After his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, delivered a compelling, sympathetic performance earlier in the day, Kavanaugh entered the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with his chances hanging by a thread.
Commentators speculated about how he'd inevitably be dumped by the GOP. Instead, he transformed his situation with a sustained exercise in righteous indignation as forceful and compelling, in its way, as Clarence Thomas' attack on a "high-tech lynching" that saved his nomination in 1991.
Kavanaugh had been stilted and overly programmed prior to Thursday, including in his initial round of Senate hearings and in an interview with Fox News earlier in the week. But, after days of enduring a process of unprecedented nastiness, Kavanaugh didn't hold anything back.
In his opening statement, he was personal about the devastating effects of the charges levied against him, both on his reputation and on his family. He was excoriating about how Ford's allegation was handled by Senate Democrats, who sat on it until the last moment. He scorned the ridiculous charges that have been layered on since, including that he was party to gang rapes. He invoked all he had invested in public service and in his friendships over the years. He expressed regret, as he should, over juvenile references in his high school yearbook. He acknowledged enjoying beer, as a teenager and still as an adult. And he was angry, very angry, at the Democrats who have attacked his integrity and welcomed any bottom-feeding allegation, including a grotesque smear dredged up publicity-hungry lawyer Michael Avenatti.
His face was distorted in fury, he had trouble composing himself, and at times he wept. This was an incredibly raw performance by the standards of Washington and especially by the standards of Senate confirmation hearings.
Immediately, the same opponents of Kavanaugh who have been portraying him as a monster took great umbrage that he'd be angry at being portrayed as a monster. Look, they said, he lacks a judicial temperament!
But how is a person who maintains his innocence supposed to react when a political party will credit any allegation against him, when swaths of the media presume his guilt, when every aspect of his teenage years -- including notations in his yearbook -- are used against him, when all the testimonials in his favor and his decades of spotless public service mean nothing?
Kavanaugh's anger over these kinds of attacks says nothing about his jurisprudence. His extensive opinions as a D.C. Circuit Court judge are all carefully reasoned and written. His opinions on the Supreme Court, should he make it there, will no doubt be the same. Hearing a case or writing an opinion isn't the same as defending your integrity in a high-stakes political showdown.
The most difficult challenge Kavanaugh had was pushing back on Christine Blasey Ford's allegation that he sexually assaulted her in high school, without seeming harsh or dismissive. He didn't contest that she was assaulted and expressed sympathy for her -- in fact, in an emotional moment, he related how his daughter suggested praying for her.
But he persuasively made the case that there isn't evidence of her contention that he was the perpetrator. The four people Ford has named as being present at the party in question say they don't recall it, and Kavanaugh's calendar that served as something of a journal suggests he was often out of town or otherwise accounted for on summer weekends in 1982, the year of the alleged incident.
Brett Kavanaugh, like all Supreme Court nominees, has carefully calculated his way through his public career. But if he gets on the court, it will be because he abandoned the usual constraints and showed the nation a powerfully human reaction to the attacks on him. His opening statement may well end up changing the course of the Supreme Court, and of our politics.