Roughly 22 million Americans turned on “60 Minutes” on Sunday night to hear adult-film star Stormy Daniels say that she once spanked President Trump with a magazine that had his face on the cover and then had unprotected sex with him.
For many, the interview was the latest in a series of uncomfortable moments brought to their living rooms by a nontraditional president who has long graced the pages of tabloids, much to his delight, and broken every rule of political etiquette.
And now Trump is accused of having extramarital affairs with Daniels and former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal that started nearly 12 years ago, soon after his wife gave birth to his youngest son. Both women say they were paid tens of thousands of dollars to keep quiet during the campaign.
Yet 61 percent of Republicans consider the president a good role model for children, according to a Quinnipiac poll released last week. Although Trump is disappointing most Democrats — only 2 percent of whom consider him a role model — he has retained the wide support of members of his party at rates that are much higher than Bill Clinton experienced in 1998 when his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky became public.
Some of the president’s most dedicated supporters are deeply religious conservatives who would probably be shunned by their communities if they spoke or acted as Trump has. The Washington Post dispatched six reporters across the country to talk with conservatives about the disconnect between how they live their lives and how the president has lived his.
Sometimes when Sarah Wiseman is driving with her 15-year-old son, President Trump’s voice will come on the radio, uttering words that they avoid in their home.
“With the president, with any president, we would hope they would conduct themselves in a manner that we don’t have to try and explain to our children why they’re acting that way, and why certain things are happening, and explain the investigations and try and explain why they’re calling people names or cursing or doing that type of stuff,” said Wiseman, a 45-year-old Republican mother of two living in northern Indiana who works as a manufacturing systems engineer. “It’s unfortunate to do that. I’d rather not.”
Wiseman originally supported Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), and she reluctantly voted for Trump because she felt as though she didn’t have a better option. It’s a choice that’s difficult for her to explain.
“We want to teach our children: Respect yourself, respect other people,” said Wiseman, a local leader for the Boy Scouts of America. “But there comes a point where you kind of like have to, unfortunately, say, ‘Well, he’s the president. This is his job, this is his personal life.’ Kinda got to separate the two.”
If the principal of her son’s school or another leader in her community acted this way, she could take action. But the presidency is so far removed from her world that she doesn’t believe there’s anything she can do until the next election.
“How much of it am I willing to put up with?” Wiseman said. “I think it’s going to have a huge impact on his next election if he doesn’t tone it down just a little bit.”
— Reporting by Victoria St. Martin
Spring Hill, Tenn.
Beth Eads is heavily involved with the children at her large Christian church in the Nashville suburbs — and she never wants them to have any reason to question her integrity.
Eads, a 49-year-old nurse and mother of two home-schooled daughters, follows the “Billy Graham rule,” named for the influential evangelical pastor who avoided being alone with women other than his wife. Sometimes Eads will wait for the next elevator to avoid riding with a man.
She wishes that President Trump — whom she voted for — would follow that rule as well.
“I will not put myself in a situation where someone can question my integrity. Donald Trump has not done that,” Eads said on Saturday morning, sitting in her kitchen as the dishwasher ran and her teenage daughters worked on homework. “He has never put boundaries around himself. He has been around women by himself, touched women — and so when things are being questioned, people can’t say, ‘No, he would never do that.’ There is always a question.”
She doesn’t know if she believes the various accusations against the president, especially those involving incidents that occurred more than a decade ago, and wishes he would provide a genuine explanation. She worries that scandals involving the president have diverted attention from much more important issues, especially lowering the cost of medical care and creating a legal pathway to citizenship for immigrants who are in the country illegally, ending the deportations that are ripping families apart.
Eads teaches her daughters to pray for the president and respect him. In their home, he is addressed as “President Trump,” “Mr. Trump” or “Donald Trump” — never just “Trump,” which Eads considers disrespectful.
“My daughters know that whether he is a good president or a bad president,” she said, “God allowed him to be in this position.”
— Reporting by Bob Smietana
Salt Lake City
Patrick Keller’s decision to vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 surprised and concerned some of his fellow members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Keller strongly believes that marriage should be between only one man and one woman, and he opposes abortion — but he couldn’t vote for the Republican nominee, someone who has been accused of mistreating women and having no respect for “the sanctity of marriage.”
“We’re usually looking at candidates to find the one to support our issues the best,” said Keller, 44, who lives in Salt Lake City and works in information technology. “Very seldom do we have to decide whether or not they were even a decent person. But that was the situation.”
When Trump won the election, Keller said that “it was a very solemn day” and one that was difficult for him and his wife to explain to their children. The couple have three children living at home who are ages 10, 12 and 13.
“How do you tell your children that immorality and racism are okay?” he said. “It was rather traumatizing.”
Trump’s first 14 months in office have confirmed Keller’s view of Trump, he said, making clear “how immoral he is as a person.” Keller is frustrated that the women who came forward before the election to accuse Trump of kissing or groping them without permission were “blown off,” and he’s not at all surprised by the accusations from Daniels.
“It’s just more of the same to me,” he said. “The new scandals seem consistent with what we know about how he lived his life. Anybody who is surprised by this wasn’t paying attention when there was time to change it.”
