WASHINGTON — Donald Trump has spent most of his adult life as a tabloid target.
"Best Sex I've Ever Had," screamed a 1990 New York Post headline, quoting not-yet-second-wife Marla Maples. That headline came amid reports of divorce talks from first wife Ivana: "Billion Dollar Blowup" (People Magazine). "Ivana Better Deal" (New York Daily News) and "Marry Me Marla" (The Daily News).
And then, when Ivana supported Trump's campaign for president, the headlines came full circle: "The Best Ex I've Ever Had."
So Thursday's headline in celebrity gossip magazine In Touch Weekly — "My Affair With Donald" — is neither surprising nor groundbreaking. It recounts a six-year-old, previously unpublished interview with an adult film actress who said she had an affair with Trump in 2005, shortly after his third wife — now first lady Melania Trump — gave birth to his youngest son.
On Thursday, the Journal reported that the payment came through a Delaware limited liability corporation, using pseudonyms to further obscure the transaction.
Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, has denied allegations of an affair or a payoff. “These rumors have circulated time and again since 2011,” he said. “President Trump once again vehemently denies any such occurrence, as has Ms. Daniels.”
He produced a letter from Daniels last week in which she called the reports "absolutely false."
"My involvement with Donald Trump was limited to a few public appearances and nothing more," she wrote in the letter provided by Cohen — an assertion contradicted by her interview with In Touch, which was purportedly supported by friends she confided in at the time. The magazine also said she passed a polygraph test.
The White House has mostly declined to engage on the story at all. "This allegation was asked and answered during the campaign," White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah told reporters aboard Air Force One on Thursday.
If so, it wasn't answered publicly. Stories by Slate magazine, In Touch and Good Morning America never materialized until the Wall Street Journal report gave the story legitimacy last week.
Trump's exploits seem to be baked into his poll numbers. The Access Hollywood tape, in which Trump bragged — or, by his account, joked — about sexually assaulting women failed to derail his candidacy in 2016.
Brendan Nyhan, a Dartmouth University professor who has studied why some political scandals explode and others fizzle, says there's a number of reasons why the Daniels story hasn't been bigger news.
"The Daniels allegation is also not especially important to Democrats relative to concerns they have about the Russia investigation so no one is pushing the story hard," Nyhan said. "As a result, it’s getting less attention from both the press and the public — who, in part, take cues from political elites about which topics are noteworthy."
But there's also this: The behavior Daniels describes, beginning with meeting Trump in his hotel room at a celebrity golf tournament in 2005, appeared to be entirely consensual.
Even amid all the increased attention to sexual assault and sexual harassment in the wake of allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and scores of other entertainers, executives, actors and politicians, the latest story about Trump doesn't fit the pattern.
That differentiates it from President Clinton's relationship with 22-year-old intern Monica Lewinsky in 1996 — a story that exploded into the mainstream news cycle 20 years ago this week and ultimately led to Clinton's impeachment and disbarment.