Republican Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., often take a lot of flack from conservatives, and throughout the confirmation process of Brett Kavanaugh, their mixed signals were a source of angina for many on the Right. They wavered, and delayed the process, and seemingly played right into the Democrats' hands, but in the end, they put Kavanaugh over the top and helped ensure that he'd reach the Supreme Court in a much stronger position than he otherwise would have.
In a dramatic 43-minute speech, Collins on Friday afternoon put an end to months of suspense by announcing she would vote "yes" on Kavanaugh, clearing the way for his confirmation. But the speech ended up being a masterful, sober, passionate, closing argument for Kavanaugh that swatted down, point-by-point, the arguments made against his nomination.
Collins started by noting how opponents were prepared to run a scorched Earth campaign against any nominee, and lamented the decline of the confirmation process to a "gutter level political campaign." She then went through his legal history in detail, knocking down the idea that he was going to shield President Trump from wrongdoing if the law said otherwise, or the idea that he was chomping at the bit to overturn Roe v. Wade.
She eventually got to the issue that has dominated news coverage for the past several weeks — accusations that Kavanaugh committed sexual assault when he was a young man. Though she was respectful of Christine Blasey Ford, Collins said, "certain fundamental legal principles about due process, the presumption of innocence, and fairness do bear on my thinking, and I cannot abandon them."
In detail, she explained how there were too many gaps in Ford's story, and a total lack of corroboration, and so it seemed in the end more likely than not that Kavanaugh did not commit the act, though she said she believed Ford did suffer from an assault.
The speech was well-reasoned, and relied on a lot of the same arguments as many conservatives had been making it, but because she's held her cards close to the vest and has bucked the party before, the arguments will be harder to dismiss then if they were coming from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, again.
Likewise, when Flake last Friday called for a one-week delay to allow for an FBI investigation, like many conservatives, I thought he had been had by Democrats. But as John McCormack has detailed, the week delay actually gave Kavanaugh more time to clear his name, as evidence kept coming out giving credence to his account and raising questions about Ford's story. It also defanged a Democratic attack about there being no FBI investigation.
So-called centrists (or eclectic members like Flake) often frustrate conservatives, especially when they block important priorities (as Collins did by opposing Obamacare repeal). But this process also showed us the advantage to conservatives of having a more diverse party, and certainly allowing for somebody like Collins to serve in a more liberal state like Maine.
There are no doubt times when Collins will bother conservatives going forward (and Flake, after leaving the Senate, will likely say things that those on the Right find annoying), but conservatives should remember this week, when they locked in a major victory.