Those who say the Stormy Daniels interview March 25 on “60 Minutes” contained nothing new missed the historical importance of what they were viewing: How Daniels has become President Donald Trump’s kryptonite.
Throughout his political rise we have seen former reality TV star Trump use every available form of threat, insult, lawsuit and bombast to silence his opponents and frighten off future opposition, if they couldn’t be quietly bought off.
And now along comes Stephanie Clifford, known professionally as Stormy Daniels, who has alleged that Trump engaged in an extramarital fling with her, that his minions intimidated her legally and physically to prevent her public disclosure of the affair and that just before the 2016 election Trump’s fixer paid her $130,000 in hush money to keep her silence.
What’s downright historic here is how she not only refused to stay bought, but actually strategically turned the tables on Trump to beat him at his own game.
Sixty-three percent of Americans surveyed in a new CNN poll, taken before Sunday’s “60 Minutes” broadcast, say they believe women who have come forward with allegations of extramarital affairs with Trump. Only 21 percent say they believe the president and, as hard as it may be for me to believe, 16 percent claim to have no opinion on the matter.
Yet, far beyond the point at which Trump would have rebranded other attackers with an impolite nickname and other withering insults, he’s been no more eager to mention her name than he has been to slime Vladimir Putin.
Trump’s usual defenses simply don’t work on her. She has taken an important source of Trump’s rhetorical power, a lack of shame, and turned it into his kryptonite.
Let me count the ways:
1. Shamelessness has its advantages. Trump typically rattles his opponents with character attacks (remember “Crooked Hillary”?), even if he has to turn to phony conspiracy theories — like challenging Barack Obama’s birth certificate — despite a lack of evidence to back them up.
But Daniels takes the opposite approach. Unlike politicians trying to protect their blue-ribbon reputations, she claims no blue-ribbon reputation to protect. She is what she is, a writer, director and performer in pornographic movies. Her unabashed candor at a time when Trump won’t even acknowledge her existence except through spokespeople is refreshing in the world of politicians and other media celebrities.
2. Roll the trolls. She not only refuses to be intimidated by foulmouthed Twitter trolls and other critics, she effortlessly turns their trash into gold with responses that have become a binge-worthy reality show of their own.
In another response to a Twitter put-down, she tweeted, “At least the sewer won’t reject you although you’re probably used to rejection by now.”
As Trump demonstrates with his rally speeches, which sound like rambling auditions for a Las Vegas stand-up comedy act, you can get a lot of mileage with humor, depending on the audience you’re trying to reach — or skewer.
3. Not a “victim.” Even though her charges against Trump sound at first blush like the harassment and sexual assault charges that brought down moviemaker Harvey Weinstein and ignited the #MeToo movement, Daniels has repeatedly pointed out that “I’m not a ‘me too.’ “
Wisely she took responsibility for her own actions, even when she says she realized she had put herself where she had not intended to be, Trump’s bed.
Interestingly, as the world turned to Twitter to see what Trump might tweet the next morning, he maintained an unusual Twitter silence regarding Daniels except for one unusually vague message Monday morning:
“So much Fake News. Never been more voluminous or more inaccurate,” it said. “But through it all, our country is doing great!”
Right. Just great. How well our country’s president is doing sounds like another story.
Writes for Tribune Content Agency.
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