In a rather awkward example of political theater in the age of Trump, one of the most highly anticipated interviews of the season (at least among liberals and Trump opponents) will be with a porn star. Tonight’s interview with Stormy Daniels (conducted by CNN’s Anderson Cooper) is being billed in some quarters as The Big One. Other observers are a bit more reserved in their expectations and with good reason. Given the ongoing battles over the NDA the actress signed and questions of whether or not she’s going to wind up owing $20M for violating it, it’s still possible that she won’t end up dishing too many specifics to Cooper or revealing any of the “multimedia proof” she allegedly has to offer.
But if it’s not a total bust, CNN is still out there swinging for the fences in terms of promoting it. One op-ed from Julian Zelizer bears a title which seems to set the mood the network is looking for. “Why the Stormy Daniels interview should scare Republicans.”
Scary, huh? But if so, not for the reasons you might think. Zelizer actually begins the piece by shooting down a number of scenarios which Trump opponents might have been hoping for. At this point, it doesn’t much matter whether you believe that the alleged affair took place or not. Let’s just say that, given Trump’s track record from his previous marriages and his many interviews over the years with Howard Stern, Access Hollywood and Playboy, it probably wouldn’t come as a particular shock to the system for anyone if it’s true. (The key exception there is the First Lady, particularly since I’m not sure what her habits are regarding carrying cutlery around in the West Wing.) Zelizer admits as much, saying that, “most of the public already has a pretty good sense of who the President is as a person,” as well as noting that Trump’s evangelical supporters, “never believed that President Trump was an angel.”
I was rather shocked when the author speculated that confirmation of the affair “could play into Robert Mueller’s investigation.” Seriously? I thought Mueller was looking into Russian collusion. Did Daniels spend any time working the stripper pole in Moscow by chance?
So if most of this is unlikely to have much impact at the ballot box, what reason does Zelizer offer to justify Republicans being “scared?” It all comes down to the women’s vote.
But one way that the Daniels story could have a very real political effect is in its ability to further energize the women’s vote, especially that of white college-educated females. From the start of his presidency, Trump has had a gender problem. Hillary Clinton won 54% of the women’s vote. The first mass protest against his presidency, the Women’s March on January 21, 2017, drew hundreds of thousands of women from all over the country.
The president has done nothing to allay the concerns that he is a sexist-in-chief who is dismissive of any policies that aim to achieve gender equity and who is prone to espousing the kind of “locker room talk,” as he called it, that was on display in the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape that emerged during the election. While many Americans had been hopeful that Clinton’s candidacy would signal a historic milestone in the fight for gender quality, the story turned out differently. The victory of Trump felt to many women like a huge step backward.
How exactly would that work? The two possibilities are that women might be angry at Trump for cheating on Melania or they might see Daniels as a victim of a powerful man during the throes of the Me Too moment. I can’t rule out either entirely, but both seem problematic on some level.
Cheating on Melania? Women won’t like that for the most part, but as Zeilzer already pointed out, it’s not going to come as a shock to anyone who has been paying attention. One more log on a fire that’s been burning for decades, really. Trump was a playboy. A billionaire developer and celebrity who lived a life of luxury and attracted women in droves, never seeming to mind that particular side-effect too much.
So is it the idea of Stormy Daniels as a #MeToo victim? That one seems to land with a bit of a thud also. Assuming the allegations are true, it was a consensual affair ending with her voluntary agreement to keep it a secret and accepting a cash payment to ensure her lips remained sealed. It doesn’t sound like she was dragged into the situation kicking and screaming. Even now, with all of the revelations and salacious stories swirling around her, it’s obviously not hurting her career.
I’d like to say that I’m not going to lower myself to watch this interview, but sadly I’m not that pure of heart and purpose. I’ll admit it. I’ll probably watch, if only to see how my predictions here play out.