The news media hasn’t quite known what to make of Stormy Daniels, the woman who could take down the president. It’s almost as if they’re surprised an adult film actor can wield so much power.
For the uninitiated, Daniels (born Stephanie Clifford) claims to have had unprotected sex with future president Donald Trump in 2006—months after his wife, Melania, had given birth to Trump’s fifth child, Barron—and to have carried on a brief affair with him after that. She signed a non-disclosure agreement just before the 2016 election, barring her from talking about the alleged relationship and receiving $130,000 of hush money from Trump’s lawyer. She’s now suing the president to shake loose of that NDA—and telling the world everything anyway.
Thanks to the whiff of a corrupt political cover-up, in the form of the Trump team’s scramble to keep her quiet, the Daniels narrative drew headlines. But it wasn’t until her first sit-down interview with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes that the world got to see and hear from her directly, in her own words. And the public’s reaction might partially reveal why we’ve kept her at arm’s length for so long.
On Twitter, observers seemed surprised that Daniels, a savvy businesswoman in her own right, came across as articulate and smart—and steadfast in her story. “If you are shocked that Stormy Daniels, a porn star, is thoughtful and articulate, that says a lot more about you than about her,” tweeted Hayley McMillen, an editor at Allure magazine. On Monday morning, Daniels responded to a particularly vile tweet from a stranger, which provided just a small peek into what her Twitter mentions must look like post–60 Minutes.
Yes, I am. Nice to meet ya! https://t.co/kUdVLRWwu0
— Stormy Daniels (@StormyDaniels) March 26, 2018
In the hours after the 60 Minutes interview, Politico ran an article stating that Cooper had “risked embarrassment” just by sitting down with Daniels—that is, that he risked his own credibility as a newsman by dabbling in tabloid fare. Would this interview have been regarded the same way if she was just your average American woman who had an affair with Trump and was paid to keep quiet?
What is it that’s made so many people question Daniels’ credibility for so long? Is it her line of work? Her shifting story? (She had publicly denied the affair before.) Her unapologetic interest in money, despite the financial risk she took in talking to Cooper? (She could be fined a million dollars for breaking the NDA.)
Despite the obvious power imbalances and exploitative behaviour of which she is accusing Trump, Daniels refuses to see herself as a victim, and the way she’s taken ownership over her own choices in her relationship with Trump might bring her less sympathy. If she was a total willing participant, how could she possibly be exploited?
Her description of her encounter with Trump in a Lake Tahoe hotel room in 2006 shows that she wasn’t an enthusiastic participant in sex with the future president, who she says initiated sexual activity, though she did made a choice to continue.
“I realized exactly what I’d gotten myself into,” she said. “And I was like, ‘Ugh, here we go.’ [laughs] And I just felt like maybe—[laughs] it was sort of — I had it coming for making a bad decision for going to someone’s room alone and I just heard the voice in my head, ‘Well, you put yourself in a bad situation and bad things happen, so you deserve this.'”
During the 60 Minutes interview, Daniels strongly rejected the idea that she fits into the #MeToo narrative, which has inextricable ties back to the U.S. president and is really, at its heart, about gross misuses of power.
“This is not a ‘Me Too.’ I was not a victim. I’ve never said I was a victim. I think trying to use #MeToo—to further someone else’s agenda—does horrible damage to people who are true victims,” she told Cooper.
If Daniels refuses to see herself as a victim, it might be because of her upbringing. According to a profile published in The New York Times, Daniels grew up with a particular worldview, believing that she is entitled to power. The quote under her yearbook photo reads: “We will all get along just fine as soon as you realize that I am Queen.”
And maybe, because of her line of work, which many consider unsavoury, Daniels has not received the kind of admiration for her drive and ambition that is usually reserved for men.
She’s long talked about the financial independence adult entertainment has afforded her, telling an interviewer for an industry magazine at age 23: “I have very mixed emotions about stripping because stripping got me where I am now … I own my own house, I own my own car, I own my own business. My credit is excellent. I have nice furniture and nice things.”
While Daniels insists that she isn’t stepping forward now for any financial gain, she is vocally appreciative of the financial upsides that have come with speaking her truth.
“People are like, ‘Oh, you’re an opportunist. You’re taking advantage of this,'” she told Cooper. “Yes, I’m getting more job offers now, but tell me one person who would turn down a job offer making more than they’ve been making, doing the same thing that they’ve always done?” (Daniels is currently running a touring show called “Make America Horny Again.”)
Daniels may indeed be no victim. But she’s an interesting match for Trump, a complex and entrepreneurial person with perhaps more in common with him than anyone is comfortable acknowledging—just with more double standards set against her. They’re both super confident, business- and media-savvy and unabashedly power-hungry. And the president might now be deeply regretting his decision to not bring her on to Celebrity Apprentice years ago—her interview with Cooper landed 60 Minutes its best ratings in 10 years.
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