Yet Trump refused to rule out withdrawing Kavanaugh’s nomination, and speculated about nominating a woman in Kavanaugh’s stead, even as the White House and Kavanaugh himself have spent the past 48 hours staunchly insisting that they will forge forward.
“I can’t tell you. I have to watch tomorrow,” he said. “I’m gonna see what happens tomorrow. I’m gonna be watching … I’m gonna see what’s said.”
Trump said that if George Washington himself were nominated, Democrats would vote against the father of the country. “Didn’t he have a couple of things in his past?” he said, seeming to acknowledge that Kavanaugh might have skeletons in his closet. Trump also bluntly explained his willingness to look past allegations for political expediency, pointing to his support of the former U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, who was accused of sexual misconduct with several young girls. “Roy Moore was a Republican candidate, and I would have rather had a Republican candidate win,” Trump said.
But it was Trump’s comments about the allegations against him that were the most bizarre. Each time a high-profile man is accused of sexual misconduct, it serves as a reminder that at least 19 women have brought allegations against the president himself. The official White House line is that all 19 are lying. The president went a step beyond that on Wednesday, claiming that the women were paid to lodge the claims, and that after several of them recanted, the media refused to cover it. There is no evidence for this; the claim is evidence of a president either increasingly untethered from reality or ever more willing to dissemble.
The appearance was Trump’s first extended solo press conference since February 2017, and it showed why he and his advisers wouldn’t want him answering questions in an open forum like this very often. The president is incapable of speaking on any story for long without turning the subject back to himself, often with disconcerting results, like his claim about the media conspiracy.
The accusations against Kavanaugh have already put the Republican Party in a difficult spot ahead of November’s midterm elections. Women are poised to be a crucial voting bloc, and Trump is unpopular with them—even in the context of Trump’s atrocious approval ratings. The GOP is trying to strike a balance of getting Kavanaugh through without appearing dismissive of sexual assault, and Trump’s rambling comments on Wednesday deepen the trouble. The press conference appeared to be disastrous for the president, for his party, and for Kavanaugh.
Trump offered various messages that didn’t come close to providing clarity. Last week, Trump dismissed Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations of an attempted rape by Kavanaugh in 1982, saying that “if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents.” Initially on Wednesday, he repeated that, asking why Ford hadn’t come forward earlier. But minutes later, he said he wouldn’t have been surprised if a woman was reluctant to file a police report at the time.
“It’s a very tough situation for a woman, there’s no question about it,” he said. “Frankly, had they reported it, it would have been pretty amazing, wouldn’t it? … I’m not saying they have to report it.”
Over the course of more than an hour, Trump covered a wide range. He refused to say whether he would fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein or request his resignation, and suggested that he might postpone a meeting scheduled for Thursday. He declined to give a straight answer about whether any members of his administration might have considered trying to remove him using the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, but he railed at his critics.
“In one case, they say, ‘He’s a fascist, he’s taking over the government, he’s the most powerful president ever. He’s a horrible human being. He wants to take over the entire government and he’s going to do it. We can’t stop him,’” Trump said. “That didn’t work. The next week, he said, ‘Uh, he’s incompetent.’”