Apart from his own kin, there’s no category of person exempt from Donald Trump’s attacks. He has gone after past presidents of the United States, current leaders of our closest allies, stewards of his own party, senior officials in his own administration, the Latina mayor of a city freshly devastated by a hurricane, the Muslim mayor of a city just struck by terrorists and the families of American soldiers killed in combat.
But not Stormy Daniels. Where are the tantrums and tweets for her? It’s a glaring and fascinating omission.
Maybe the explanation is straightforward: He doesn’t want to give her any extra motivation to speak out and describe whatever happened between them in a negative light. But when has Trump ever played the tempered pacifist before?
Lawyers are no doubt urging him not to amplify her importance — and spotlight a payment to her that may have violated campaign-finance laws — by personally battling her. But he has repeatedly ignored their counsel not to rail against Robert Mueller and others who are looking into his campaign’s ties to Russia, and that’s a matter of presumably greater threat to his presidency.
Meanwhile he stays mum about a porn star who is peddling steamy secrets about him — and who is doing what he hates most, which is using him as a steppingstone to saturation fame.
The interview that she gave to “60 Minutes” is scheduled to be broadcast this weekend without a peep from the president (though with frantic efforts by his lawyers to quash it). His silence speaks volumes.
It could say that he has more discipline than he gets credit for, and that instead of a mad, lonely king ranting in his castle, he is actually a profoundly flawed tactician playing his own pale version of chess.
The salvos against Mueller last weekend absolutely had a logic: They were shirt-tailed to the firing of deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe in the service of a corruption narrative, and they were trial balloons to see how negatively Republican leaders in Congress responded. (The unsurprising answer: not negatively enough.)
Trump’s silence could also say that he isn’t actually bothered by Daniels’ account of an affair with him. This is a man whose appearances on Howard Stern’s radio show over the years were all about erotic peacocking; who bragged to Billy Bush about groping women and paid no discernible price for it; and who can apparently do anything shy of converting to Islam and not fret about his evangelical base.
Where the rest of us see reckless infidelity, he sees a buxom conquest that lesser Lotharios can only dream about.
But I wonder more about the opposite. What if the enigma of what Daniels is about to say really rattles him, and his turning away from it is the telltale sign of that? The assumption has long been that his Twitter account gives us his psychic vital signs and that we can chart his distress by his diatribes. But diatribes are his norm. Deviations from them may hold more meaning.
And there are reasons that he’d be rattled. His selling of himself as a super-potent stud (“Best Sex I’ve Ever Had”) is one of the pillars of his vanity, and Daniels could smash it to the ground. She didn’t quite do that in a 2011 interview with In Touch magazine, but neither did she sound remotely wowed.
“Textbook generic” was how she described the sex that she said she had with him. “He wasn’t like Fabio or anything.” He sought her assurance that he looked good on the cover of a magazine that he showed her. He confessed to the superstition that he’d lose his wealth if he changed his custard-swirl hair. He comes across as somewhat pitiable. And she has reportedly given new details and documents to “60 Minutes.”
Then there’s Melania. By all evidence the distance between the Trumps has widened since the surfacing of Daniels’ allegations that he had sex with her shortly after Melania gave birth to Barron in 2006 and that he told Daniels to pay his wife no heed.
Every mention of Daniels must mortify Melania, and the president can’t afford that. There’s more than enough strain in their marriage and turbulence in the White House already.
Besides, it’s one thing to have the lewder parts of your past aired when you’re a candidate. It’s quite another when you’re president, even a president as unconventional as Trump.
And it’s worse still if a series of recent elections — in Virginia, in Alabama, in Pennsylvania — suggest that you repel women in the suburbs and they’re acting on their disgust. They won’t be soothed by an illicit romance that could be titled “Filthy Shades of Orange.”
So the president ignores its release. He sits on his Twitter hands. They’re big ones, by the way. Just ask him.
Frank Bruni, an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times since 2011, joined the newspaper in 1995. Over his years, he has worn a wide variety of hats, including chief restaurant critic and Rome bureau chief.