Certain phrases, uttered in a moment, become part and parcel of a presidency, particularly when they reveal glimpses of the person occupying the office. “The better angels of our nature,” for instance, helped shape Abraham Lincoln’s legacy as much as “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” did Bill Clinton’s.
Which phrases will history associate with Donald Trump? No president before him has offered such direct, unfiltered access to his psyche, or sparked such willful chaos in doing so. Faced with Trump’s enthusiasm for scorched-earth tweets and sound bites, few adversaries can measure up. Stormy Daniels is one of them, and the words Trump has used for her characterize aspects of his presidency better than any others.
The adult-film actor and dancer has plagued the president ever since The Wall Street Journal reported in January 2018 that Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, had paid Daniels $130,000 during the 2016 campaign to not talk publicly about a sexual relationship she claimed to have had with Trump a decade earlier. Various lawsuits, talk-show appearances, and cable interviews featuring Daniels’s lawyer, Michael Avenatti, ensued. In October 2018, as news broke that Daniels had had her defamation case against Trump thrown out by a judge in California, Trump responded to the news on Twitter, referring directly to Daniels for the first time. “Great,” he wrote, “now I can go after Horseface and her 3rd rate lawyer in the Great State of Texas.”