Wearing "I stand with Brett" and "Women for Kavanaugh" T-shirts, a group of about 10 women cut a path through the crowd of protestors assembled in the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building on Thursday, largely wordless but speaking volumes with their confidence. In contrast to the anti-Kavanaugh protestors with "I believe survivors" pins, who were dressed to rage against the white male establishment, some of them embraced traditional ideas of femininity with high heels and carefully curled hair.
Support for Judge Brett Kavanaugh among Republican women rose to 69% in the days after he and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday, according to a Morning Consult/Politico poll. This figure went up from 49% in a poll conducted September 20 to 23. Overall, the survey found that 40% of voters oppose Kavanaugh's confirmation while 37% support it.
It's possible that Kavanaugh's forceful, emotional testimony swayed some women; 46% of people overall say they would describe him as "strong," according to the poll. Whatever the reason, one thing is clear: After both testimonies, opinions have intensified and voters have become even more entrenched in their partisan views, stoking passion on both sides in the lead-up to the midterm elections. Now, the majority of Republican women have joined the president, who has been accused of sexual assault and misconduct by 19 women, in undermining Dr. Ford's credibility.
"I don't know one Republican woman who doesn't support him," Pam Stevens, Kavanaugh's former colleague in the George W. Bush White House, tells Refinery29. In August, Stevens signed a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee leaders in the judge's support. She says she doesn't find Dr. Ford credible because "there are no corroborating witnesses and no evidence" in the case.
I would like Brett to be on the court today.
Pam Stevens, worked with Brett Kavanaugh in the West Wing
Leland Keyser, the friend who Dr. Ford says was there during the assault, has said she believes Dr. Ford although she has no recollection of the party in question. Various experts, both in law and psychology, have found Dr. Ford's testimony credible. But Stevens is not alone. According to the Morning Consult/Politico survey, 64% of Republican women said the word "credible" does not describe Dr. Ford well, compared to 15% who said it did. Overall, 44% of women said they think she's credible, and 30% said she is not, which is in line with voters overall.
Stevens, who worked with Kavanaugh for close to three years and says she didn't spend time with him socially, says the allegations are inconsistent with what she knows about him. "I never observed him as anything other than a total professional and gentle soul. He was always kind and respectful of everyone he came into contact with," she says. She also described him as a hard worker who would be "in by 6:50 a.m." every morning.
"I would like Brett to be on the court today," she concludes.
For others, his qualifications and judicial record trump any potential misconduct. "In light of the recent allegations, we still continue to stand with Judge Kavanaugh," Patrice Onwuka, a senior policy analyst at the Independent Women's Forum, a conservative nonprofit that grew out of a group created to defend Judge Clarence Thomas in 1992, tells Refinery29.
She continues: "The allegations such as those by Dr. Christine Ford remain unsubstantiated and uncorroborated even by the witnesses she provided. Conservative women support Judge Brett Kavanaugh because we believe he will uphold the highest law of our land and respect the role of the Supreme Court to interpret — not make — new law or social policy," partisan comments about the Clintons notwithstanding.
While the majority support him, around one-third of Republican women don't back Kavanaugh, with some saying they have become disappointed in him after Dr. Ford's allegations.
"As a conservative, I was initially pleased with the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh, based on his originalist philosophy, although I disagree with his interpretation of executive power," Erica Lizza, a 21-year-old senior at Georgetown University, tells Refinery29. "After learning more about Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's allegations and hearing Kavanaugh's response, I no longer support his nomination. There are simply too many unanswered questions and contradictions in Kavanaugh's account to believe that he is fully innocent."
After learning more about Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's allegations and hearing Kavanaugh's response, I no longer support his nomination.
Erica Lizza, student
Lizza adds that she's incredibly disappointed by the reactions she's seen from many conservatives who are willing to overlook the allegations because they're politically damaging. "Condemning sexual assault should not be a partisan issue," she says.
Amanda Saxon, who is 33 and lives in Jacksonville, FL, says that although she is unsure whether or not Kavanaugh "knows he is guilty," she doesn't think he should be confirmed, and does believe Dr. Ford. To the friends and coworkers of his who say they know a different Kavanaugh than the one the women's stories have presented, she wants to say, "You can have a million friendships and healthy sexual encounters with women and still be sexually inappropriate or even assault someone."
Saxon, who says she's a longtime registered Republican but did not vote for Trump, echoed a chorus of voices who suggested what Kavanaugh could have said to appear more credible in his testimony if he believes he's truly innocent. According to Saxon, Kavanaugh could have said: "Honestly I don’t believe I did this. I am a good man whose record has been positive up to this point. I did drink a lot in high school. I couldn’t handle the pressure. I was sexually immature and came from a religious family who didn’t talk about it. I’m mortified of the possibility of this event occurring but I don’t know that it happened. I will do everything in my power going forward to make sure women are protected and respected and that both sexes come of age in a culture that is different. Including my two young daughters."
For many of the women storming the Senate with "I believe survivors" signs, the fact that Republican women have not only continued, but strengthened their support for Kavanaugh, despite the allegations and the aggressively bro-ish behavior that followed, comes across as yet another example of internalized misogyny — which some say is responsible for 53% of white women voting for Trump. "Republican participants and those who voted for Trump reported the highest levels of internalized misogyny, adherence to traditional gender roles, and both types of sexism," concluded a recent Utah State University paper.
But some Republican women are aware of the painful gender dynamics this debacle has once again called up.
"If our society doesn't change, then I am truly fearful for my children," says Saxon, who has two sons, ages 4 and almost 2. "I will not allow my boys to grow up in a world where men are taught that sex is something to take and girls are taught it’s something we owe or give. We have to do better."
I will not allow my boys to grow up in a world where men are taught that sex is something to take and girls are taught it’s something we owe or give.
The FBI is wrapping up its expanded background investigation into allegations from Dr. Ford and Deborah Ramirez, with the Senate getting ready to head into a vote this week. But plenty of questions remain, including why the bureau hasn't contacted Kavanaugh, Dr. Ford, or Julie Swetnick, Kavanaugh's third accuser who says he was present when she was gang raped, as well as dozens of potential witnesses. President Trump has only further divided the discourse by mocking Dr. Ford at a recent rally.
The pivotal Republican women in the vote, of course, are Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who are still reportedly undecided and are getting calls around the clock from constituents trying to influence their vote. And for most Republican women in Congress, as Politico reported, "party loyalty trumps #MeToo."