SOUTHAVEN, Miss. — President Trump on Tuesday sharply mocked the woman whose allegation of sexual assault has upended his effort to install a second justice on the Supreme Court, escalating a battle that has already polarized Washington and the country.
At a campaign rally, Trump went further than ever before in directly assailing Christine Blasey Ford, the university professor who accused Judge Brett Kavanaugh, his nominee, of pinning her to a bed and trying to take her clothes off at a high school party in the early 1980s.
Playing to the crowd of thousands gathered to cheer him on, the president pretended to be Blasey testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday. “Thirty-six years ago this happened. I had one beer, right? I had one beer,” said Trump, channeling his version of Blasey. His voice dripping with derision, he then imitated her being questioned at the hearing, followed by her responses about what she could not recall about the alleged attack.
“How did you get home? I don’t remember. How’d you get there? I don’t remember. Where is the place? I don’t remember. How many years ago was it? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. What neighborhood was it in? I don’t know. Where’s the house? I don’t know. Upstairs, downstairs, where was it? I don’t know,” Trump said, as the crowd applauded. “I don’t know — but I had one beer. That’s the only thing I remember.”
Then, continuing in his own voice, he said: “And a man’s life is in tatters. A man’s life is shattered. His wife is shattered.” Referring to those who have championed Blasey’s case, he added: “They destroy people. They want to destroy people. These are really evil people.”
Trump’s taunts could inflame a struggle over power and sex that has consumed the capital in recent weeks and risked alienating two of the undecided moderate Republicans whose votes will decide the fate of his nomination, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
The president’s advisers and his Republican allies in the Senate have implored him to restrain himself in the fight to salvage Kavanaugh’s nomination, and for the most part, he has kept to defending the nominee while avoiding comment on Blasey. On several occasions, he broke from script and directly questioned her account as unbelievable, drawing a rebuke from Collins, who called his comment “appalling,” but this was the first time he mocked Blasey in this way.
Trump’s impression of Blasey, 51, a research psychologist at Stanford University and a psychology professor at Palo Alto University who also goes by her married name, Ford, drew a sharp retort from Michael Bromwich, one of her lawyers.
“A vicious, vile and soulless attack on Dr. Christine Blasey Ford,” he wrote on Twitter. “Is it any wonder that she was terrified to come forward, and that other sexual assault survivors are as well? She is a remarkable profile in courage. He is a profile in cowardice.”
The ridicule of Blasey cut against the grain of the Republican strategy until that point of trying to gingerly question her account without seeming to attack her. Senate Republicans have emphasized their respect for Blasey and have praised her bravery in coming forward even as they accepted Kavanaugh’s adamant denials. The president himself said after the hearing last week that Blasey was “a very credible witness” and “a very fine woman” whose testimony was “very compelling.”
Earlier Tuesday, the president’s advisers were privately marveling at how measured — for him — he had been throughout the controversy around Kavanaugh’s confirmation process.
But his patience seemed to run out Tuesday night, as Trump seemed eager to charge up his supporters against Blasey.
Trump’s portrait of Blasey was met with cheers and laughter by the crowd of several thousand supporters at the Landers Center in Southaven. And it mirrored the increasingly sharp attacks against her by conservative news outlets, which in recent days have questioned her credibility about what were deemed inconsistencies in her testimony.
During the rally, Trump went after the news media and opposition, including Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont — the most senior Democrat in the Senate and a member of the Judiciary Committee that questioned Blasey and Kavanaugh — by implying that the senator abuses alcohol. The president invited the crowd to research Leahy online, saying, “Look up Patrick Leahy slash drink.”
Trump also suggested that people needed to be worried about allegations of sexual impropriety about their sons and husbands, once again wading into the charged #MeToo debate over gender and power in the United States on the side of men who are accused, while offering no words of sympathy for victims of sexual abuse.
He repeated a theme he raised earlier in the day speaking with reporters at the White House before he left on his trip to Philadelphia and Mississippi. Trump told the reporters that this is a “very scary time for young men in America” because the recent wave of sexual misconduct allegations against powerful figures has eroded traditional due process rights and the presumption of innocence.
“It’s a tough thing going on,” he said. “You can be an exemplary person for 35 years, and then somebody comes and they say you did this or that, and they give three witnesses, and the three witnesses at this point do not corroborate what you were saying, that’s a very scary situation where you’re guilty until proven innocent.”
Trump flew to Philadelphia to address the convention of the National Electrical Contractors Association. The president was welcomed warmly by the association leadership and drew applause from the audience. David Long, the association president, gave him a hard-hat with the presidential seal on it. “You could use this in Washington from time to time,” Long said.
But at least some expressed concern about inviting the president given his embrace of Kavanaugh. “We don’t think that Trump’s racism and misogyny should have been honored or condoned by his presence at our national convention,” said Jonathan Ostrow, president of a Worcester-based electricial company.
The president discussed the situation Tuesday when asked about his eldest son Donald Trump Jr., who recently said he was more worried about his sons than his daughters because “the other side weaponizes” claims of sexual misbehavior from decades earlier.
Asked if he had a message to men, the president said: “Well, I say that 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. This is a very, very — this is a very difficult time.”
Trump, who himself has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women and who was once caught on tape boasting that he could kiss women and grab them by their genitals because “when you’re a star, they let you do it,” said the issue went beyond Kavanaugh’s case.
“Somebody could accuse you of something, and you’re automatically guilty,” he said. “But in this realm, you are truly guilty until proven innocent. That’s one of the very, very bad things that’s taking place right now.”
Asked if he had a message for young women, he said, “Women are doing great.”