Of these, the Daniels story has managed to mushroom, even without Trump’s help. (The White House won’t even say whether the president watched the interview.) His silence here is especially surprising, because Trump is typically so eager to pick fights. He has been willing to scrap with major media organizations, Cabinet secretaries, his then-national-security adviser, the special counsel who could severely damage his presidency, and Kim, a nuclear-armed adversary. Yet anyone expecting a display of Stormy und drang has been confounded: Faced with Daniels, as well as with Karen McDougal, another woman who alleges a Trump affair, the president has clammed up.
It’s hard to find a reason for this. There are legal and political reasons why it might be wise for the president to keep quiet, but that has hardly swayed him in the past. Trump has defied political conventional wisdom repeatedly, and he’s done things that practically no lawyer would recommend, like quizzing people who have spoken to Special Counsel Robert Mueller about their interviews—especially dangerous given that Trump is already under scrutiny for possible obstruction of justice. Indeed, the president has at times shown a perverse tendency to do something simply because he’s been told not to.
Some people have paid painstaking attention to Trump’s relationship with First Lady Melania Trump, noting when, for example, they travel separately, or her decision to stay at Mar-a-Lago this week. Perhaps domestic considerations play a role, though Trump has not shied away from salacious remarks about women in the past, and that still wouldn’t explain why he would be reluctant to offer a public denial.
The silence has also led to speculation that something nefarious might be afoot. Such worries were fed by a statement Tuesday from Senators Thom Tillis, a Republican, and Chris Coons, a Democrat, who called for Mueller to be allowed to conduct his investigation “without impediment.” The two men previously introduced a bill to legally protect Mueller’s job, though it has languished. The sudden appearance of the statement, with no obvious proximate cause, was enough to spawn worries that what’s happening now is the calm before a much greater controversy. There’s no way to rule that out, of course, and FBI Director James Comey’s firing took the nation by surprise. The general pattern of the Trump administration, however, would suggest that such a move couldn’t happen without leaking it to the press first. It is usually only when Trump makes a spur-of-the-moment decision, catching even advisers off guard, that there’s no advance notice.
In addition to being good for the blood pressure and sleep of political journalists, the slow news week seems to be treating the president fairly well. A new Politico/Morning Consult poll found that while most voters found Daniels’s story credible, Trump’s approval rating remained stable.