Are you ready to party like it’s November 1998? According to The Hill’s Amie Parnes, one party wants to make an upcoming midterm election all about the president’s sexual peccadilloes, while the other insists that it has nothing to do with the job. It’s just like old times! Well, except that the libertines and puritans have swapped sides:
Democrats say their party should seize on President Trump’s alleged affairs with adult film star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal to highlight flaws in the president’s character and credibility. …
One top Democratic strategist acknowledged the issue was “complicated” because “no one voted for Donald Trump on the basis of his personal morals.”
But the strategist said the story “will help rev up our base” while potentially diminishing GOP turnout at the polls.
“Even a small drop in evangelical support for Republicans would be devastating,” the strategist said. “You want to dampen Republican enthusiasm. We should take a lesson from the Republican playbook and let an ‘all of the above’ strategy take hold from different messengers across different targeted platforms.”
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Twenty years ago, Republicans tried making the case that the Clenis was an embarrassment to the office, while Democrats insisted that it was all just about sex and had nothing to do with Bill Clinton’s performance. The group MoveOn formed as an e-mail effort to get Congress to “move on” from the Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones scandals, both of which had to do with Bill’s below-the-waist maneuvers — one consensual, the other decidedly not so. If hypocrisy could be turned into electricity, Washington DC would burn brightly forever without an ounce of oil, coal, or as much as a breeze for a wind turbine.
Given that Democrats most recently nominated Hillary Clinton to run against Trump and dodged the issue of Bill’s past until a year after she lost, this history seems a little more relevant to their new project. No one has suggested that Trump’s alleged relationships with Daniels or McDougal were anything but consensual, and both of them took place and ended long before Trump ran for the presidency. The same party that seemed to have no problem putting Bill back in his old predatory stomping grounds now wants to have a character debate about past affairs? Riiiiiiiight.
But will it work? A new Morning Consult poll casts a little doubt on the proposition:
By a roughly 5-to-1 margin, voters believe Donald Trump had an affair with adult film star Stormy Daniels before he became president, according to a new poll that also suggests those figures are doing little to swing public opinion of the commander-in-chief.
In a Morning Consult/Politico survey, conducted in the two days immediately following CBS’ March 25 “60 Minutes” interview with Daniels in which she provided new details surrounding the alleged 2006 tryst, 56 percent of respondents said they believe Trump had an affair with the adult film actress, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. Nine percent disagreed.
The share of voters who said the Daniels matter did not make much difference either way in their opinion of the president rose to a 46 percent plurality from a 39 percent plurality two weeks ago.
Also worth noting is the result of another question on the survey. A majority of respondents (52/37) believe extramarital affairs by presidents is a common occurrence. Oddly, Democrats are the least skeptical of political demos here, splitting slightly against the grain at 44/47, while independents (54/33) and Republicans (58/30) operate with more cynical expectations. Given that only one modern president has been caught in flagrante delicto (or at least in hyacintho habitu delicto), and that the one president was Bill Clinton, the cynicism is actually surprising. We found out later about JFK’s amorous pursuits, but that’s only two in the past several decades in an environment that has turned more and more into a fishbowl.
That cynicism will play against the Democratic strategy here, as will the fact that Trump had already been seen negatively even before getting elected. In fact, Democrats tried hard to run this campaign in 2016 — remember “deplorables”? It didn’t work because Hillary Clinton (and Bill) had plenty of their own “deplorable” baggage, especially on this point.
However, running the same campaign without Hillary on the ballot may work a little better, and maybe all Democrats need is a little bit better. If they can blunt evangelical enthusiasm in November even marginally, that might be enough to gain an advantage in close House races where Trump either lost or narrowly won in 2016. Get ready for lots of Stormy weather in November.