For years, Republicans have repeated an earnest trope about President Bill Clinton: He was not impeached for his repeated, sexual dalliances with a White House intern. He was impeached for lying about it. Despite Clinton’s tortured attempts to say he never really fibbed, this has hardened into what many GOPers clearly consider an unbreakable shield which they whip out whenever an angry Democrat accuses them of some sort of rampant Puritanism. No, they say, this is about a simple idea — a nation cannot tolerate a chief executive who purposely tries to subvert the law with untruths, misdirection or anything else.
Which is why the saga of Stormy Daniels could become an enormous problem for the party of the right.
Under what I’ll call “Clinton Logic” as applied by the GOP, whether the porn actress and Donald Trump danced a midnight mambo does not matter. After all, the president’s hardcore base has shown it will stand firm even when he himself exposes his interest in extramarital activities.
But right now, depending on how all the investigations, legal rulings and lawyering play out, this president could be implicated in any number of illegal activities. Obstruction of justice. Violation of election laws. Perhaps even some form of intimidation. And if Trump is found to have taken part in any of that, whether or not he was involved with Stormy Daniels, the GOP is in a serious bind. Because it is perilous for any party to spend twenty years crowing about an easily understood principle, then pretend nothing is wrong if that rule cuts into one of the party’s own.
So every time you hear Stormy Daniels’ name, remember: This is not a story about sex. It’s not about Democratic opposition. It’s not about strippers. It’s not even about Donald Trump’s private choices. The issue is whether a sitting U.S. president broke any laws to hide his behavior, and whether his party will accept that, despite years of insisting such behavior is unforgiveable. That’s it. So far we have no proof Donald Trump did anything wrong in this matter. But if that proof shows up, his own party might have no choice but to go after him with a fury.