By Dan Walters | CALmatters Columnist
We don’t know what we don’t know.
We don’t know whether California psychologist Christine Blasey Ford was telling the truth when she accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when both were high school students 36 years ago, or whether Kavanaugh was telling the truth in denying it.
We do know that Ford’s accusation was a political bombshell that threatened to derail what had appeared to be his surefire confirmation in the Republican-held Senate.
We also know that dramatic, emotion-charged testimony by both protagonists and a brief FBI investigation ultimately had little effect on the outcome, as the full Senate voted to confirm Kavanaugh, giving the Supreme Court a fairly solid, 5-4 conservative majority.
While the Ford-Kavanaugh clash certainly gives a new edge to the nation’s already razor-sharp ideological divide, and pulls the Supreme Court more fully into the schism, we don’t know, of course, how it will affect the larger arc of national history.
Certainly, the FBI’s report that it could not corroborate Ford’s accusations will not be the end of the issue as journalists and historians delve more deeply into whether the assault occurred and, if so, whether Kavanaugh was the assaulter.
Finally, we don’t know whether the explosively divisive nature of the Ford-Kavanaugh conflict, erupting just weeks before the mid-term elections will affect this year’s congressional and senatorial contests.
Leaders of both parties seem to believe that it will motivate their political bases to turn out more faithfully, Democrat voters to defend Ford and punish President Donald Trump and Republican Senate leaders; Republican voters to punish Democrats for putting Kavanaugh through a wrenching confirmation process.
Prior to the blowup, Democrats were rightfully hopeful of retaking control of the House, and California is at the epicenter of those efforts, with as many as a half-dozen GOP-held congressional seats in play.
Democrats seem likely to gain at least two in the state, recent polling by UC-Berkeley’s Institute of Government Studies indicates, but whether they reap more could hinge on fallout from the Kavanaugh battle.
Finally, we don’t know whether Feinstein’s handling of Ford’s accusations will undermine what had seemed to be her all-but-certain re-election.
Polling by the Public Policy Institute of California had shown that California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s duel with fellow Democrat Kevin de León had been tightening before the Supreme Court clash.
Feinstein received Ford’s accusations in a letter several months ago but didn’t disclose them until just before the Judiciary Committee hearings were to conclude, after they were leaked to the media.
She says she held off at Ford’s request, but de León says she bungled the situation by not bringing Ford into the process earlier, giving investigators more time to delve into her accusations.
One could argue that from a purely political standpoint, the late disclosure provided the best opportunity to derail Kavanaugh. But the fact remains that Kavanaugh was confirmed, so those in the Democratic Party’s surging left wing, who already preferred de León to Feinstein, may have more reason to oppose her.
We’ll know what we’ll know about that four weeks hence.
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