Whatever happened with Stormy Daniels, Trump’s first-year accomplishments seem to matter more.
The government shut down, and most Americans yawned. Reports that Donald Trump has a history of romancing adult film actresses, and then paying them to keep quiet, were greeted with some tittering and then more of the same indifference.
Democrats hope the nonstop drama in Washington will feed perceptions of administrative chaos that work to their advantage. But if that’s true, it wasn’t evident in the shutdown stand-off. Back in December, Senate Democrats threatened to bring the government to a halt to protect illegal immigrants and then thought better of it. Last week, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer carried out the threat and then got rolled.
Not only are red-state Democrats who have to defend the shutdown on the campaign trail angry at the New York senator, but so are Senate progressives and liberal activists who wanted Mr. Schumer to stand his ground. We haven’t seen such political incompetence since Republicans lost the Alabama U.S. Senate seat last month.
In light of the Democratic ineptitude, the Stormy Daniels saga also may not hurt Mr. Trump as much as his opponents hope. But it is another reason the president will be fighting for his political life if Democrats retake Congress this year.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that a lawyer for Mr. Trump, Michael Cohen, formed a private company in October 2016 to pay the porn actress $130,000 in exchange for not speaking publicly about an alleged affair with the candidate back in 2006. Mr. Cohen has not commented on the payment, but he and the White House deny any tryst took place.
Since the story broke, reporters have been unable to get Ms. Daniels or her lawyer to talk publicly, though she has spoken about the matter to friends and family in private, according to the Journal. And she gave a lengthy, detailed interview about a sexual encounter with Mr. Trump to the gossip magazine InTouch back in 2011. That interview wasn’t published until last week, the Associated Press reported, because Mr. Cohen threatened to sue the magazine if the story ran.
If the public learned about all this only in recent weeks, that’s not true of the press. “The adult-film actress was on the radar of a number of mainstream news outlets in the waning days of the presidential campaign,” the Washington Post reported last week. “Reporters from ABC, Fox News, the Daily Beast and Slate.com were pursuing a potentially explosive story.” No one went with the story because parts of Ms. Daniels’s account couldn’t be independently verified. Now, a money trail has surfaced. And there are reports of other women and other hush money payments.
On Monday the liberal watchdog group Common Cause filed a complaint with the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission. The complaint says that the payment to Ms. Daniels may have constituted an in-kind contribution that affected the outcome of the election in Mr. Trump’s favor, which would be a violation of campaign-finance laws.
And there are other questions that the curious may want answered if this encounter in fact took place. The obvious ones are whether this was a delayed payment for sexual favors and whether Mr. Trump was being extorted. Did Ms. Daniels say, “Pay me or I’ll go public right before the election?” These probably aren’t the kinds of questions the administration wants swirling around in the midst of an investigation into Russia’s election meddling.
The ho-hum public response to the allegations could reflect scandal fatigue or, sadly, the widespread belief that Donald Trump covering up affairs with porn stars is neither out of character nor any big deal.
But it also could mean that what the president has accomplished in his first year matters more. Jobless claims last week were the lowest on record in 45 years. Target and Wal-Mart are increasing pay and handing out bonuses. Apple, which has deferred paying taxes on foreign earning for years, has announced that it is bringing billions in cash back to the U.S. to invest. Visa and Aflac are increasing their 401(k) match for employees. Mr. Trump not only promised tax reform and delivered tax reform but every early indication is that the tax reform is doing what he said it would do.
Heaven knows what outrages the Trump presidency will bring our way in 2018—and maybe voters will wait until the midterm elections to vent—but right now Americans seem more focused on what he’s achieved.
This piece originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal
Jason L. Riley is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, and a Fox News commentator.