SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — President Trump on Friday continued his efforts to rally supporters behind Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, calling him a “fantastic man” who was “born to be on” the high court.
Trump touted Kavanaugh at the second campaign rally in two nights, this one in front of an enthusiastic crowd here at the JQH Arena. The president told his supporters that Kavanaugh — a D.C. Circuit Court judge who has been accused by a woman of sexually assaulting her during a party while they were in high school more than three decades ago — was “out of central casting.”
After refraining from attacking Christine Blasey Ford’s account for several days, Trump, in a morning tweet, had questioned why she had not immediately reported the allegations. Ford has not yet agreed to testify to Congress, even as Republican leaders are pressing for a hearing Monday and threatening to move forward with a vote on Kavanaugh if she does not participate.
At the rally, Trump said: “We have to fight for him — and by the way, not worry about the other side and by the way, women are for that more than anybody would understand.”
Trump’s event was aimed at boosting the chances of Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R), who is challenging incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill (D).
In his own brief remarks, Hawley praised Trump for following through on a promise to nominate “pro-Constitution judges” to the Supreme Court — “judges who love the Constitution, judges who love our country, judges like Brett Kavanaugh.”
Standing on a stage flanked by “Promises made” and “Promises kept” signs, Trump declared the crowd “broke every record they had.” In the arena, which was mostly full but with some empty seats in the upper rows, supporters waved signs with the familiar slogans: “Drain the swamp,” “Women for Trump” and “Make America proud again.”
In the front section of the arena, a middle-aged man had drawn a “Q” on his Trump-Pence 2020 sign to represent the QAnon conspiracy theory. Another man waved a “Keep America Great” sign with “Expose 9/11” written at the top and a third sported an Infowars T-shirt, a website that earlier Friday was banned by PayPal and has gained increased attention recently for spreading misinformation online.
In the front row, Laura Gordon cheered as Trump opened the rally with a series of his favorite lines: touting the success of the stock market, praising law enforcement and declaring that “America is winning again.” Gordon and her husband, of Springfield, had waited in line for about five hours to hear the president speak.
Gordon, who sported a pink “Women for Trump” shirt, said the first thing she wanted to hear Trump address “is the latest on Kavanaugh.” She didn’t have to wait long.
“I thought you were innocent in this country until proven guilty,” Gordon said of the allegations against Kavanaugh.
Some of the loudest boos of the night were for McCaskill, who Trump declared “loves the swamp” and will never cast votes to support him.
McCaskill is one of four Democratic incumbents running in Senate races considered toss-ups by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, an independent analyst of political races. Defeating McCaskill and Democrats like her is essential if Republicans want to blunt the impact of potential losses elsewhere and to expand their current 51-49 control of the Senate.
McCaskill, who is seeking her third term, had been one of the few Democrats on the fence about Kavanaugh, but she recently announced that she will not vote for him. She cited his opposition to restrictions on unfettered campaign donations “which places him completely out of the mainstream of this nation.”
Among the crowd, Trump supporters were united that Kavanaugh should be confirmed. In line ahead of the rally, some said Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh are too old to be taken seriously, while others said Kavanaugh should not be judged for his actions more than 30 years ago. Still others suggested she had been “paid off” by Democrats hoping to smear Kavanaugh’s reputation.
“I don’t remember what I did yesterday, much less what I did 36 years ago,” said David Smith, 65, the CFO of a manufacturing company. “There’s a reason we don’t vote until we’re 18 and drink until we’re 21.”
Smith said he does not think Kavanaugh has been treated fairly by the media, or Democrats in the Senate. He attended the rally with his 15 year-old grandson, Wyatt Smith, who added that “no one believes her because she waited such a long time to come forward.”
Kristin Wiggins, 44, of Sparta, Mo., and her daughters, ages 16 and 20, agreed that if Kavanaugh did sexually assault Ford when they were in high school, as she alleges, then he should be held accountable.
“It’s not too young to take responsibility for your actions,” Wiggins said. “When you’re in high school you make mistakes like staying out late, but not like this.”
But Wiggins said she does not believe Ford is telling the truth because of the timing of her allegations. Ford has said she did not tell anyone about the incident — in which she alleged Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed, groped her and covered her mouth when she tried to scream — until 2012, when she was in couples therapy with her husband.
“If she said something 20 or 30 years ago, I would have believed her,” Wiggins said. “No, I just feel like she was paid off.”
Dean Savage, also of Sparta, declared that he is “sick of the liberals and what they’re doing. . . it’s all about delaying and obstructing.”
“I’m not sure if I believe her,” Savage said. “But at 73, I would hate to be judged for what happened in my high school days.”
For Shelly Barr, who has been glued to the TV for every moment of the Kavanaugh hearings, Ford’s allegations strike a personal chord. Barr, 53, said she was raped by a college student at a party when she was 16. She said she still remembers every detail of that night, which she for years spoke only with one friend about. She questioned why Ford could not recall exactly when or where the alleged assault happened.
“Coming from a person who knows quite a bit about it, you remember everything,” said Barr, who waited in line hours ahead of the rally with her daughter.
Jacob Murphy, 18, said he’s not sure whether Ford’s accusations are truthful but would like to hear her testify so he can see what she has to say. Murphy, a freshman at Missouri State, said that if Ford’s accusations are credible, then Kavanaugh should not be confirmed.
“I’ve never done something like that, and you should be held accountable no matter what your age is,” he said.
He said he isn’t sure what to make of the accusations of sexual assault against Trump, who he said he “sort of” supports.
“Maybe they’re true, maybe they’re not, I’m not sure,” he said. “Who am I to judge?”
Nakamura reported from Washington.
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