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Stormy Daniels testimony was lurid and powerful – but Trump voters don’t care

Stormy Daniels testimony was lurid and powerful – but Trump voters don’t care

Stormy Daniels may have regarded sex with Donald Trump as brief, unimaginative and regrettable but the porn star gripped the nation with a salacious and lengthy retelling of the encounter to a New York court this week.

Daniels’s humiliating testimony in Trump’s fraud trial infuriated the former president who glowered from a few feet away. But her account only confirmed what most Americans already knew about a man widely regarded as a sexual predator and appeared unlikely to change many votes in November’s presidential election.

New York state is prosecuting Trump for fraud for allegedly using his business, the Trump Organization, to pay $130,000 in hush money to Daniels days before the 2016 election. She went public anyway two years later with a book, Full Disclosure, in which she claimed to have had sex with Trump once.

Related: Text messages with Enquirer editor: Trump trial key takeaways, day 15

The former US president continues to deny the encounter but opinion polls show that most Republicans think he’s lying. They also don’t care.

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said that many Trump voters may be absorbed by unusually lurid testimony for a fraud trial, but he doubts it will make a significant difference to the outcome of the second round of Trump v Biden.

“When the details about Stormy Daniels finally came out during Trump’s presidency, people just instinctively knew it was true. Just like people instinctively knew that Bill Clinton had fooled around because he’d done it so many times before. People are not stupid. But in this era, it doesn’t matter much. Twenty years ago, Trump wouldn’t even be the Republican nominee. Now it doesn’t move the needle at all,” he said.

Daniels spent more than seven hours on the witness stand describing her encounter with Trump at a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe in 2006. She was a hostess at a hospitality tent run by the pornographic film company Wicked Pictures.

Trump, who was 60 years old at the time and had a newborn son with his wife of less than a year, invited Daniels, who was 27, to dinner. She went along on the advice of her publicist who said: “What could possibly go wrong?”

Daniels told the court how she went to meet Trump at his penthouse suite expecting to go to a restaurant only to find him in satin pyjamas. She said her evening evolved from administering a playful spanking with a magazine that had Trump’s face on the cover to her alarm at finding him spread across a bed stripped down to his underwear.

Daniels said he then pressured her into having sex.

“I was staring up at the ceiling, wondering how I got there,” she told the jury.

The judge stopped Daniels rapid-fire testimony at times, telling her the jurors did not need to know the pair had sex in the missionary position, with Daniels keeping her bra on, or that Trump didn’t use a condom. But by then they had heard it and, like almost everyone else in court and around the country, were unlikely to forget.

Daniels said the sex “was brief” although, apparently, not brief enough.

“I felt ashamed that I didn’t stop it, that I didn’t say no,” she said.

All but the president’s most diehard supporters are likely to have recoiled at Daniels’s account that in the midst of all this Trump told her she reminded him of his daughter Ivanka.

That evening, the late-night talkshow host Jimmy Kimmel joked, “Feels like we should lock him up just for that,” to applause from the audience.

Daniels’s testimony also overshadowed the mundane but more relevant evidence about the mechanics of the alleged fraud although the prosecution’s key witness, Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, has yet to testify. Cohen handled the payment to Daniels to buy her silence and has already served 13 months in prison after pleading guilty to tax evasion and breaching campaign finance laws over the transaction.

Still, Sabato is sceptical that even evidence that Trump stole from his own company will do much to dent his support.

“The group of American voters that used to care deeply about issues like that, and who put Bill Clinton through the wringer, are white evangelical Christians. And now we’ve got the orange Jesus in their view. They long ago excused Trump anything,” he said.

Instead, the trial has only gone to strengthen the view of many Trump supporters that he is a victim of an establishment conspiracy. Eight in 10 Trump voters believe the fraud investigation by the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, was rigged to frame the former president.

Rick Scott, a Republican senator, turned up at the court on Thursday to claim that Trump was only being prosecuted because he is running for the White House again, calling the trial a “pure political persecution”.

A conviction in the case might be another matter. An ABC News/Ipsos poll this month showed that while 80% of Trump’s supporters will stand by him if he is convicted of a felony, 16% would reconsider their support and 4% would walk away from the former president.

Given the slim margins by which swing states are decided in the presidential election, Sabato said that could prove enough to sink Trump’s bid for another term in the White House.

On the other hand, it appears increasingly unlikely the former president will go on trial before the election on the multiple charges – ranging from mishandling classified documents to his role in the 6 January 2021 storming of the Capitol – he faces in Florida, Georgia and Washington DC.

“What Trump did in the documents case is completely outrageous but people don’t care,” said Sabato. “The only one that would have an impact is the January 6 case because people don’t fully understand that this was an attempted coup d’état. You have enough focus on that in a trial and then you peel away one or 2% from Trump, which can probably decide the election. But it’s not going to be held before November now, so he’s slipped away.”

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