What happens in the days and weeks after everyone realizes the emperor has no clothes? Once the initial shock of revelation, disillusion, shame, and schadenfreude wears off, the emperor is still naked. He is naked wandering around his palace. Feeding the imperial goldfish in the imperial koi pond. Nibbling on a taco. After a while, there’s no more prurient delight to be had in the mere fact of his nakedness, just awkwardness and embarrassment.
On Wednesday, the celebrity magazine InTouch ran a 6-year-old interview with adult film star Stormy Daniels in which she describes her mid-2000s affair with Donald Trump. The tabloid recounts how the tycoon took a shine to Daniels in the months after his wife, Melania, gave birth to their son, Barron. It offers us a peek at the man’s literal and figurative nakedness. As president, Trump hoped to be the “broad-shouldered” commander of nuclear weapons and citizens’ fortunes. In short order, he revealed himself to be a slob watching TV on his bed. Before winning the highest office in the land, he fancied himself a Casanova intoxicating women with his power and connections. But in Daniels’ telling, he was … a slob watching TV on his bed.
Trump first spied the porn actress at a celebrity golf event. “He kept looking at me and then we ended up riding to another hole on the same golf cart together,” she told InTouch. Trump invited Daniels to dinner, and when she showed up at his hotel in evening clothes, ready to “go out on the town,” he was flipping channels, dressed for comfort in pajama pants. They talked. He asked her about her business and tap-danced around the fact of Melania. (“Oh, don’t worry about her,” he reportedly said, before waving an image of himself on a magazine cover in Daniels’ face.) The inevitable, drab moment of “getting on with it” arrived when Daniels returned from the bathroom to find her suitor beckoning her from the mattress. “I was like, ‘Ugh, here we go.’ And we started kissing,” she recalled. The sex? “Nothing crazy. It was one position, what you would expect someone his age to do.”
After this routine and unremarkable coupling—a literal par for the course—Trump seemed “smitten.” He called Daniels often, every 10 days or so via a blocked number, and received messages from her via his bodyguard Keith Schiller and assistant Rhona Graff. Limply, he promised to cast her on the Celebrity Apprentice, though the logistics would never quite gel. When her ardent and insecure paramour phoned her at home, Daniels would put him on speaker so her ex-husband could hear. A friend, “Randy,” told InTouch she assumed Daniels “was maintaining the relationship for business reasons.” The affair fizzled, however, after Playboy Playmate Tiffany Fallon appeared on Celebrity Apprentice and Trump called to try to smooth things over. “I think he was afraid I was going to be pissed,” Daniels told InTouch. “I just thought that was really funny. Don’t care. Totally over it.”
In the interview, Daniels bounces back and forth between competing visions of the future 45.
Their meeting on the golf course—a lingering stare turns into a shared ride—hews to the tropes of romance, or romantic comedy. When Trump gets her number and asks her to dinner, she thinks, “Yeah, of course!” because “who would pass up an opportunity to talk to someone so interesting?” Even after their lackluster hotel room assignation, Daniels says Trump “was great to me. He was a nice guy. He didn’t mistreat me.” Still, she tells the tabloid, “I have no idea why I did it. Honestly, I really don’t.”
Perhaps what Daniels is wrestling with here is an experience that was marketed to her one way and turned out to be something else. Trump’s main goal in life has been to foster an aspirational brand—to sell himself as a rich and successful Lothario whose charms and triumphs inevitably prove irresistible to sex goddesses named Stormy. Watching him try his hand at politics or business or romance is always an exercise in disenchantment. He has spent his career training the vines of glamor to grow on a decrepit trellis. It takes five minutes, in one position, to figure out those vines are dead and the trellis is termite-ridden.
The Trump of Daniels’ recollection salutes the readers of 2018 like an underwear-clad ghost in an adaptation of A Christmas Carol that nobody asked for. Daniels may have felt disappointed or confused or annoyed when the fast-living playboy she imagined turned out to be grubby and boring, unworthy of a proper fling. But the last thing any of us should be upon hearing her story is surprised.