The new bottom line: If you are famous enough—and disliked enough—it doesn’t matter whether you are right. The other party will become world-famous and super-wealthy before you can win.
A heavy-breathing lawyer’s letter from Team Trump does not frighten a Stormy Daniels. She can release it to The New York Times and watch it dominate the next day’s news cycle. With news domination come economic opportunities for her—and unremitting political damage for the presidency.
In private life, Trump’s reputation as a vexatious litigant enabled him to intimidate people. Someone who received a threatening lawyer’s letter from Team Trump had to consider, “Do I want to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of my life dealing with this? Or should I cut my losses and surrender now?”
That seems to have been Stormy Daniels’s thinking when she settled with Trump, pre-election.
Daniels: … I didn’t even negotiate, I just quickly said yes to this v—very, you know, strict contract. And what most people will agree with me extremely low number. It’s all the proof I need. … I didn’t wanna kiss and tell and be labeled all the things that I’m being labeled now. I didn’t wanna take away from the legitimate and legal, I’d like to point out, career that I’ve worked very hard to establish. And most importantly, I did not want my family and my child exposed to all the things that she’s being exposed to right now. Because everything that I was afraid of coming out has come out anyway, and guess what? I don’t have a million dollars.
Post-election, however, things look different. Trump actually won—and Daniels’s $130,000 payoff feels to her like chump change. She wants more, and she’s perfectly positioned to get it.
Trump’s cease-and-desist letters no longer frighten. They function as virtual currency, denominated in the millions of dollars. One of those letters enriched Wolff; now it’s Daniels’s turn—and who knows next who else? Now it is Trump who cannot afford to litigate, not because of the monetary cost but because of the reputational risks. As a skeezy reality-TV star in a third marriage governed by a tight pre-nuptial agreement, Trump could shrug off those reputational risks. As president, he cannot. They show up in polls.
Trump University set the precedent: after years of stalling, an election eve settlement. Michael Wolff sent the message: Even without a settlement, it’s still lucrative to defy the president’s lawyers. Stormy Daniels is now executing the plan. Her success may embolden still others.
The heavy-breathing threats that Trump consigliere Michael Cohen formerly growled at stiffed subcontractors, cheated creditors, enraged ex-girlfriends, and abused auditionees for The Apprentice are words that now redound against the president: “Go ahead. Sue me.”