At a campaign rally in Iowa on January 23, 2016, Donald Trump boasted that his voting base was so loyal to him that he "could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters, ok? It's like, incredible."
Well, I guess we will soon find out, won't we?
A grand jury convened by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has voted to indict the former president on what some outlets claim are 34 charges stemming from $130,000 in hush money paid to Stormy Daniels, a pornographic film star, director, and entertainer, whose birth name — which she prefers not to use — is Stephanie Clifford.
As recently as six days ago, at his Waco rally, Trump denied ever having had sex with Clifford, who he referred to as "Horseface." So obviously, he is willing to lose the sex worker vote. But Trump and the nitwit chorus line of GOP politicians also characterize the indictment as "political persecution."
Yet Bragg must have evidence, not just testimony, that the payoff took place, so it will be interesting to see how Trump's lawyers explain what the money was actually for.
Presumably, the Trump campaign believed the Former Guy's candidacy could withstand one sex scandal, but not two. But the tragedy in all of this may have been that they may have been wrong.
In early October 2016, the release of the Access Hollywood tape, in which Trump boasted that he could "grab [women] by the pussy” and get away with it, became a survivable scandal.
By contrast, when Trump's consigliere and fixer, Michael Cohen, paid Daniels for her silence, we had known for decades that Trump was a serial adulterer. Would one infidelity more or less have changed the equation?
I don't think so.
But I do have to wonder if what Trump was potentially embarrassed about, given that he sought to project an image of being universally irresistible to beautiful women, was the implication that he had paid for sex.
While many news outlets characterize the $130,000 payout as covering up an "affair," what Trump and Daniels allegedly did was not what most of us would think of as an affair.
Instead, it was a series of phone conversations (I am guessing phone sex) and sexual encounters over two years. The relationship, which may have had a commercial dimension from the get-go, began with a dinner invitation in 2006, culminating in, as Daniels deadpanned at the Stand Up NY comedy club in Manhattan in 2019, "The worst 90 seconds of my life."
It was a terrible job, girlfriend, but someone had to do it. And I bet Melania would say the same thing if she were being honest.
Besides the fact that our legal system is not yet broken, there are three lessons in this.
First, you should probably never try to shame a successful sex entrepreneur into silence. By definition, a woman who has exposed everything she has to reveal and made a small fortune from it is not subject to convention.
Second, when you have paid off said woman, don't follow up by threatening her: she is a fucking professional.
And third, Daniels would sue if Trump defamed her. If you are a porn star, there is literally no such thing as bad publicity.
Since the news broke about the indictment last night, right before the 6 o’clock news hour, there has been much hysteria about whether Trump's "base" will react by taking to the streets, committing acts of violence and successfully redoubling their efforts to return him to the White House in 2024.
None of these things will happen.
For one, people underestimate the effects of the prosecutions stemming from the January 6, 2021, insurrection. As far as I can tell, almost none of those people believed they would be arrested and charged. Those who thought they were in legal jeopardy believed they would be pardoned in the waning days of the Trump presidency. They know differently now.
Individual acts of violence are possible, but we live in a country where rightwing extremists do these things almost daily. So do they really need a new reason? No.
And finally, the 2024 election. Whether the Trump base consolidates around this indictment, or subsequent one, doesn't matter. We, and the numerous outraged bags of hot air that call themselves Republican politicians, have direct evidence that Donald Trump not only can't win a national election with only his own voters but that at least part of that base has shifted to Ron DeSantis.
That voting constituency isn't enthusiastic about chaos, threats of violence and whether you can be president from jail. In other words, Trump needs moderate Republican and independent voters more than he ever has, and he has less access to them than ever.
Look at the evidence: Trump lost the "I'm-not-crazy-but-vote-Republican" demographic in the 2018 midterms. He lost it in 2020. And all signs point to the fact that, except for a few races where Trump-backed candidates prevailed in 2022, what a Trump endorsement accomplished was to nominate an extremist that even Republicans ran away from. Ask Arizona’s Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs if you don't believe me.
I have been skeptical about a Trump comeback for a long time. This is not because the net is closing on a man who has probably committed far more crimes than he will ever be charged with, but because he is a highly idiosyncratic and disorganized person.
And the best evidence is this: Trump's legal demise has begun with the most unnecessary crime he will be charged with. Why?
Because he was too cheap to pay off Stormy Daniels with his own money and too stupid to admit the error and file corrected forms with the IRS and the Federal Election Commission. Worse? He underestimated a woman who has a far cannier head for business and more courage than he has ever had.
So Stormy Daniels? I salute you, girl. Thank you for your service.