It was not about Stormy Daniels, it was about Donald Trump.
With a huge TV audience watching Anderson Cooper interview her on “60 Minutes” on Sunday, the adult film star who said she was paid to keep silent about her 2006 sexual encounter with the married man and future president served as a mirror that reflected Trump’s dishonesty and disrespectful nature for all the world to see.
“He knows I’m telling the truth,” declared Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. She then went on to describe a mutually exploitative relationship consistent with the Donald Trump known by many. As in so many things, Trump apparently approached his time with Daniels as a transaction, and he used Trump-like superlatives — he called her “special” she reported — to sweeten the exchange.
Like the Playboy model Karen McDougal, who told of an affair with Trump in another interview with Anderson Cooper on Thursday, Daniels said Trump spoke of how she reminded him of his eldest daughter Ivanka. And like McDougal, Daniels mentioned that Trump dangled a reward for the sex. McDougal said she was offered cash, which she said she refused. Daniels said Trump suggested she could appear on his TV show, “Celebrity Apprentice.”
Although she said she doubted the TV gig would materialize, “at the same time,” she added, “maybe it will work out.” It didn’t. (Trump’s spokespeople have denied the allegations of affairs.)
In calmly responding to Cooper’s questions, Daniels gave the lie to anyone who would dismiss her intelligence. Unlike the President, who often speaks in a disjointed way that is full of emotion and devoid of meaning, she offered declarative sentences that left no doubt about her meaning
Yes, she had an affair with Trump that began shortly after his wife, Melania, gave birth to his youngest son.
Yes, the man who would be president did not practice safe sex.
No, she’s not willing to be silent.
None of what Daniels told Cooper about her experience seemed inconsistent with what we know already about Trump and his team. The affair is what we expect from a man with his record of scandal and heedless self-indulgence. The hush money aligns with his transactional nature. Lawyer Michael Cohen’s claim to have paid it himself out of personal concern for his boss is consistent with the cult-like devotion common among longtime employees of the Trump organization. Enabling seems to be in the job description for everyone who seeks to remain in Trump’s service.
Her tale of an attempted cover-up had elements familiar to seasoned Trump-watchers. First there was Cohen, his longtime lawyer, serving as the aide who sought to make something unpleasant go away. Then came the alleged effort at intimidation, which is something I experienced personally when Cohen was concerned about my book about Trump and threatened to sue if I didn’t do what he wanted. (Cohen said to Vanity Fair, “I have never threatened her in any way, and I am unaware of anyone else doing so.”)
The interview, and Cooper’s additional reporting, did not leave Daniels unscathed. She had to account for three statements she made denying the affair. However, unlike Trump, who seems incapable of taking responsibility for any of the thousands of distortions he has made, Daniels copped to her deceptions. “I was concerned for my family,” she said convincingly, “and for their safety.”
Although some seem willing to grant Trump endless mulligans for his sins against his family, and the basic tenets of human decency, the much-awaited Daniels interview undoubtedly turned even some ardent supporters against the man in the Oval Office.
How did Daniels come to play this role? Proud to identify herself as an adult entertainer, she is invulnerable to the President’s usual methods of counterattack, which involve degrading others who present themselves in conventional terms — remember the names he called political opponents? — and attempting to make them seem hypocritical. No one is in a better position to call out Trump than the woman who came forward to name herself as his partner in infidelity and note that it was he who pursued her.
Daniels offered a direct and credible account of how, just before the 2016 election, Cohen paid her $130,000 to keep quiet about Trump, who by then was the GOP candidate for the presidency. Cohen has said it had nothing to do with the campaign, but the timing suggests it did. More recently Cohen sought to enforce a nondisclosure agreement, but Daniels defied him and his client by speaking out.
Besides Daniels’ candor, one can’t help but be impressed by her tactical brilliance.
Outplaying Trump at his own game, Stormy Daniels showed that she knows the media-savvy world hates hypocrisy and lies. A stripper and porn star by trade, she has never pretended to be someone she’s not and has a reputation for demanding respect. Recent press profiles suggest she set high business standards for herself and others. Unlike the President, who pretended to fire people on TV but won’t do so directly in real life, Daniels is known for dismissing those who fail her, and she does it face to face and on the spot.
The political impact of the must-watch interview will develop over time. It speaks to the current state of politics in the era of Trump that an interview with a porn actress can be as influential as this one is likely to be.
Should the fever of fear, confusion and acquiescence that has marked the Trump era begin to break, we can thank Stormy Daniels.