Pop Culture

Stormy Daniels Knows What She's Doing

It says a lot about the Donald Trump era’s dislocations that liberals—in the space of one weekend—went from hailing the Parkland kids as America’s last, best hope, to hungrily fantasizing that Stormy Daniels’ interview with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes was going to blow up the MAGA Death Star for good. On Saturday, Emma Gonzalez, her cohorts and the movement they’ve launched, lived up to those expectations and then some. Daniels, on the other hand, just turned out to be a lot craftier about publicizing herself than 60 Minutes was about how to grill a nothingburger while pretending its ketchup-smeared “Kiss the Chef” apron looked like a tux.

You almost had to feel for Cooper, who’d warmed up for this Q&A by interviewing Playmate Karen McDougal earlier in the week about her own alleged–alleged, dammit!–extramarital dalliances with Vladimir Putin’s favorite sex toy back in 2006. Cooper’s imposing pair of IQ-multiplier specs seemed to keep on expanding as his face shrank behind them, as if he was dreaming of being eyeless in Gaza. But that’s how it goes when you’re quizzing a porn star who’s perfectly happy to explain all the stuff she can’t talk about, thanks to the most farcical non-disclosure agreement in the history of NDAs.

After all, from Melania Trump on down, there can’t be anyone left in this country who doesn’t already believe Daniels’ story about her one-off with Trump and the $130,000 she got paid in hush money by his attorney Michael Cohen just before the 2016 election. (Famously, back when the Stormy first hit the fan last January, even Family Research Council head Tony Perkins told CNN’s Erin Burnett that evangelicals were giving Trump a “mulligan” for his past sexual behavior, as opposed to indignantly denying that God’s favorite president would ever do such sordid things.) The most salacious tidbit Cooper got her to confirm–the business about spanking Trump with a magazine that had his face on the cover–was reported in Mother Jones two months ago.

Sure, it was fun to hear Daniels describe it in person: “So he turned around and pulled his pants down a little—you know, had underwear on and stuff—and I just gave him a couple swats.” But by then, Cooper was blatantly wishing it was hurricane season so that he could hustle down to the Gulf Coast to enjoy the relative journalistic dignity of getting smacked around by errant waves as his poncho flapped. Did he really go to Yale for this?

It’s often said that she’s the only Trump accuser who knows how to beat Trump at his own game.
It isn’t that the Stormy Daniels story isn’t newsworthy; it is. But since Mr. Grab-‘Em-By-The-Pussy’s crass infidelities are no secret, what’s newsworthy about it is the possibility that Cohen’s hush-money payment amounted to a violation of campaign law–and that’s Robert Mueller’s area of expertise, not Daniels’. Everything else is tabloid schlock, and Cooper undoubtedly knew it. Nevertheless, CBS got what it wanted: the highest ratings 60 Minutes has garnered in a decade.

The comedy of the whole thing was that Daniels came off so poised, mainly because she’s unembarrassable. (A career in porn does train a person to be businesslike about matters guaranteed to leave the Anderson Coopers of this world speechless.) It’s often said that she’s the only Trump accuser who knows how to beat Trump at his own game–that is, a fellow performer who’s equally skilled at working the media to dance between truth, hyperbole and evasiveness. Maybe her most Trumpian move was refusing to tell Cooper whether she’s got text messages or pictorial evidence backing up her account of the affair–but only after she’d let her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, help hype her 60 Minutes appearance by tweeting a photograph of a DVD purportedly containing just that. Shades of Trump implying he had tapes of his conversations with James Comey.

Whether Daniels’ repertoire also includes outright lying is anybody’s guess. Even so, her claim that she’d been physically threatened in a Las Vegas parking lot to keep her mouth shut sounded more like bad movie dialogue than a believable encounter: “A guy walked up on me and said to me, ‘Leave Trump alone. Forget the story,’” she told Cooper, not quite straining our credulity just yet. But that was before she went on, “And then he leaned around and looked at my daughter and said, ‘That’s a beautiful little girl. It’d be a shame if something happened to her mom.’” Of course, it’s always possible that real-life Vegas goons learn their dialogue from bad gangster movies, but that “It’d be a shame if something happened” line has been a cliché since Prohibition.

If her cleverest moment of branding came when she dissociated herself from the #MeToo movement (“I’ve never said I was a victim. I think trying to use me to further someone else’s agenda does horrible damage to people who are true victims”), her funniest remark was about the downside of promoting herself on 60 Minutes: “I could automatically be alienating half of my fan base right at this very moment.” Make no mistake, though: Branding and self-promotion were Daniels’ priorities, and the unflustered way she kept her eye on the ball as Cooper hemmed and hawed made her oddly likable. Her mercenary opportunism has less than nothing in common with Emma Gonzalez’s unasked-for valor, and that’s an understatement.

But in both cases, wasn’t it nice to finally see somebody in Trumplandia who knows exactly what she’s doing, and knows the smartest way to go about achieving it?

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