Cynics will say that Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, decided to vote against Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation because of concern about his position on Native American tribes. Others will say it was the pleas of victims of sex crimes who sat with her to share stories. I prefer to take her at her word.
Murkowski said she did not make up her mind until walking onto the Senate floor. Kavanaugh, she said, is a "good man," implicitly exonerating him from the sexual assault charge. However, she explained that if "people who are victims . . . feel there is no fairness in our system of government, particularly within our courts," we're going down a rotten road. She stressed that "we're at a place again where we need to be thinking again about the credibility and integrity of our institutions." That sounds as if she cannot square the flimsy FBI "investigation" with a real search for truth. It also sounds as if Kavanaugh's virulent display of partisanship endangered the court.
Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., predictably caved. Didn't he just days ago say the investigation had to be real, not just for "cover"? Well, yes, and it's hard to imagine he actually thinks refusing to talk to the accused, the accuser and a slew of witnesses is anything but cover. He's not a naive man. But he is a man with political ambitions still. He says he wants to be involved in politics. Well, he's a conservative and people who call themselves conservatives these days would never forgive him for voting down Kavanaugh.
Then there is Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a red-state Democrat in a much safer position than was Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who declared her intention to vote “no” even before Murkowski and Flake showed their cards. Manchin voted for cloture but says his final vote is “undecided.” Democratic strategists seem convinced he won’t be the 50th vote for Kavanaugh (allowing Vice President Pence to break the tie) but he could easily go along with the GOP if his vote is superfluous (i.e., Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, votes for Kavanaugh). Not exactly a profile in courage.
Before we get to Collins, let's look at what has already occurred. Two women, one Democrat and one Republican, each voted in a way contrary to political self-interest. Both saw something bigger than fairness to one nominee was at stake. We know that another nominee in the mold of Justice Neil Gorsuch would get their votes; Gorsuch already got their votes. The reason the GOP and White House persist in pushing Kavanaugh is specifically the desire to rally their base by stoking male grievance. That is the point of the exercise, one that Kavanaugh gladly joined when he made a base-pleasing opening statement and then wrote a party-establishment-pleasing op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.
That, Heitkamp and Murkowski ultimately could be no part of. In this case it is hard to dispute that gender played a role - because Trump and the Republicans made it about gender, about a "scary time" for men. At some level Heitkamp and Murkowski understood that. Their votes took on a greater significance precisely because the GOP has declared open season on Christine Blasey Ford, mocked and attacked women protesters and fueled misogynist sentiment.
As for Collins, she’s seemed desperate to find a rationale to support Kavanaugh, for whatever reason, be it friendship, the “cover” or some other fig leaf. Her female colleagues recognized a higher bar: the dignity of women and the legitimacy of the courts. The vote will define Collins one way or another, and her vote will reverberate for decades.