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The President and the Porn Star: Why Stormy Daniels Changes Nothing About Donald Trump

For Trump, an alleged affair with an adult-film actress isn’t even the most scandalous bit of news about him this week

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Some old news never dies. In 2006, Donald Trump reportedly began an extramarital affair with the adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, née Stephanie Clifford. The affair, which Trump denies, is years-old gossip that resurfaced as breaking news this week when In Touch magazine teased a cover story about the affair based on a previously unpublished 2011 interview with Daniels. On Friday morning, In Touch published the full interview with Daniels online. “I can definitely describe his junk perfectly,” Daniels said. In any other political career, such a vulgar illustration might read as the beginning of a humiliating end, but this is Donald Trump we’re talking about.

The sexual details that Daniels provided in the course of 5,000 words are as awkward and unsavory as you’d imagine. There’s one perverse leitmotif to the accounts of this story: In the InTouch interview, Daniels recalled Trump comparing her to one of his daughters, and Mother Jones reported that Daniels told a political consultant that Trump had asked her to spank him with a Forbes cover that featured Trump standing alongside his children Ivanka and Donald Jr. In contrast with these more disgusting bits, Daniels provided a relatively endearing account of Trump’s obsession with the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week and his lifelong vendetta against sharks. (“I would never donate to any charity that helps sharks. I hope all the sharks die,” Trump reportedly told Daniels.) Trump’s inner life sounds exceedingly convoluted, and I get seasick just thinking about it.

The Trump-Daniels story is conventionally embarrassing tabloid fodder. It would disgrace your average politician to the brink of resignation — a fate that Trump’s 2016 campaign team proactively set out to avoid. According to The Wall Street Journal, Trump’s lawyer arranged the payment of $130,000 in October 2016 — a month before Trump’s election — in order to bind Daniels with a nondisclosure agreement. In retrospect, Trump’s lawyer seems to have overspent. Despite the supposedly shocking revelations about a sitting president’s sex life, no one really seems to care about Trump’s alleged affair with Daniels. Christian fundamentalists have long resigned themselves to blissful hypocrisy when it comes to their support for the hedonistic Trump; Trump’s critics are resigned to seeing the president’s most vulgar conduct bear no substantial consequences upon his political career.

It’d be a wishful reach to describe the In Touch exposé as a “scandal.” There is no scandal. Donald Trump having “generic” sex, as she described it, with Stormy Daniels is perhaps the least-scandalous thing he’s ever done. Nineteen women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct, and those allegations have become nothing more than a footnote in Trump’s life and political career. More than a year ago, the nation proved that Trump’s antagonism of women wouldn’t disqualify him from the presidency, so why should a bland affair with a porn star disgrace him now?

The Daniels story, and the relatively muted reaction to it, underscores how mundane Trump’s indecency has become as a matter of daily politics coverage. The dramatic, disingenuous sexual posturing of Newt Gingrich’s Republican Party is very conspicuously gone. The early-onset irrelevance of the Daniels story is the rare case of Trump effortlessly surviving a controversy that Trump’s critics are all better off moving on from anyway.

Despite widespread lack of interest, In Touch is billing Daniels’s story as a world-ender. The tabloid’s cover flashes all the standard, alarmist tropes associated with sex-scandal coverage, including a goofy photo of Trump’s wife, Melania, struck blind and dumb by the truth in the bottom-right corner. “WILL THE FIRST LADY FILE FOR DIVORCE?” It is a cliffhanger without a cliff; she hasn’t, and she won’t. The Stormy Daniels affair isn’t even the most scandalous Trump trivia to have emerged this week.

On Tuesday, the White House released a medical assessment that suggests that Trump is taller, thinner, and smarter than he seems to be. The assessment’s vainglorious discrepancies are less shocking than a porn star’s account of unprotected, extramarital sex with a future president, but here is what both stories have in common, and in equal measure: They’re absurdly amusing. Trump’s critics have spent all week disputing the health assessment and mocking Trump’s fitness; they now identify as “girthers.” It’s not for lack of bigger, more interesting scandals to prioritize as Congress hurtles toward a government shutdown. It’s just that Trump has mistreated too many women for anyone to believe that Stormy Daniels will single-handedly reverse their collective trauma. Bound by her confidentiality agreement, she’s not even talking to the press. And if she were, there’s probably little that would change about how we look at the president.