It would seem very fitting if an attempt to bury a sordid affair, rather than a lengthy and expensive special counsel investigation or the antics of congressional Democrats or even a re-election defeat by a fellow television star, proved to be Trump’s undoing. Far more so than the remote possibility of Russian collusion, the Daniels mess speaks to the essence of the man and his personality. Trump may not be Vladimir Putin’s handpicked agent in the new Cold War, but he is vulgar, perverted, indifferent to the consequences of his worst decisions, addicted to pointless conspiracies, a liar, and, of course, a cheapskate who would try to get away with not paying his craven associate even if there were not important legal reasons preventing him from doing so.
Even now it’s not entirely clear why he might have bothered asking Cohen to arrange the non-disclosure agreement, even at the height of the campaign. What exactly is Daniels sitting on? Lewd messages? We already knew about that sort of thing from the Billy Bush tapes. Pornographic images or videos of the former Apprentice host? Maybe. But how many votes at the margin would the release of a blurry photo of a hulking blood-orange mass of naked flesh have cost him? Trump should have let the photos come out. He could have denied that it was him in the pictures. He could even have invented a new character to take credit for them. Very few sensible people would be persuaded that it was actually Larry Platypus or Bill Stumper in whatever state of undress Daniels claims to have captured our 45th president, but it might have been enough to appease the conscience of a Franklin Graham or a Tony Perkins.