The answer to this puzzle is Trumpism. Trumpism, at its core, is a rebellion against changes in American society that undermine traditional hierarchies. It’s based on the belief that these changes, rather than promoting fairness for historically oppressed groups, actually promote “political correctness”: the oppression of white, native-born Christian men. To understand the conservative response to the allegations against Kavanaugh, a few data points are useful. From 2013 to 2018, according to the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), the percentage of Republicans who said that in the U.S. “there is a lot of discrimination against women” fell by half, from 28 to 14 percent. (Among Democrats during the same period it rose from 55 to 71 percent). By contrast, from 2012 to 2016, the percentage of Republicans who said men face a “great deal” or a “lot” of discrimination doubled, from 9 to 18 percent. (Among Democrats it declined slightly). And in 2016, according to PRRI, 68 percent of Donald Trump supporters said American society is becoming “too soft and feminine.”
If you’re already inclined to believe that America increasingly victimizes men simply for acting like men, the accusations against Kavanaugh confirm your fears. First, because if these charges can sink Kavanaugh, they can sink lots of other men, too. “Is there any man in this room that wouldn’t be subjected to such an allegation?” asked Republican Representative Steve King of Iowa earlier this week. The #MeToo movement has established just how pervasive sexual harassment and assault are, and conservatives suspect that Democrats and the media will weaponize such allegations to destroy as many prominent Republicans as possible. Which means that if the GOP can’t hold the line on Kavanaugh, it faces an endless series of Kavanaugh-style scandals. As the conservative pundit Erick Erickson tweeted on Wednesday, “If they cannot confirm Kavanaugh, they cannot confirm anyone. This is the beginning of a new age of judicial character assassination and it only gets worse from here.”
Even more alarming for many conservatives is that, until recently, Kavanaugh’s alleged offenses would have carried few consequences. Liberals have moved the goalposts. It’s a bit like the complaint that conservatives are now called bigots for opposing gay marriage—for retaining a view that was mainstream and bipartisan not long ago. Conservatives are acutely aware that liberals wield more influence than they do over America’s shifting norms of cultural acceptability. Which means, again, that Kavanaugh might be just the beginning. Who knows—conservatives worry—what previously tolerated behavior liberals might try to destroy Republicans for practicing next?