Stormy Daniels has given Trump what he always wanted – she’s turned dull politics into great entertainment

‘The president and the porn star’ is the stuff of Hollywood, writes Jon Sopel. But that’s precisely the kind of larger-than-life spectacle that Trump thrives on – and it certainly won’t lose him any fans

Saturday 11 May 2024 13:19 BST
Those who love the former president will love him all the more
Those who love the former president will love him all the more (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The old line is that Washington is Hollywood for ugly people. While the glamour and beauty is to be found on the west coast, it is the less attractive, warty, lumpy, halitosis-breathed political class that is to be found on the east.

But if it’s entertainment you’re after, has anyone served it up like Donald Trump? There is nothing on Broadway right now half as entertaining as the Hush Money Trial (yes, deliberately in capitals) playing out on the 15th floor of the court building in lower Manhattan.

This week we’ve had the former porn star, Stormy Daniels, under oath – and under Donald Trump too apparently, as she detailed the missionary position in which they made love at a hotel room in Lake Tahoe back in 2006 after a golfing event. He denies the intercourse bit.

But then why did Trump order his lawyer to pay her $130k a decade later – and, critically, weeks before the 2016 presidential election, when Trump’s candidacy had already been rocked by the Access Hollywood tape? You remember: him bragging about what he could do to women, and where he could grab them.

You see, if I go po-faced and say this is a deadly serious matter, I am not doing justice to what is unfolding – and the word justice I use in the loosest sense of the word. If you were being really dull about this, you would focus purely on whether this $130k was a campaign contribution and should have been declared in the appropriate filings for presidential candidates, or normal run-of-the-mill legal fees. We could have learned arguments about whether this should be treated as a misdemeanour or a felony offence – the latter could result in a prison sentence, the former a judicial slap on the wrist.

But come on – would we rather talk about metaphorical slaps to the wrist, or a literal thwack that Stormy Daniels told the court she administered to Donald Trump’s butt with a rolled-up magazine?

You would need to have a heart of stone not to be mesmerised by the small details, like the bottle of Old Spice he had in his washbag in the bathroom. Or the black silk pyjamas he wore. Or the claim from Stormy Daniels that Trump had told her that he and Melania no longer shared a bedroom. It has been agony for Trump to endure.

Trump’s defence team have really gone after the former adult film actress and porn movie director, casting doubt on her character and her honesty. The story about the pay-off to Daniels came out in the Wall Street Journal in early 2018. Weirdly, a few days after it did, I was having dinner at what was then the Trump hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue with a couple of friends when who should walk in, but the president and first lady themselves. It was meant to be a public show of togetherness. They sat two tables away from us, with Trump’s body language (arms tightly crossed through most of the meal) suggesting they weren’t having the most chaleureux of evenings.

In court this week, counsel for Trump have not been about serving up entertainment, but sowing doubt in the mind of at least one juror so that the former president might walk free from this criminal charge. Their job is deadly serious. But even here the entertainment has been to die for. Stormy Daniels did admit she hated Donald Trump. That was a tick for the defence team. But when it was suggested to Daniels that having been in the business of inventing sex scenarios for her films, therefore why should jurors believe this one, she gave the court a real mic drop moment. With Dorothy Parker deadpan she said something to the effect of: if I was making up a sex scene, don’t you think I would have made it a darn sight more interesting than it was?

The other accusation levelled by Trump’s legal team was that she had sought to profit from this encounter by producing T-shirts and the like. Now, given that we have Trump towers, Trump golf courses, Trump sneakers, Trump steaks, Trump colleges, Trump hats, Trump socks, and of course most recently Trump bibles (with a copy of the US constitution thrown in for free), that was what one might term a “bold move” by the defence.

The other thing about Stormy Daniels since her name was thrust into the limelight is that she has owned it. There has been no cowering or running for cover. This has been her moment. She is his kryptonite.

Two other women have also been giving evidence in the trial: Hope Hicks and Madeleine Westerhout. They are much more reluctant witnesses on the stand. Both worked closely for Trump. Both were at his side for a long time. Both spoke of their admiration for him.

I do not doubt both got their jobs on the strength of their CVs and organisational brilliance. But it would also be remiss not to point out that both are extremely attractive. I met them both at the White House on numerous occasions and they were always immaculately turned out and made up. I am sorry if that seems a sexist thing to say, but it is a central part of what is unfolding in court: Trump and women.

At the front of the White House briefing room endlessly depicted in TV dramas are two sliding doors that lead to an area called “lower press”. It is where the junior West Wing comms staff sit, and where we would go to check odd admin details: whether visas had come through for the next presidential trip and the like. When Trump was president, it was like a supermodel waiting area. Ridiculously glamourous young women – all, as I say, no doubt selected for the quality of their brainpower – doing odd jobs for the president. Trump wanted his Washington to be for beautiful people.

The trial is showing who Donald Trump is. But in a confirmatory way. Those who love him will love him all the more – they know he has faults and has “played around”. They think it’s the system that is out to bring him down, rather than anything their hero might be the author of. And yes, there will be many men watching events at the court jealous of the lifestyle that Trump led: private jets, golf tournaments, beautiful women turning up at your door.

And liberal America will be confirmed in their revulstion at him. The 12 men and women of the jury may reach a unanimous verdict on the defendant, Donald J Trump, when this trial ends. America never will.

Jon Sopel is the former BBC North America editor and now presents Global’s ‘The News Agents’ podcast

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