Her decision, in the end, couldn’t be any simpler. Either Sen. Susan Collins believes Christine Blasey Ford or she doesn’t.

“It’s very difficult to assess credibility if you don’t get to see the person or hear them,” Collins told reporters in Portland on Friday. “And that’s what I want.”

Don’t we all.

Just over a week ago, Maine’s senior senator seemed all but certain to join her fellow Senate Republicans in quickly installing Judge Brett Kavanaugh on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Now, after all the testimony, research, two lengthy conversations with the nominee and a tidal wave of voter sentiment from Maine and far beyond, Collins finds herself confronted by a question that has nothing to do with Kavanaugh’s judicial record and everything to do with his character:

Did he, or did he not, pin Ford to a bed during a raucous high school party 36 years ago, hold his hand over her mouth so she couldn’t scream, and clumsily attempt to remove her bathing suit before she broke free and escaped what she thought was an imminent rape?

Ford says he did. Kavanaugh says he didn’t.

For Collins, whose vote will be pivotal, along with fellow Republicans Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, it’s a binary choice. There is no room for compromise here, no chance to cut a deal or trade this vote for that promise.

Assuming Ford and the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, hammer out the ground rules for her appearance before the committee later this week, the California psychologist and college professor will be like no other witness in the long parade that preceded her.

Ford will be under oath, to be sure. But this will be no court of law, where the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt might well prove insurmountable in a decades-old case like this.

This is about a job promotion, albeit to a seat on the highest court in the land. At the end of Ford’s testimony, each of us – Collins included – will know in our gut whether we believe her or not, whether Kavanaugh is the pillar of integrity he claims to be or someone far less statuesque.

Collins might well be tempted, upon hearing Ford tell her story, to throw up her hands, declare “I don’t know which of them is telling the truth,” and fall in line behind Kavanaugh, comfortable in her self-assurance that she simply couldn’t take sides.

But she will have taken sides. Spin it as she might, a vote for Kavanaugh will be a vote against Ford, a tacit admission that she supports the accused because she can’t quite bring herself to believe the accuser.

Which brings us to the central question: How prepared is Collins, one of the most powerful women in the country, to believe Christine Blasey Ford?

Many of her male colleagues, in their zeal to seal a conservative majority on the court for years to come, already have debased Ford’s testimony without even hearing it.

“In the very near future, Judge Kavanaugh will be on the United States Supreme Court,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell crowed to a group of religious conservatives on Friday. “So, my friends, keep the faith, don’t get rattled by all of this. We’re going to plow right through it and do our job.”

Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, in a conference call with his state’s Republican leaders, similarly predicted Kavanaugh’s confirmation and called Ford’s allegations a mere “hiccup.”

Then there’s President Trump, who chided Ford on Twitter for not going to police 36 years ago. Collins, later noting that “sexual assaults are one of the most unreported crimes that exist,” said she was “appalled” by the president’s comment.

Actually, she should be appalled by the whole lot of them. All men, all dismissive, all clearly expecting that Collins will be there when they need her.

Collins would do well, while there’s still time, to wonder why McConnell & Co. seem so comfortable speaking for her.

She should also consider that Ford, since coming forward, has had to move her family because of death threats and will never again go out to dinner or get on a plane without people pointing and whispering … or worse.

What would motivate an intelligent, professional academic to jettison life as she knows it by going public with a story that she’s shared only with her husband and therapist – not just in recent months, but for years?

Some say she’s politically driven. Yet, beyond her registration as a Democrat, there’s nothing in her past to support that.

Others say she’s looking for attention. Why then, upon hearing that Justice Anthony Kennedy was retiring and that Kavanaugh might ascend to the Supreme Court, did Ford momentarily consider moving as far away as New Zealand?

Collins, like Ford, is a smart woman. Thus, she must know that Ford’s decision to jump into this political cauldron isn’t about politics or vanity or any of the other motives so callously ascribed to her by powerful men who wish she’d just shut up and go away.

Collins also must know that the vote on Kavanaugh, assuming it still happens, is no longer confined to what Kavanaugh told her during their two chats – one in person and one by phone – or what she thinks he might or might not do as an associate justice.

This is about one woman with a story to tell and another woman who, upon hearing it, will know deep down if it’s the truth.

If her gut tells her it is, Collins simply cannot vote for Kavanaugh without surrendering her own integrity.

And if she doesn’t believe Ford, she’ll have to explain to the entire country, especially its women, why she sided with the once-17-year-old boy and against the 15-year-old girl.

Watch closely, Senator Collins, and listen carefully.

There’s no middle ground this time.

 

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