"He was bigger and blocking the way": Stormy Daniels takes the stand and reminds people who Trump is

Daniels tells a story that echoes what E. Jean Carroll told the jury in Trump's sexual assault trial

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published May 8, 2024 6:00AM (EDT)

Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

"The people call Stormy Daniels."

Even though Donald Trump's former lawyer and longtime fixer Michael Cohen is a more important witness in the former president's ongoing criminal trial in Manhattan, the press is just as interested in Tuesday's testimony from the adult film actress at the center of his election interference case. No doubt much of the fascination is salacious, due to the nature of her job and her allegations of a disturbing sexual encounter with Trump in 2006. But much of it is due to Daniels herself, who has proved to be surprisingly charismatic, if at times chaotic, even as she faces a staggering amount of negative attention. 

Mostly, however, Daniels matters for reasons outside of the courtroom and the specifics of this hush-money trial. Daniels' story is yet another reminder of what may prove to be Trump's electoral downfall: His bottomless misogyny. 

Daniels' story is yet another reminder of what may prove to be Trump's electoral downfall: His bottomless misogyny. 

On the witness stand, Daniels reportedly spoke quickly and was apparently quite nervous. Initially, her story of meeting Trump sounded funny. She painted him as a pathetic older man trying — and failing — to impress the younger woman. When he first asked her to dinner, she replied "no," but with an expletive. Her publicist eventually talked her into it, hoping Daniels could leverage the connection into a spot on "The Apprentice." In his hotel room, she described him wearing "silk or satin" pajamas and asked him to put on real clothes. He allegedly used the "don't even sleep in the same room" line when she asked about his wife, Melania, who had recently had a baby. Daniels described Trump as "pompous" and "arrogant." She recounted how she jokingly spanked him with a magazine, hoping to tease him into being less of a jerk.

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Then the tone of her story changed, as she described how they came to have sex. Trump waited until she was in the bathroom, Daniels said, and then he stripped down to boxer shorts and a T-shirt.  "The room spun in slow motion," she recalled on the witness stand. When she made for the door, "he was bigger and blocking the way," she said of Trump. She denied it was sexual assault, however, because "I was not threatened either verbally or physically."

Whether or not Trump's sexual encounter with Daniels was consensual in the legal sense, she describes it as unwanted.

"I didn’t say anything at all," she told the court repeatedly. Claiming that she "blacked out" during the encounter, afterward, Daniels said, "my hands were shaking so hard" and "I felt ashamed that I didn’t stop it and that I didn’t say 'No.'"

Following Daniels' testimony on Tuesday, I was struck by how much it has in common with what E. Jean Carroll described in her two recent civil trials, where both juries found that Trump had sexually assaulted her in the 90s. Carroll, too, told of a random encounter with Trump she initially thought to be flirty but not sexual. Like Daniels, Carroll describes teasing Trump, who famously has no sense of humor about himself. In both cases, the women describe Trump becoming aggressive after the light mockery. In Carroll's case, the judge described what happened after as what "many people commonly understand the word 'rape.'" Daniels, to be clear, frames her encounter with Trump differently.

Since the release of the "Access Hollywood" video in 2016, in which Trump can be heard bragging about sexual assault, the Beltway media has repeatedly tried to move on from the story of Trump's legion of issues with women. Indeed, when Carroll's accusations first came out in 2019, the press barely paid any mind. But the story of his rampant misogyny has never fully gone away. There was the Women's March that overshadowed his 2017 inauguration. Then the over two dozen women who stepped forward with stories of being subject to the sexual harassment and assault Trump himself described so vividly. Trump, of course, is more responsible than any other person on the planet for the overturn of Roe v. Wade and the stampede of Republican state legislators banning abortion. He promised to stack the Supreme Court with anti-choice justices, and his three appointees provided the votes necessary in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health, which ended the legal right to abortion. While Trump has tried to make moderate-sounding noises on this issue, he keeps inadvertently revealing his anti-choice radicalism. In a recent Time interview, for instance, he indicated that he's fine if states "monitor women's pregnancies so they can know if they've gotten an abortion." 

To feminists, it's obvious that there's a connection between Trump's abusive and predatory behavior towards individual women and his willingness to ban abortion. Forced sex and forced childbirth are on a continuum, rooted in the assumption that a woman has no bodily autonomy worth respecting. But to people who are less well-versed in feminist theory, there's often an assumption that someone as sexually self-indulgent as Trump isn't "really" opposed to abortion. Daniels testified on Tuesday that Trump didn't use a condom. So it's not unreasonable for people to assume he may have relied on legal abortion so women can clean up the messes of his carelessness. 

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That said, there are bits of evidence that even more moderate and conservative female voters are starting to see a connection between Trump's anti-abortion politics and his sexually predatory behavior. On a recent episode of her "Focus Group" podcast, former Republican political consultant Sarah Longwell played fascinating clips from a table of former female Trump voters who are turning against him. Most were appalled at the post-Dobbs abortion bans. But even more interestingly, some of the women drew a connection between anti-choice politics and Trump's personal abusiveness towards women. 

One woman said she objects to Trump's "comments about women," and immediately expressed chagrin that his anti-choice views are "not allowing people their own medical freedom." Another woman even used the word "patriarchy" to object to those who think a woman should not decide. The issue of rape was linked to abortion throughout, as many states — including Arizona at the time — have no exception for rape. (Not that rape exceptions work in states that do have them.) There's still a long way to go, but there are tendrils of hope that more people are seeing that the casual cruelty Trump expresses to women in his personal life goes a long way toward explaining why he doesn't care if they are hurt or even killed by abortion bans. 

A big focus of Trump's relentless whining about this case has been focused on the gag order imposed by Judge Juan Merchan, which forbids Trump from bad-mouthing jurors, witnesses, most of the court staff, or their family members. Judging by his agitation in court Tuesday, Trump would love to get on Truth Social and start firing off abuse towards Daniels. He should, however, be very glad the threat of jail will keep him from doing so. As Longwell's focus group shows, there are already women who are regretting their past votes for Trump because of his misogyny. The more he vents his spleen with abusive language towards women — especially women, like Stormy Daniels, who've already suffered so much at his hands — the worse it will likely be for him. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Commentary Donald Trump Elections 2024 Misogyny Stormy Daniels Trump Trials