WASHINGTON — Men of America, be afraid. This could happen to you.
That’s the alarm President Donald Trump and his GOP allies are increasingly sounding as they try to defend their Supreme Court nominee from sexual assault allegations. The three-decade-old accusation facing Brett Kavanaugh is not only false, they argue, but an example of the #MeToo movement gone too far in its call to believe the women — and not the men. It’s a message that looks to channel the frustration and anxieties of the party’s bedrock voters — white men — just weeks before an election.
This is “a scary time,” Trump said Tuesday. “It’s a very scary time for young men in America when you can be guilty of something that you may not be guilty of. You can be somebody that was perfect your entire life and somebody could accuse you of something … and you’re automatically guilty.”
At a campaign rally later in Mississippi, Trump pretended to be a son asking his mother how to respond to such an accusation. “It’s a damn sad situation,” Trump said.
Trump also mocked one of Kavanaugh’s accusers, Christine Blasey Ford, for her Senate testimony last week. He imitated Ford responding “I don’t know” and “I don’t remember” to questions about her claim that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her more than 30 years ago.
“And a man’s life is in tatters,” Trump said.
Trump’s comments came as Republicans stare down a challenging midterm election and need to motivate their most reliable voters. All signs suggest Democratic women are energized by opposition to Trump’s presidency. The primary season yielded record numbers of female candidates. Kavanaugh’s confirmation battle and the national soul-searching over sexual consent it has provoked threaten only to further motivate liberal female voters, leaving Republicans searching for a counterweight.
In his warning, Trump echoed some of his allies. Rep. Steve King of Iowa said “if Kavanaugh is not confirmed, every man is subject to seeing their life’s work and their reputation destroyed by an unsubstantiated allegation.” Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana declared: “This is no country for creepy old men. Or young men. Or middle-aged men. But this is no country at all.” And Trump’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., told the Daily Mail this week: “I’ve got boys, and I’ve got girls. And when I see what’s going on right now, it’s scary,” adding that right now he fears more for his sons.
The rising frustration came as the Kavanaugh confirmation process played out before the country, with Kavanaugh and Ford appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week to discuss her accusation. Kavanaugh’s confirmation continues to hang in the balance as the FBI investigates the allegation, which Kavanaugh has forcefully denied.
With the midterm elections just weeks away, Republicans risk losing the House and possibly the Senate as they face an energized Democratic party — particularly educated, suburban women and minorities — and a wave of GOP retirements, as well as the president’s sagging approval ratings and the tide of controversy around his White House.
Trump’s GOP badly needs to motivate men, especially the white, working-class men who fueled the president’s political rise, experts say.
Trump’s electoral strategy has long revolved around the argument that men “are somehow victims or they’re losing out to other people or they’re unfairly persecuted in an age of political correctness,” said Julian Zelizer, a political historian at Princeton University.
The November elections are “all about turnout, enthusiasm and motivation,” which Democrats have shown they have. “The question is: How can Trump or the Republicans counterbalance that? And this is the way that can do that,” Zelizer said. “It’s another way to shore up his base.”
Indeed, a Quinnipiac University poll released Monday found a gaping gender gap when it comes to support for Kavanaugh’s nomination. The poll found 55 percent of women do not believe the Senate should confirm him, versus just 40 percent of men. And 52 percent of men believe Kavanagh has been treated unfairly, versus just 43 percent of women.
“The disparity is stunning,” said Jim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. “You usually don’t see this kind of divide between men and women on seminal, important issues.”
Polls show Republicans are more likely to be skeptical of the #MeToo movement, which has spurred women to come forward with their stories of sexual assault and harassment, and to believe it has gone too far.
Republicans argue the Kavanaugh debate will drive enthusiasm among men and women.
Barry Bennett, a former senior Trump campaign adviser, accused Democrats of “hijacking the #MeToo movement,” and argued the way Kavanaugh has been treated is driving Republican enthusiasm with men and women.
“The one thing we’re seeing across is the country is (Republicans) are really energized. They’ve been woken up because of what’s happening to Brett,” he said. “If we play this smart, there maybe will not be a blue wave.”
Indeed, the Republican National Committee said it has seen a surge in donations over the last week, with Sunday marking the committee’s largest online fundraising day ever, according to an RNC official. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person wasn’t authorized to publicly reveal the figures, also said the party had logged 1,000 new small-dollar donors that day who had never previously given to the committee.
But Democratic strategist Jim Manley questioned the strategy.
“I think they’re playing a dangerous game with this overt play to generate enthusiasm from their white, male base. As far as I can tell they already have those folks,” he said. “My bet is that this will just make Trump and the Republican Party even more radioactive with women voters.”
Story: Catherine Lucey and Jill Colvin