Monday, March 26, 2018


I don't think James Poniewozik's New York Times piece about Stormy Daniels gets everything right, but Poniewozik is on to something:
None of Mr. Trump’s many media antagonists have taken him on in quite this way, on his own terms, using some of the same tactics he did as a celebrity, candidate and president.

Others have come at Mr. Trump with indignation, righteousness and appeals to decency. Ms. [Daniels] swatted Mr. Trump with a rolled-up network newsmagazine.

Speaking to Anderson Cooper, Ms. Daniels was direct and conversational. She had playful one-liners. (“You didn’t even buy me breakfast,” she told Mr. Cooper.) She told a story. (Describing how she said Mr. Trump awaited her on the edge of a hotel bed — “perched” — she mimed his sitting position and bearing.)

But most important — most, dare I say it, Trumpian — she was unapologetic....

Ms. [Daniels] owned her story and her life. Yes, she’s stripped and had sex on camera for a living, a “legitimate — and legal, I’d like to point out — career.” Yes, she’s gotten job offers from her publicity: “Tell me one person who would turn down a job offer making more than they’ve been making.”

... [She] has used unshamability and quick-draw ripostes as a force field. When a critic on Twitter told her that “dumb whores go to hell,” she shot back, “Glad I’m a smart one.”
I don't think Daniels is particularly Trumpian. Trump tries to impress people with his brazenness, and wants us all to acknowledge that he's a genius. Daniels seems to want us to find her likable and decent, no matter what we think of her career.

What she seems to have in common with Trump is self-confidence. However, hers isn't grandiose -- she knows she's sharp-witted, but she isn't showoffy about it. (In a way, it's simplistic to say that Trump is self-confident -- he has delusions of grandeur and he's the poster child for the Dunning-Kruger effect, but he also has an addict's need for validation by others.)

The point is that she's self-confident enough not to be rattled by Trump -- by his goons, maybe, but not by Trump himself. She doesn't "come at Mr. Trump with indignation, righteousness and appeals to decency" in part because the last two would be inappropriate from an adult entertainer, but also because her primary reaction to him isn't rage or disgust. She's not intimidated. When she thinks about him, she keeps her wits about her. She's calm and collected.

If her response to Trump reminds me of anyone else's response, it's Barack Obama's. Trump might have rattled Obama, but Obama never showed that he was rattled. His deadpan delivery of those White House Correspondents' Dinner jokes was pure cool.

What makes this possible is charisma, or at least stage presence. Daniels has presence (and I'm not talking about her breasts). She commands the stage even modestly dressed and just talking. She has something and she knows it. So does Obama.

As I've said before, I disagree with that recent Philippe Reines op-ed in The Washington Post -- I don't think being like Trump is the way to beat Trump in 2020. An opponent who hopes to beat Trump will need stage presence, because a candidate who has presence will have a chance of being read as capable and powerful. The candidate should stay cool and be subtly witty, not boorishly Trumpesque. The point is to make Trump try to rattle you and fail. That makes him look desperate -- which is what didn't happen in the 2016 campaign.

Some of that was because the media was awestruck by him. Next to him, everyone else seemed diminished, from Jeb Bush to Hillary Clinton.

If you want to be the Democratic presidential candidate in 2020, have presence, like yourself (not in a grandiose way, but in a calmly self-confident way), and never show that you're fazed by Trump -- in other words, be like Obama, and like Stormy Daniels.

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