— Reporting by Matthew LaPlante
Taylor Richards doesn’t know what to make of the accusations against Trump, especially the latest ones from Daniels. She knows that the president’s personal attorney paid Daniels $130,000 days before the election and that the president has denied the accusations. She’s waiting to see what happens next — while noting that Clinton was impeached for not being truthful about his affair.
“Is he going to be honest about it? I don’t know,” said Richards, 20, a gun-owning, rugby-playing junior psychology major at Ohio University in Athens, where she is the secretary of the College Republicans and doesn’t watch television news. “I don’t follow it super closely. . . . People are just, I don’t want to say ignoring it, but I think they’re just so used to him running his mouth.”
She added that people have become accustomed to their presidents having shortcomings and that if former president Barack Obama faced similar accusations, it would not be a big deal. Richards said Daniels’s accusations are yet one more reason for Democrats who already hate the president to hate him more.
“It’s not like I’m gung-ho about him — I just really hate Hillary Clinton. He was the lesser of two evils,” said Richards, whose favorite candidates were Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and former surgeon Ben Carson.
Richards considers herself a “conservatarian” — a mix of conservative and Libertarian operating under the motto of “Leave me alone.” On a campus filled with liberals, she said that many of her classmates cannot understand why a young woman would support Trump. She thinks that their concerns are often overblown and that many of her generation’s feminists are “man-hating victim-card people.”
“Can you please tell me how you have lost rights as a woman now?” she said. “Please. I haven’t lost my rights. My life is still the same.”
Valley Center, Calif.
Dressed in a sparkling gown for the Republican Party of San Diego County’s Lincoln Reagan Dinner in downtown San Diego on Saturday night, Delores Chavez Harmes sat down for an interview and turned on her own recorder.
“So there was something that happened 12 years ago, and I don’t understand why this is such an important issue, to tell you the truth,” she said, referring to Daniels’s allegations. “But it seems to be an important issue for The Washington Post.”
Chavez, who lives northeast of San Diego in Valley Center, has supported Trump since the campaign and was eager to defend and praise him.
“I think he’s doing a bang-up job,” said Chavez, an accountant in her late 50s with two grown children and three granddaughters who describes herself as “very strongly” Catholic. “And I think that is shown by results. So it’s not just a matter of opinion. It’s a matter of numbers. It’s a matter of seeing the results of things that he has implemented.”
She said that Trump has proved himself as “a great role model” on the world stage by being firm, articulate and strategic. But she would like to see him send fewer tweets and use more care in picking his words.
“But I think the words and the language are far less important than some of the acts that other presidents have taken,” Chavez said. “So when you look at this as a whole, I don’t think he’s worse than anyone else.”
Chavez argues that Bill Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky was “a heinous crime” because it took place in the Oval Office. She doesn’t care if Trump had affairs, as long as they occurred before he took office, and she’s not bothered by the comments he made during an “Access Hollywood” interview in 2005 that were caught on a hot mic.
“Was this proper for Trump to say? Absolutely not,” she said. “Is it how respectful men talk? Yeah. My dad would talk that way, and he was very respectful to women. My husband might talk that way with his fraternity brothers. . . . I can’t think of a more respectful man to women than my husband.”
The article quickly circulated at Minor High School in Jefferson County, where Brown has taught auto mechanics for 16 years and where 86 percent of students are black.
“I never knew my kids in school read so much,” said Brown, 54, who is also an associate minister at Bessemer 24th Street Church of Christ. “All the next week, every time I walked into someone’s classroom, it’s, ‘Mr. Brown, I cannot believe you.’ I’d talk to them about why.”
Brown has long told his students, relatives and others that he would never hire Trump to be a preacher at his church, given his penchant for profanity and multiple accusations of adultery.
“But we’re not voting for a preacher. We’re voting for a president,” Brown said. “There’s people in other generations that weren’t the nicest people but did a phenomenal job as far as being president.”
Brown considers Trump a role model because he has the courage to say what he means and the integrity to do what he says. He was thrilled to see Trump appoint a conservative to the Supreme Court, push for tax cuts and reduce the number of regulations on businesses.
“Everything he can do by himself he’s done, pretty much,” Brown said. “And he’s doing that with the full onslaught of one thing after another. I’ve never seen a president bombarded the way he’s been bombarded.”
Brown said the accusations against Trump are similar to those faced by Republican Roy Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court who competed in a special election last year to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s Senate seat. Brown had been leaning toward voting for Moore’s Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, because he disapproved of Moore placing a Ten Commandments monument on public grounds and defying a federal court order to remove it.
Weeks before the election, Moore was accused of pursuing teenage girls when he was in his early 30s, roughly four decades ago. Brown considered these allegations a “distasteful and dishonest” political attack — and it persuaded him to vote for the embattled Republican, who went on to lose the election.
“According to my understanding of the Scriptures, you don’t give credibility to unsubstantiated allegations against a leader,” Brown said. “Leadership automatically draws fire. If we just throw a person under a bus because they’ve been accused, how many leaders would be left?”