As TFPP covered last weekend, the Wall Street Journal resurrected an old allegation that back in 2006, Donald Trump had an extramarital affair with porn star Stephanie Clifford, AKA “Stormy Daniels.” The rumor originally surfaced near the end of the 2016 campaign, but WSJ added the new claim that in October 2016 Trump paid $130,000 to keep Clifford quiet about it. Both the White House and Clifford have issued denials.
On Wednesday, however, NBC News reported that Clifford gave an interview to In Touch Magazine in 2011, in which she did claim to have had a sexual relationship with Trump in ’06. Neither Daniels nor Team Trump has responded to this latest development.
All over the commentariat the usual suspects have responded exactly how you’d expect. For example, National Review’s Jonah Goldberg has written not one but two posts arguing that by not vocally condemning Trump’s behavior, religious and cultural conservatives are compromising our values and our credibility.
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Few debates these days are more hobbled by emotionalism or lacking in objectivity than those pertaining to the Right’s relationship with Trump, so allow me to present the following points in hopes of cutting through the knee-jerk reactions on both sides and showing how to apply principled rationality to any given Trump story.
1) Of course it’s despicable to cheat on one’s wife with any woman, and it’s still sleazy to strike up a casual sex fling with a porn star even if if one isn’t married. Period, full stop, Basic Morality 101.
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2) Clifford’s 2011 interview at the very least contradicts her denial, increasing the odds that the story is true. But it also came to light several days after the original WSJ report, whereas the NeverTrump finger-waving began almost immediately, with nothing on the record other than the report and two explicit denials. So NeverTrumpers were demanding that we condemn Trump for something which, at the time, nobody was certain even happened. Is “freak out the moment anyone says anything about a Republican” really the new precedent our betters want to set? Is there any room for a wait-and-see approach in the new standards for #PrincipledConservatives?
3) Of course any Trump supporter who holds Trump’s infidelities and Clinton’s to two different standards is a partisan hypocrite, as is any religious leader who suggests Trump’s affairs weren’t sinful. But at the risk of destroying a narrative, I have to ask: who out there is saying anything of the kind?
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Yes, NeverTrumpers on Twitter have found random, no-name Trump apologists to cherry-pick and knock down. But news flash: every candidate has always had hypocritical zealots among their followers (the stories I could tell of my encounters over the years with fanboys for Rick Perry, Fred Thompson, Marco Rubio, Ron Paul, and others can match the worst Trumpkin, and then some). The question is whether prominent voices or leaders are displaying these double-standards — and those quotes seem to be missing from the hand-wringing.
4) The allegation is about past behavior, not something Trump is accused of doing recently. Around the time it apparently happened, Trump was also a liberal Democrat who infamously bragged on the Access Hollywood tape about groping starlets. In the decade since, Trump has clearly retained plenty of his, shall we say, colorful defects, but he’s also a very different man politically (and this comprehensive Atlantic rundown of Trump scandals makes no mention of anything sex-related more recent than 2005).
Is Trump a changed man personally, too? Who knows, but social conservatism has never been about perpetually denouncing someone in the present for who he was in the past (at least, that wasn’t the standard back in 2011, when Goldberg came awfully close to endorsing Newt Gingrich’s presidential bid despite the former House Speaker’s own adulterous past).
5) All of this brings us to the bottom line: regardless of whether this particular affair happened, it was already widely known that Trump was a philanderer. Who of consequence isn’t already on the record with what they think about that? What does this story fundamentally change about it? Are we just supposed to ritually re-register our outrage every time a new detail surfaces? What purpose does it serve the country to spend significant time rehashing already-established determinations?
Answer: it doesn’t. And frankly, most NeverTrumpers know it. This fixation isn’t about the soul of the country or of conservatism; it’s the latest manifestation of their inability to come to terms with Trump’s defeat of their vision of what a Republican statesman should be, and more specifically the fact that Trump’s very ascendance was both a result and repudiation of their stewardship of conservatism.