AILSA CHANG, HOST:
In the weeks since Christine Blasey Ford accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, President Trump's response has been relatively restrained. That changed completely last night when President Trump mocked Ford at a rally in Mississippi.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: How did you get home? I don't remember. How'd you get there? I don't remember. Where is the place? I don't remember. How many years ago was it? I don't know.
CHANG: And today in the White House briefing room, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders defended the president's comments. NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben has been following the president's response to all of this controversy, and she joins us now.
DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Hello.
CHANG: So as we noted, the president's tone - it shifted dramatically last night. And I just want to start out by talking about how his comments last night compared to how he's been talking about Ford up until last night.
KURTZLEBEN: Sure. So late last week after Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Trump had taken a much softer tone towards Christine Blasey Ford.
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TRUMP: I thought her testimony was very compelling, and she looks like a very fine woman to me.
KURTZLEBEN: Now, he seemed to be sort of hewing to the line that congressional Republicans seem to be hewing to, which was something to the effect of - Christine Blasey Ford seems credible. But you know, maybe she's mistaken, or I wish we had more corroborating evidence. But a lot of them use that keyword, credible. Then last night, he got up in front of this crowd, and he was mimicking her and the fact that, you know, she can't remember every single thing that happened that night. So he was really diverging from that line. And he was playing it to laughs and cheers from that audience.
CHANG: Yeah, you could hear it in the tape.
KURTZLEBEN: Yeah. And so that has people really upset today.
CHANG: So I'm curious how the response has been in the Senate because, to get Kavanaugh through, Senate Republicans are focusing on two key senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine.
CHANG: How have either of those two women responded to Trump's comments from last night?
KURTZLEBEN: Right. Well, they're not happy. Lisa Murkowski has said - her words were that it's inappropriate and unacceptable and that Trump's comments could sway her vote. Now, Susan Collins, likewise, she told CNN that it was, quote, "just plain wrong" what Trump said. And she wouldn't say if it would affect her vote.
CHANG: You know, one thing that has been swirling in the middle of all of this is the fact that Trump has talked about how he actually empathizes with Kavanaugh because he himself has been accused of sexual assault, of sexual misconduct.
KURTZLEBEN: Absolutely. He has more than a dozen accusations of misconduct against him.
KURTZLEBEN: And like Brett Kavanaugh, Trump is denying all of the allegations against him. But that's not the only echo here. I mean, let's look at how Trump has responded to those allegations. Likewise, in one of those allegations against Trump, Jessica Leeds, that woman who said he had groped her on an airplane decades ago, he also mocked her after that allegation came out. The quote that he said was, "she wouldn't be my first choice." He likewise said that to a crowd. The crowd likewise laughed and cheered. And you know, he really seemed to be saying - she's unattractive, and that wouldn't have happened, therefore.
So the important thing that we're trying to get at here, though, is that we have a pattern not only of how Trump reacts to sexual misconduct allegations but how his supporters react. And his supporters, by and large, seemed to have stuck with him through the allegations against him even if they find those allegations distasteful. It remains to be seen exactly how people will respond in the long term to these Kavanaugh allegations.
CHANG: I mean, how much is that breaking down by gender? How much have gender dynamics shaped the way people have responded to this controversy so far?
KURTZLEBEN: So gender dynamics are definitely shaping how both sides, Kavanaugh's supporters and opponents, are presenting their stories. Right? I saw an ad from Kavanaugh's opponents, for example, and the ad showed a lot of women - different colors, different ages - all watching televisions, their phones - watching videos of Christine Blasey Ford testifying. The clear message seemed to be, she is the protagonist; put yourself in her shoes, in women's shoes. Think about what it's like to tell your story before God and country and not be believed.
Well, then, Trump has said various things like, you know, think of your sons. Think of what it's like to be accused of this, to have your life taken apart by a false accusation, as he has said. So Kavanaugh's supporters seem to be saying, no, the man is the protagonist. So that is one way gender dynamics are framing the conversation here.
But when you look at how people are responding, there is a gender divide. But it is also largely a partisan divide. I mean, when you look at the polling we have on Ford and Kavanaugh over the last few weeks, Republican women are much closer to Republican men than they are to Democratic women. Likewise, Democratic women and Democratic men are very close together. So those divides - largely partisan.
CHANG: That's NPR political reporter Danielle Kurtzleben.
KURTZLEBEN: Thank you.
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