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In Stormy Daniels, Trump may have met his match

Trump and Daniels have a lot in common. That’s why she’s the perfect opponent for him.

Stormy Daniels signs copies of her book Full Disclosure on October 8, 2018
Stormy Daniels signs copies of her book Full Disclosure on October 8, 2018.
Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images
Anna North is a senior correspondent for Vox, where she covers American family life, work, and education. Previously, she was an editor and writer at the New York Times. She is also the author of three novels, including the New York Times bestseller Outlawed.

Here’s one thing President Trump and Stormy Daniels have in common: When you insult them, they’re going to fire back.

So when Trump called Daniels “horseface” on Twitter Tuesday morning, the porn actress, director, and writer was quick to reply in kind:

Trump was happy because a judge had just dismissed Daniels’s defamation lawsuit against him, requiring her to pay his legal fees. But as Vox’s Emily Stewart notes, the legal battles between the two aren’t over — Daniels is still suing Trump over the nondisclosure agreement she signed in 2016, agreeing not to talk about the affair she says she had with Trump. That case still poses a threat to Trump because he could be deposed, potentially opening him up to charges of perjury.

And while their case winds its way through the courts, Daniels is proving the perfect opponent for Trump — because the two have a lot of similarities. Like Trump, Daniels understands power dynamics, and she can be a bit of a bully when she wants to be. Like Trump, she never backs down from a Twitter fight. And like Trump, she’s got nothing to lose from an American public that already disrespects her.

One big difference between the two, though, is that while Trump routinely punches down at targets much smaller and weaker than him, Daniels is punching up at Trump — and though she hasn’t quite landed a blow yet, she’s not leaving the ring.

Daniels understands power plays

If there’s one thing Trump’s critics and supporters agree on, it’s that he can be a bully. But soon after they met, Daniels says she essentially bullied him.

After an event in Lake Tahoe in 2006, Daniels writes in her book Full Disclosure, Trump invited her back to his hotel room for dinner.

“We started talking, which meant he proceeded to go on and on and on without asking me anything about myself,” Daniels writes. “Plus, I was freaking hungry. I needed a bowl of pretzels, at least, if I was going to sit through this.”

When Trump showed her a magazine with himself on the cover — still with no dinner in sight — Daniels writes that she’d had enough.

“Someone should take that magazine and spank you with it,” she says she told him. Then, she writes, she actually did it.

“It was a power moment, not at all sexual,” Daniels writes — and to some degree, it worked. Trump seemed to have a newfound respect for her, calling her “a woman to be reckoned with.”

Trump, known for pushing other people around — as when he appeared to dangle the job of secretary of state in front of Mitt Romney before offering it to Rex Tillerson — had, at least momentarily, met his match.

Daniels ended up having sex with Trump, she writes, even though she didn’t want to and wasn’t attracted to him (she has always been clear that she considers the encounter consensual).

But for a moment, at least, she had a sense of power over him. Daniels revisited the incident in a recent interview with the Cut. “I checked him hard,” she said. “I was a fucking bitch to him.”

She knows her way around a Twitter fight

Trump, of course, is famous for his Twitter warfare — see, for instance, his latest screeds against Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), whom he recently called “Pocahontas (the bad version).”

But when it comes to trading insults online, he may have met his match in Daniels. As she told the Cut, she enjoys a good Twitter fight. “It’s great sport for me,” she said. “That’s how I entertain myself on flights now.”

So when Trump called her “horseface,” she didn’t miss a beat, firing back and hitting him where it hurts: his size.

Trump is famously sensitive about the size of his hands. And in the past, he’s felt the need to reassure Americans about the size of his penis, saying during a primary debate in 2016 that he had “no problem” in that department.

So Daniels calling him “tiny” isn’t just a low blow — it’s also a way for her to play on Trump’s well-established insecurities. (In Full Disclosure, she famously described the president’s penis as looking “like the mushroom character from Mario Kart,” effectively ruining the popular Nintendo game for many.)

Trump prides himself on being able to spot people’s weaknesses. But Daniels spotted a weakness in him early on.

“He was just run-of-the-mill insecure,” she writes, “which I find happens a lot with people with money that they didn’t earn themselves. They harbor this inner self-esteem problem that they try to mask by overcompensating. That’s him to a tee.”

