Who can say whether Trump’s apparently unbridled, even unhinged, display of id amounted to just that? Or to a free-form, last-ditch effort to defend the nomination on the eve of crucial testimony from Ford and Kavanaugh before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday? Or to a calculated trial balloon for withdrawing it (“I could pick a woman, and she could have charges made from many years ago also,” he said at one point)? Or to some combination of all of the above? The assessment of Nicolle Wallace, the former George W. Bush and John McCain aide, was succinct, and indisputable.
“I suspect,” she tweeted, “that the 25th Amendment might be discussed more widely if there were daily press conferences.”
Indeed, the last such freewheeling encounter between Trump and the press came in February 2017, shortly after he took office, and prompted similar jaw-dropping and head-scratching. Wednesday’s session in New York was, at a minimum, proof positive of why the president’s aides are so reluctant to turn him loose in such settings—and why his lawyers believe a deposition by Special Counsel Robert Mueller would prove disastrous.
Is Trump lying, or unintentionally revealing some deep-seated truth about his nature? Surely, the answer is both. Is he being reasonable about Kavanaugh’s accusers (“They’re going to have a big shot at speaking and making their case”)? Or disingenuous (“I can’t tell you whether or not they’re liars until I hear them”)? What does he really think? It changes from minute to minute. Does he contradict himself? Of course. Like Walt Whitman, he is large (or is it huge?). He contains multitudes.
In just over an hour, the president undermined the frantic work of his own White House aides and Senate Republicans, who have been scrambling for days to salvage Kavanaugh’s nomination—most recently by releasing copies of the judge’s appointment-calendar pages from his Summer of ’82 that list no party like the one where Ford alleges Kavanaugh assaulted her—by confessing that he regards allegations of sexual misconduct as inherently suspect because of what he considers the spurious claims (by at least 19 women) against him.
“It does impact my opinion,” he said. “You know why? Because I’ve had a lot of false charges made against me. I’m a very famous person. Unfortunately. I’ve been a famous person for a long time. But I’ve had a lot of false charges made against me. Really false charges.” He added: “People want fame, they want money, they want whatever. So when I see it, I view it differently than somebody sitting home watching television where they say, ‘Oh, Judge Kavanaugh, this or that.’”
Trump’s disjointed, incoherent performance ignored the carefully disciplined strategy of the White House and Senate Republicans to plow through the growing swirl of allegations against Kavanaugh and press for a quick confirmation vote. His insistence that “You know what? I could be persuaded” by Ford’s testimony was hardly a ringing endorsement of Kavanaugh, whom in another breath he called “a great gentleman, a great intellect, a brilliant man.” The president’s equivocation—fleeting though it may have been—may also reflect the reality that crucial Republican votes like Senator Lisa Murkowksi of Alaska have publicly wavered in recent days.