Other commentators have noted how scandalous the Stormy Daniels hush-money affair would be if it weren’t obscured by so many other Trump-era distractions. And, indeed, if such an allegation had been made against Presidents Obama, Bush or Reagan, we would have talked of nothing else for months. And look what happened to Bill Clinton.
But it’s hard to see how we can ignore payoffs-to-prostitutes just because more important things are going on. At the least, hush money to porn stars raises essential questions of character, transparency and vulnerability to blackmail.
And in Trump’s case, since the payoff occurred just weeks before his election, one has to wonder if he would be president today if voters had known about it.
We probably shouldn’t waste too much time worrying about whether Daniels’ allegation is true. In a court of law Trump has the presumption of innocence, but not in the court of public opinion. Trump’s long history of marital infidelity is well-documented, he’s been accused by nearly 20 women of sexual harassment and assault, he’s bragged about the sexual privileges bestowed by his celebrity and he’s demonstrated a notoriously unenlightened disrespect for women.
Trump is a man with many millions of dollars and the sexual maturity of a teenager. When you see him goofing on his own golf course with a prostitute, you can be forgiven for imagining that something is going on.
In fact, the administration hasn’t bothered to put much energy into denying the allegation. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders asserts that Trump says that Daniels’ charges aren’t true, just as he branded as liars the women who accused him of sexual assault, when, of course, some, most or all of them are very likely telling the truth.
In the face of the evidence, Sanders relies on a formula: the American public knew about these allegations - and had even heard the shameless Access Hollywood tapes - before the election and had, nevertheless, voted “overwhelmingly” for Trump.
And except for the “overwhelmingly” part, she is correct.
Still, one wonders:
Few would argue at this point that Russian interference in the election, while significant, was actually the factor that handed victory to Trump.
Nor, probably, would many argue that the untimely revelation by FBI Director James Comey that the agency was taking another look at the Clinton email “scandal” change the calculus enough to make a difference in the outcome of the election.
But isn’t it at least possible that the revelation that Trump or his lawyer had paid off a prostitute right before the election might have formed the third element of the perfect storm that could have resulted in his defeat?
But, instead, money changed hands, Stormy Daniels kept quiet and the election went to Trump by an underwhelming margin.
Of course, what people do in their private lives is their business. But when you’re president - or close to becoming president - your character is the people’s business. Would the evangelicals or women or blue-color workers who had to swallow hard and look the other way in order to vote for Trump have finally been persuaded against him by the news that he was paying for the silence of a porn star?
Trump famously remarked that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still be elected president. He might have as easily speculated that he could pay off a prostitute to keep quiet about their affair around the time his third wife was giving birth to his last son and still been elected.
But in the first case, Trump wasn’t being literal. I think. If he had actually gone out on Fifth Avenue and killed someone with a gun, we would never have elected him. Would we?
In the second case, enough voters might have changed their minds to make a difference in a close election. We’ll never know.
In any case, the election’s over. But it’s never too late to know the truth. May it come to light. Then we’ll truly know what kind of a president we have.
John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at email@example.com.