One thing we can be sure of: If this Stormy Daniels thing hurts President Donald Trump politically, it will be for reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with sex.
Nobody cares whether or not the two of them once had an, um, intimate assignation. Although I do enjoy recalling that Daniels has referred to it as “the worst 90 seconds of my life.”
Right now, the most pressing question is whether Trump committed a crime during the 2016 presidential campaign when his people paid Daniels to keep quiet about their mini-affair, an affair Trump denies ever took place. His lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to breaking campaign finance laws and served more than a year in prison, but that apparently hasn’t caused Trump to question his own conduct.
“The agreement was used to stop the false and extortionist accusations made by her about an affair,” Trump tweeted a few years back. “Money from the campaign, or campaign contributions, played no roll in this transaction.”
We will stop here to note that our former president was a little off when it came to the word “role.” Only mentioning because it gives me an opportunity to recall that he once sent me a missive calling me a liar with “the face of a pig” in which he misspelled “too.”
But about the sex. Our political history shows that while people are extremely interested in hearing about politicians’ bad behavior, they don’t base their votes on it.
We’ve got a Republican presidential primary coming our way, and if Ron DeSantis is a big player, I think we can presume the Florida governor will win any morality standoff. This guy is apparently a very devoted husband whose wife, frankly, seems to be the brains behind his political career.
DeSantis has been more or less following his party’s game plan, which is to change the subject when Trump’s legal problems come up and attack Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg for presumably bringing the charges.
“I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair,” he said recently. “I just, I can’t speak to that.”
Aha! The mention-by-attacking-the-mention approach! And the adding of “alleged” to all discussions of the affair. Much better than the DeSantis tactic of citing “people like our Founding Fathers” when it comes to exemplary private behavior. Once you get past George Washington, it doesn’t take long before you are face to face with Thomas Jefferson’s four-decade entanglement with the enslaved Sally Hemings.
The grand tradition of political sex scandals goes back a long way. The ancient Romans, after all, speculated about whether the emperor Nero and his mother had an incestuous … thing going. In early America, even deeply nonrambunctious John Adams was a target; people gossiped that he’d dispatched Gen. Charles Pinckney across the Atlantic to fetch four beautiful Englishwomen for them to share. (“I declare on my honor, if this be true, General Pinckney has kept them all four to himself and cheated me of my two,” Adams declared.)
The people who are really affected by this sort of public gossip are the politicians who are the target, some of whom suffer greatly. Can’t believe Bill Clinton isn’t haunted by the fact that if one quote of his goes down in history, it’ll probably be, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”
Or take my favorite subject, Grover Cleveland, who was the target of huge headlines claiming, inaccurately, that he’d fathered an illegitimate child. None of that bothered the citizenry; he won the popular vote for president in three straight elections. But the publicity tortured him, and for years, his opponents enjoyed singing, “Ma, Ma, where’s Pa?”
Not sure Cleveland ever totally got over it, even when his supporters got to retort, “Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha.”
Now, publicity is never going to be an instrument of torture for Trump. In fact, he’s reportedly all jazzed up about the possibility of doing one of the famous “perp walks” in which a suspect is paraded by Manhattan law officers past reporters after he’s arrested.
And as we’ve seen, the American voters who liked Trump to begin with aren’t going to be turned off by a sex scandal. DeSantis’ support among Republicans actually seems to be dropping, maybe even sinking.
There are way better lines of attack. Which do you think is worse for a president of the United States?
A. Tried to bully a Georgia official into changing the election results.
B. Ignored Justice Department demands that he return a pile of classified government documents he took with him when he left office.
C. Incited his followers to attack the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
D. No, no, I’m getting a headache.
We haven’t even gotten to his advice to people who don’t love their children. That was part of a recent Trump video, in which he bragged that thanks to his reforms, farmers’ children wouldn’t have to pay inheritance tax on agricultural property.
And Trump said he had also benevolently taken into consideration landowners who “don’t love your children so much.”
Yes! “And there are some people that don’t,” he continued. “And maybe deservedly so; it won’t matter because, frankly, you don’t have to leave them anything.”
OK, Donald Trump Jr., this sort of thing might actually make you a sympathetic figure.