a presidential protector on the court. And to win Kavanaugh that seat, the unified Republican machine leaned on Swift-Boating tactics deeply rooted in the Bush years.
CRC Public Relations is infamous for its work on the 2004 campaign, when the firm promoted the “Swift Boat Veterans For Truth,” who viciously slimed the war record of Vietnam war hero John Kerry, helping W. Bush narrowly secure re-election to a second term. The same firm reportedly aided the GOP in seating Kavanaugh.
In the age of #MeToo, attacking Kavanaugh’s accuser directly was a nonstarter. Instead, CRC and top Republicans zeroed in on a different strategy: Accept that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s experience of assault as a teenager was genuine, but introduce doubt that the assaulter was Kavanaugh.
According to Politico, CRC aided Ed Whelan — a prominent Washington lawyer, former Supreme Court clerk and friend of Kavanaugh’s — in pushing out and almost immediately retracting a wild theory that Ford’s true attacker was a classmate of Kavanaugh’s.
Whelan apologized for having “grievously and carelessly wronged the person I identified.”
I made an appalling and inexcusable mistake of judgment in posting the tweet thread in a way that identified Kavanaugh's Georgetown Prep classmate. I take full responsibility for that mistake, and I deeply apologize for it. I realize that does not undo the mistake.
— Ed Whelan (@EdWhelan123) September 21, 2018
But though Whelan withdrew his specific allegation, the toxic theory he and CRC injected into the body politic spread. Just as CRC created a fraudulent counter-narrative to Kerry’s valorous war record, the firm introduced what we now might call “alternative facts” around Kavanaugh’s alleged assault of Ford: She’s not lying, but Kavanaugh didn’t do it.
This narrative became the safe harbor for 50 Republicans and one Democrat. In interviews over the weekend, Collins made clear that she’d swallowed the theory whole. As she told 60 Minutes of Ford: “I believed that a sexual assault had happened to her. What I think she is mistaken about is who the perpetrator was. I do not believe her assailant was Brett Kavanaugh.”
The Trump administration is not a break from the Republican party. Brett Kavanaugh represents and reveals the ruthless through-line of a GOP that cares more about power than either truth or the rule of law.
Somewhere Karl Rove is smiling.