Too often, Senate Republicans look at Robert Bork's 1987 Supreme Court nomination as the turning point that effectively created a political cold war over the federal judiciary. In October 2020, for example, Sen. Lindsey Graham declared, "What the hell happened? It wasn't us." The South Carolinian added that everything changed "with Bork."
Much of the GOP doesn't remember the fight as well as it should. For all the melodramatic complaints 35 years later, the fact remains that the Democratic-led Senate considered Bork's nomination, gave him a confirmation hearing, and sent him to the floor for a vote. The far-right jurist ultimately faced a bipartisan rejection: 58 senators, including six Republicans, voted against him.
It did not change everything. In fact, after Bork's nomination failed, Ronald Reagan nominated Anthony Kennedy, who was confirmed 97 to 0. Another nominee from a Republican White House — David Souter — was also confirmed unanimously three years later by a Democratic-led Senate.
But if Step One in Republican circles was misremembering the Bork nomination, Step Two is misremembering Brett Kavanaugh's nomination.
CNN's Manu Raju caught up yesterday with Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Graham, the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, after they left a strategy meeting over the pending Supreme Court nomination.
"I think you're not going to find Republicans getting in the gutter like the Democrats did with Kavanaugh," Grassley said. Graham [added], "I just think we all don't want to do the Kavanaugh thing."
I'm not sure what "the Kavanaugh thing" is.
By early September 2018, Donald Trump's second Supreme Court nominee was already receiving harsh criticisms. Sen. Pat Leahy, who hardly earned a reputation for throwing around reckless accusations, stated unequivocally that he believed Kavanaugh had given "untruthful testimony, under oath and on the record."
A week later, The Washington Post reported on a sexual-assault allegation from Christine Blasey Ford, who said Kavanaugh "pinned her to a bed on her back and groped her over her clothes, grinding his body against hers and clumsily attempting to pull off her one-piece bathing suit" at a party in the early 1980s.
The week after that, Deborah Ramirez, a classmate of Kavanaugh's at Yale, told The New Yorker about an alleged incident in which Kavanaugh "exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away."
Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, not surprisingly, took the allegations seriously and demanded a closer examination — not only into the judge's alleged misconduct, but also into whether the nominee had told the truth.
One GOP senator ultimately voted against Kavanaugh — Alaska's Lisa Murkowski — but the rest of the Senate Republican conference confirmed him anyway, and brushed off the credible claims.
In other words, "the Kavanaugh thing" appears to refer to a Senate process in which one party took the allegations seriously, and the other preferred to ignore them.