The Memo: Trump’s political woes with women deepen as Stormy Daniels reclaims stage
Former President Trump has a problem with women.
Specifically, he faces new struggles with female voters who are about to be reminded — perhaps daily, for months on end — of his alleged extramarital dalliances.
That’s a perilous prospect for a politician whose quest to return to the White House requires him to get a bigger share of the female vote than he did when he fell to defeat to President Biden in 2020.
Regardless of whether Trump is ultimately found guilty of the offenses contained in the indictment that will be unsealed Tuesday in Manhattan, the case is sure to put the spotlight back on accusations of tawdry encounters.
Even some people in Trump’s circle worry about the impact on moderate, suburban female voters.
The concerns encompass the same kinds of questions that enveloped then-President Clinton when his affair with Monica Lewinsky came to light in the late 1990s — specifically, what does it mean politically when voters are confronted with lurid details of infidelity?
The investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has, at its core, a $130,000 payment made in late 2016 to adult film actress Stormy Daniels by Trump’s then-attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen.
The money was intended to buy Daniels’s silence in the closing days of Trump’s first presidential run over her claim that she had sex with him at a 2006 celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, Nev.
Trump had married his current wife, Melania, the previous year.
Bragg is reported to have also been looking at a $150,000 payment from the National Enquirer magazine to a former Playboy model, Karen McDougal.
The payments, also in 2016, were intended to secure the rights to McDougal’s story without any sincere intent to publish it — an arrangement known in the publishing industry as “catch-and-kill.”
McDougal says she had an affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007. In a 2018 CNN interview, she told Anderson Cooper that Trump had tried to pay her after the first time they had sex.
“I actually didn’t know how to take that,” she said.
To be sure, there’s no guarantee that fresh information about these alleged affairs — which Trump denies took place at all — will come to light.
Moreover, Trump won the presidency in 2016 roughly a month after the so-called “Access Hollywood” tape emerged. In that tape, made 11 years previously, the then-candidate was heard boasting about grabbing women’s genitalia.
Case is ‘front and center’
Even so, a reminder of the alleged encounters with Daniels and McDougal hardly augurs well for the former president.
“This is now front and center just as we are going into a presidential cycle,” said Olivia Troye, a former aide to Vice President Pence, who resigned in the final summer of the Trump administration.
Troye, a Trump critic, noted the broader context of the battle for women’s votes.
“You have the disparaging comments he has made about women, in the background you have Roe v. Wade, and now this is being brought to the forefront all over again,” she said. “I think women voters will be watching this closely, and it will be interesting to see how this voting bloc will be impacted.”
Trump has no leeway to do any worse with moderate women than he did in 2020.
In the most widely used exit poll that year, he lost women by 15 points to Biden.
A more detailed voter analysis from The Associated Press and Fox News indicated he lost all women voters by 12 points, suburban women by 19 points and women who had graduated from college by a startling 31 points.
Those deficits were simply too large for Trump to make up via his higher support among men.
The next few months could deepen those problems and give GOP primary voters greater pause about nominating Trump one more time.
“Everyone is exhausted by Trump, and they don’t want to go through that again,” said another Republican Trump critic, strategist Susan Del Percio.
Still, not everyone is convinced that a renewed focus on allegations from Daniels or McDougal will do Trump serious political damage, especially given how he has weathered troubles in the past.
GOP strategist Liz Mair pushed back against the idea that women would “automatically think it’s bad” for Trump to have had the kind of encounters alleged.
“I suspect the women who do [disapprove] are actually more conservative, not independent or swing voters. It would be more the moralist category,” she said.
For Mair, any charges — or, even worse, convictions — for Trump of any kind of fraud offense would be more electorally toxic.
“I think everyone gets tax evasion. Most people may not really get wire fraud but it has the word ‘fraud’ in it, which is inherently bad,” she said.
Trump, of course, protests his innocence. And there are bound to be many twists in the tale yet.
But it hardly helps the former president that Daniels is back in the spotlight, regaling the public with mocking details about him.
In an interview with the London Times this week, Daniels was asked if she was worried about facing Trump in court.
“I’ve seen him naked. There’s no way he could be scarier with his clothes on,” she responded.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.
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