While Donald Trump is golfing and pretending to be obsessed with Hurricane Dorian, or at least obsessed with seeming like he’s obsessed about Hurricane Dorian because that’s what he thinks a normal president would do, there may be a bigger, more annoying storm on the horizon. His old foe Stormy Daniels may once again torment him. The Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee want to hold hearings into the president’s hush money use during the campaign. They even want to call Stormy Daniels to testify.
This is all fine. But it just makes me wonder for the thousandth time why this wasn’t a bigger story when it came out months ago. After all, “Democrats say they believe there is already enough evidence to name Trump as a co-conspirator in the episode that resulted in his former attorney, Michael Cohen, pleading guilty to two campaign finance charges,” writes The Washington Post.
And let’s not forget Cohen ended up in jail for his role in the scandal. It all happened a little more than a year ago, when “Cohen admitted guilt in two campaign finance violations related to the Daniels and [Karen] McDougal payments. The Daniels payment resulted in a charge of making an excessive campaign contribution, since the $130,000 he spent was more than the $2,700 he was allowed to give to the campaign.” You may remember this story; it dominated about one and a half news-cycles and ended when we were all distracted by something else—war with Iran, nuking hurricanes, or Rudy saying something insane.
But the story of Trump’s implacability in the face of the Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal payments during the campaign should be revisited, especially as Democrats ponder how to beat Trump in 2020. How the president got away with it may explain a lot about Trumpism and the misogyny that fuels it.
Many politicians have been ruined for less—Gary Hart had to drop out because of a picture of Donna Rice on his lap; John Edwards was ruined by his payments to his lady love; and even Newt Gingrich stepped down after his affair with a congressional staffer (among other things).
But a Politico/Morning Consult poll, conducted after Daniels’ appearance on 60 Minutes back in March 2018, “suggests that despite that litany of sins, the Daniels revelations are unlikely to significantly alter Trump’s political standing.” Some men actually liked Trump more after the Stormy allegations: “The president's approval rating among men rose from 50 to 53 percent compared” with the previous month. And it’s not that people didn’t believe Stormy, it’s just that they didn’t care. But why didn’t they care? And can Democrats make them care now?
What if the reason Trump can get away with things normal politicians can’t is that he was actually picked by his base for his flaws and not his virtues? Adam Serwer wrote in The Atlantic that “the cruelty of the Trump administration’s policies, and the ritual rhetorical flaying of his targets before his supporters, are intimately connected.”
What if this is also true for the president’s mistreatment and degrading of women? What if the angry white men are angry at the idea of women who don’t know their place? What if the men in Trump’s base are as worried about women replacing them as they are about immigrants? What if, just as the cruelty is the point per Serwer, the misogyny is also the point?
Trump’s supporters seem energized and charged by his misogyny. They salivate over the chants of “Send Her Back!” and “Lock Her Up!” Elaina Plott pointed out in The Atlantic that they never do chants about the men, that it is “only for women [that] Trump and his supporters deploy their most sinister lines of attack.” Think of all of Trump’s preferred villains—Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, the Squad. Trump never elevates a man to the status of foil the way he does to women, and maybe that is intentional, because he knows the white men in his base are energized by the misogyny.
No one doubts that the president did it. We have him on tape saying: “So, what do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?” The base didn’t care then, and they won’t care now. Will the senators needed for impeachment and removal care? They didn’t care a year ago, it’s hard to see why they would care now. Republicans have burned their boats on the shore. Millions of Americans do care, but they’re disenfranchised Democrats and without control of the Senate there’s little they can do to remove the orange menace.
Of course, there’s the possibly that televised hearings could shame Republicans into trying to appear normal but it seems unlikely. More and more it appears as if the Republican Party is more than happy to back up the president’s worst instincts whenever possible—and senators will use these hearings to perform for Trump, as eager members of the nomenklatura performed for Stalin. Matt Gaetz, Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan: I’m looking at you all in the MAGA caucus.
So it’s hard to imagine that there will ever come a time when Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell say “this is a bridge too far.” And since the Republican Party has never been particularly interested in the rights of women, it’s hard for me to imagine that the misogyny would be the thing that bothers the party that doesn’t support the Equal Rights Amendment.
In a just world, Stormy would get up there and Republicans would listen, and then they would have a moment like what happened at the end of Watergate and they would find that moral compass that has been sadly missing for the last two years. In a just world, Susan Collins and Lindsey Graham would decide it was enough womanizing, Russian interference, and kleptocracy, and they would stand up for justice and the rule of law.
But that’s not what’s going to happen. What’s going to happen is something like what happened during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. The base will get more emboldened with the chance to degrade women they deem to be enemies of Trumpism. And there will be more misogyny and more ugly partisanship and, as with all other crises in his presidency, Trump will emerge unscathed because the disgustingness of Trumpism is the feature and not the bug.