She has nothing to lose

Trump is sometimes called “Teflon” for his ability to weather all manner of scandal — starting with the Access Hollywood tape and continuing through a recent New York Times investigation into his taxes, he’s survived revelations that would have tanked the careers of other politicians. In part, this is because people’s opinions of him are already so low. Americans — including some of those who voted for him — already see him as untrustworthy and unfit to be president. And he’s done and said so many outlandish or offensive things that it’s hard for any new information about him to truly surprise anyone.

In a way, Daniels has a similar Teflon quality. As a porn director and performer, she’s part of a segment of American society that already gets next to no respect. In a Gallup poll earlier this year, 55 percent of Americans said they think pornography is morally wrong (though the percentage who think it’s acceptable is on the rise, a fact that, according to Gallup, could be linked to Daniels’s growing fame). And Daniels is routinely targeted by critics who try to shame her for her career choices.

But she isn’t ashamed of stripping or doing porn, and when trolls attack her, she reacts with pride and humor. When one Twitter critic called her “classless” and “disgusting,” she responded, “since I can put both feet behind my head while licking my nipple, I’ll give you ‘classless.’”

“They’ll be like, ‘Whore,’” she told the Cut, talking about her haters. “And I’m like, ‘Yes?’ I mean, I guess I feel the most powerful when someone tries to take my power or belittle me or insult me and it doesn’t work. I’ve sort of taken all their power away from them.”

Daniels’s confidence also takes the power away from one of Trump’s favorite techniques for cutting down women — slut-shaming. During the campaign, for instance, he accused former Miss Universe Alicia Machado of having a sex tape after she criticized him. But Daniels isn’t embarrassed about having sex on camera, and she can’t be slut-shamed because she rejects the entire paradigm under which a woman being “slutty” is a bad thing.

As Vox’s Emily Stewart puts it, “the slurs hurled at women to humiliate or belittle them don’t seem to work on Daniels. She disarms taunters, and they’re the ones who end up hurt.”

Like Trump, Daniels in some ways has nothing to lose when it comes to public opinion. “Because I am an adult film actress, director, and dancer,” she writes in Full Disclosure, “when I meet people they usually have some nagging question about what gives me the nerve to think I can do something. How do I do porn or take off my clothes onstage in clubs? Or take on the president of the United States?”

But if there’s one thing Daniels has, it’s nerve. She’s made her living in the sex industry, and she owns that fact. So attempts to silence her by impugning her sexual virtue — a time-honored technique for shutting women up — just roll right off her back.

The biggest difference between Daniels and Trump: she’s punching up

According to Daniels, even Trump recognized that he had something in common with her. In Full Disclosure, she writes that neither drinks alcohol — Trump because “people make poor financial decisions when they’ve been drinking” and Daniels because “I can’t tell you how many clubs I’ve been in where girls get drunk and lose their money.” When he found this out, Daniels writes, Trump told her that their businesses were “kind of a lot alike.”

Where the two part ways, though, is in how they use their particular skills. Daniels enjoys taking potshots at people who insult her on Twitter — and, of course, at the president. While she writes in Full Disclosure that she didn’t vote in 2016, she’s now solidly anti-Trump, telling the Cut, “I found out about the immigration stuff — the images of the kids in camps — and that was the big moment when I was like, ‘Okay, fuck this motherfucker, let’s go, ladies.’”

From the moment she met Trump, Daniels has been using her abilities — her way of spotting a weakness, her quick Twitter wit — to punch up, first at a wealthy man many years her senior (“this guy was more than twice my age,” she writes of their hotel room meeting), and later at the president of the United States.

Trump, meanwhile, uses his considerable bullying power to punch down — at Daniels, at the many women who have accused him of sexual assault or harassment, and at a variety of other ordinary Americans who have considerably less power than he does. While Daniels seems to relish finding the weak spots in a powerful man, Trump, both with his policies and with his public statements, has consistently targeted people weaker than he is.

It’s too soon to tell whether Daniels will prove a David to Trump’s Goliath — whether her remaining lawsuit will actually result in a damaging deposition from him. Still, it’s all but certain that she’ll keep fighting.

“I know that the deck has always been stacked against me,” she writes in Full Disclosure, “and there is absolutely no reason for me to have made it to where I am, right here talking to you. Except that maybe the universe loves an underdog as much as I do.”

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