At its core, what is the Stormy Daniels story about?
I ask this because the Daniels topic, just entering its seventh week in the news spotlight, has become so choked with details, nuance and avenues of entry that it’s easy to get confused. What we need is one of those mnemonic devices where you imagine a physical location—like a palace—and fill its rooms, closets, vestibules and floors with the scandal’s factual detritus to maintain perspective.
As we enter the memory palace, let’s make the first of our many deposits: Is the Daniels story primarily about the original allegation, sourced to Daniels, of a sexual affair spanning the years 2006 and 2007 with Donald Trump? If so, do we now all agreed that despite Trump’s adamant denial through his attorney, Michael Cohen, that such affair really happened? So the story is about sex, right?
Or is it about money? Everybody concedes that Cohen paid Daniels the sum of $130,000 in October 2016, just before the election, to button her lip. How likely is it that Trump would deny having sex with a woman but would pay her through a cutout to make sure she never claimed that they did have sex? Is the deeper story here one about Daniels being a gold digger who exploited their consensual relationship for financial gain?
Or is the story really about sex? Thanks to the various reports, we now know that around the time Trump allegedly trysted with Daniels, he is believed to have gotten it on with a Playboy model. So the story just isn’t about philandering but serial philandering? The philandering came four months after Melania Trump give birth to Trump’s son Barron, which makes it post-partum sex with a woman not his wife.
Or is the Daniels story primarily a legal one? Lord knows we have a half-dozen bullet items to support this contention. Take your pick: Daniels has filed a lawsuit against Trump, demanding release from a 2016 nondisclosure agreement that she signed but he did not. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders says the president “won” the case in arbitration. NBC News now reports that Cohen has obtained a new “secret” restraining order to silence her. The do-gooder group Common Cause has filed a campaign finance complaint saying the $130,000 payoff amounts to an undeclared in-kind donation to Trump’s presidential campaign. Elsewhere, legal beagles are alleging legal misconduct by Cohen that might lead to his disbarment. If Daniels took the $130,000 omerta check, does she deserve our criticism for using a technicality—that Trump didn’t sign the agreement—for going back on her promise to stay silent?
For those who put morality first, the Daniels story is probably about the adulterous, lying ways of politicians—and about the hypocrisy of Trump voters. As Kirsten Powers put it last night on CNN, the people who voted for Donald Trump do care when Democrats tomcat around but don’t care when Republicans do it. And vice versa.
With a nod to Watergate, maybe the real story is about Trump’s alleged cover-up. That is, we shouldn’t care so much about what he did as to the measures he took—including lying—to conceal it.
For those who put morality last, the story isn’t a story at all. They’re quick to point at Bill Clinton and cite the whatabout principle. For them, Trump’s affair with Daniels didn’t happen, but if it did it happened it happened a long, long time ago before Trump was a candidate so it doesn’t matter and the payoff and the coverup and the legal complications don’t matter, either. (If you’re especially pressed for time and don’t want to read about the Daniels affair, I suggest you endorse this interpretation.)
The takeaway that probably fits everybody, from pro-Trumpers to anti-Trumpers, is that the 45th president has successfully demolished a norm so outrageous that nobody ever thought to spell out as a norm: Presidential Candidates Should Never Get Caught Having Sex With Adult Film Actors.
Or is Stormy Daniels a press story? You recall that in October 2016, just before the election, Fox News spiked its story about a Daniels and Trump liaison. Send your Daniels musing to Shafer.Politico@gmail.com. My email alerts supported the president even after he stood in the middle of Fifth Avenue shot that guy and didn’t lose any voters. My Twitter feed blushes at the mention of adult films. My RSS feed failed its audition to star in an adult film.