It’s not hard to see why Stormy Daniels’s first on-camera interview has dominated the national political conversation in recent days. The story elements — a porn star, the president, hush money, threats of physical harm, a $20 million lawsuit, the big reveal on camera — were the stuff of ratings gold.
CBS confirmed as much Monday when it announced that Sunday’s interview was the highest-rated “60 Minutes” program in almost a decade.
But here is the truth: The Stormy Daniels story doesn’t matter, regardless of how much we talk about it. Don’t buy it? Below are four reasons why an affair from a dozen years ago just won’t affect the president.
1. Voters already knew all the moral hazards that come with a Trump administration and they voted for him anyway.
Much hay has been made about what could have been. What if Daniels never signed a non-disclosure agreement? Would she have come forward in the last days of the campaign with an explosive story that could have kicked the James Comey headlines off the front pages and put Trump into a defensive frenzy in the final hours of the campaign as voters in the heartland grappled with whether to cast a ballot amid such scandal.
The answer, quite simply, is no. That Donald Trump had issues in his marriages — or had outright affairs — is far from surprising (non-disclosure agreement or not). On Election Day, voters headed to the polls knowing full well who they were voting for: a candidate who’d been married three times, who joked on a leaked Access Hollywood tape about committing sexual assault, and who oversaw a beauty pageant which saw him accused of everything from creepy behavior to emotional humiliation of at least one winner.
The point is, Stormy Daniels or not, the storyline of Trump’s personal life was already a well-established point. Had Stormy Daniels told her story during the final days of the campaign, it would have undoubtedly made for some good weather-themed headlines, but it wouldn’t contradict anything that voters already knew about the candidate, thus changing their votes.
2. Republicans have long-since proven that they’re comfortable giving Trump a pass on his personal life.
The GOP, like the voters, have seen it all when it comes to Trump revelations. And in some cases, they’ve made clear that there are red lines he can’t cross (firing special counsel Robert Mueller for one, or advocating for an assault-weapons ban). But when it comes to his personal life, Republicans just don’t care as much.
We saw it happen with multiple scandals during the campaign, and now again, in the months since the Daniels’ story has been circulating, few Republicans have shown the issue to be a deal-breaker. They’ve gone on to embrace Trump as a central part of their local and state campaigns; they’ve had their photo taken with him in the White House, and they’ve worked with him to pass a major budget bill.
A primetime interview on the president’s personal affairs a decade ago just isn’t going to change that dynamic.
3. The Daniels headlines haven’t impaired Trump’s ability to do his job.
Since the Daniels story broke, it’s been an eventful few weeks in the White House. Trump shook up his Cabinet, announced he will meet with the North Korean leader, prepared to exit the Iranian nuclear deal, placed new tariffs threatening a global trade war, and enacted big changes to the legal team aiding him as the Mueller probe continues.
He may be thinking about the story, but it’s hardly debilitating, at least on the surface.
4. Even if his lawyer, Michael Cohen, violated campaign finance law, Trump need not worry that he’ll make a deal with the government to turn against the president in the Russia probe.
There are very convincing arguments that Cohen’s payment of $130,000 to Daniels to keep quiet in the days before the election amounted to an illegal in-kind campaign contribution (because it was way over $2,700 limit Cohen was legally allowed to give). The 60 Minutes segment and morning news shows that followed on Monday speculated that Cohen’s potential legal trouble might give Mueller leverage over him that could force him to talk on all things Trump and Russia.
But it could take years for the Federal Election Commission to take action against Cohen, and even then, all he’d be facing is a fine. It’s hard to imagine he’d flip on his longtime client to get out of paying a fine, even with a serious amount of strong arming by Mueller’s team.
Cohen may some day make a deal with the government related to Trump’s business dealings, but it won’t be because of Stormy Daniels or any payment he made to her.
James Pindell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell or subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics:http://pages.email.bostonglobe.com/GroundGameSignUp