The GOP is using its Clarence Thomas playbook for Kavanaugh

The GOP is handling sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh the same way they did in the '90s
September 27, 2018, 1:53pm

It’s been 27 years since Anita Hill came forward against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, and while American attitudes toward sexual harassment may have changed considerably since then, the way it's handled in a Supreme Court nomination fight on Capitol Hill has not.

In fact, Republicans are using many of the same tactics they adopted during the October 1991 Anita Hill hearings to defend their current nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, against the allegations of sexual misconduct leveled by psychologist and professor Christine Blasey Ford.

It's partly a matter of trying to control the optics. Thomas’s wife seemed always positioned where she was sure to be near her husband in the shot during the hearings. Kavanaugh, meanwhile, had his wife next to him while he answered questions about the allegations on Fox News earlier this week.

It's also about managing the message. Thomas and Kavanaugh responded to the allegations against them with similar rhetoric — each categorically denying any wrongdoing, and describing themselves as the real victims in politically-driven attempts at character assassination. Both in 1991 and today, Republicans took aim at the accusers, raising questions about their credibility.

The tactics seemed to work for Clarence Thomas, who was ultimately confirmed to the bench. But Manus Cooney, a Republican lawyer on the Judiciary Committee during the Anita Hill hearings, said the aggressive questioning from a panel of all-male senators hurt the GOP in the following election.

“The legacy of that hearing is a woman made an allegation of sexual harassment, and was taken to task by a committee of white men. That had consequences. [1992] was the ‘Year of the Woman,” Cooney said to VICE News, referring to the nickname given to the 1992 elections after four new women were elected to the Senate, bringing the total number of women in the chamber to five.

The room for error may be even greater for Republicans this time, with Election Day just six weeks away. And that may explain two major differences between the 1991 hearings and Thursday's: Republicans brought in a female outside counsel to question Ford, and Thursday's hearing will be considerably shorter, with senators allowed just five minutes each to question Ford and Kavanaugh, rather than the two days they had to question Hill and Thomas.

This segment originally aired September 26, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.