Susan Collins, never a maverick, fell right into line. Why did anyone expect otherwise?
Susan Collins used so many words Friday afternoon, so many words to express such a simple idea: I’m with him.
The senator from Maine had been viewed for weeks as a swing vote on the elevation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, held out as a last, best hope against his elevation.
She demolished those errant hopes Friday afternoon, in a long, dissembling speech in which she sought to assure the world — especially, perhaps, her Maine constituents — that she was not really rejecting all the principles that she was, in fact, casting aside.
When she took the Senate floor, Collins made the dubious claim that Kavanaugh had been treated unfairly, set upon by well-financed “special-interest groups” who were content to base their opposition to Kavanaugh on outright falsehoods. It was a dark day, she declared, for our nation.
Collins was just warming up, but her direction was clear from the start. She was going to cast the vote that figured to put Kavanaugh, 53, on the court for many years to come. And if the decision was a painful one, it didn’t appear to be a close call.
Collins invoked Alexander Hamilton, in the Federalist papers, in explaining her thought process. She stressed that she believes victims. Collins claimed that Kavanaugh would be no threat to the Affordable Care Act. She maintained that he holds no troubling views of the scope of executive power. Kavanaugh respects precedent, she said, and has declared his admiration for Brown v. Board of Education, the ruling that overturned the doctrine of “separate but equal.” (It is a ruling no nominee would ever take issue with.)
It’s not hard to understand why people thought, or hoped, Collins might be on the fence. Because she very occasionally votes against the party line, she has long been able to fashion an image as a moderate. She is no fire-breathing, build-the-wall Fox News fixture.
But when you stripped away Hamilton and all the layers of effort to appear reasonable, you were left with this: a conventional conservative politician falling into line.
But what of the credible allegation of attempted rape by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford? What about the FBI investigation? What about, well, throwing millions of women, their anxieties, and fears under the bus?
Well, apparently, the real problem is the “atmosphere” we’re in.
“The politically charged atmosphere surrounding this nomination has reached a fever pitch, even before these allegations were known, and it has been challenging to separate fact from fiction,” Collins declared. “We live in a time of such great disunity, as the bitter fight over this nomination both in the Senate and among the public clearly demonstrates. It is not merely a case of differing groups having different opinions. It is a case of people bearing extreme ill will toward those who disagree with them.”
Collins is right about the disunity of this moment. But it never seemed to occur to her that throwing her support behind the most divisive Supreme Court nominee in memory wasn’t exactly striking a blow for unity.
I hope Collins is right in her generous assessment of Kavanaugh. But she described a substantially different person than the one who appeared to respond to Ford’s allegation of attempted rape. Of the furious blowhard who threatened that “what goes around comes around,” she really said nothing. Of the person whose temperament became nearly as much of an issue as the original charge, she offered little more than platitudes.
Almost immediately, predictions of dire consequences for Collins were in the air. I don’t know about that; Maine is a state that twice elected right-wing Paul LePage governor (albeit with a plurality of the vote). Who knows what Collins’s political future holds?
What I do believe is that her vote will make a deeply convulsive moment in our politics much worse. Collins spoke of unity, but Kavanaugh’s ascent will only drive us further, tragically, apart.