WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is a force of nature. Actually, he is a full-blown meteorological phenomenon.
This week, what in any other presidency would have been a Category 5 hurricane made landfall at the White House. It felt more like a drizzle.
The president’s personal lawyer confirmed that he paid $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels, reportedly so she wouldn’t talk about an alleged affair with Trump dating to 2006, months after Melania Trump had given birth to their son, Barron. Daniels’s rep said she is now free from her confidentiality agreement and ready to talk.
Trump in an adulterous affair? With a porn star? And hush money? You couldn’t invent a scandal better than this.
Stormy Daniels just couldn’t compete with Stormy Porter. Even the Trumpophilic Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he was launching an investigation into why White House staff secretary Rob Porter was allowed to stay on the job despite credible allegations of wife-beating. Leaked White House documents showed that as of November, Porter was but one of more than 130 political appointees in the Executive Office of the President who didn’t have permanent security clearances – including the White House counsel and press secretary.
Stormy Porter, meanwhile, had to compete with Stormy Shulkin: Veterans Affairs Secretary David J. Shulkin’s office was found to have altered an email to try to legitimize a taxpayer-funded trip to Europe for Shulkin and his wife.
And over at the Environmental Protection Agency, Stormy Pruitt was intensifying. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was justifying his frequent first-class flights by explaining that he has had “issues” with passengers in coach class not being nice to him.
All those storms, in turn, are but upper-level disturbances compared with the tidal surge now washing over the White House from Stormy Mueller’s probe, which has secured two guilty pleas from Trump campaign officials and indictments of two more as well as 13 people allegedly involved in a Russian “troll farm.”
The Post reported this week about still more Trump tampering with the probe: Trump asked White House counsel Donald McGahn to get then-FBI Director James B. Comey to say publicly that Trump wasn’t under investigation.
By week’s end, the New Yorker reported about another woman – this one a former Playboy model – alleging an adulterous affair with Trump at about the same time as the alleged Stormy Daniels tryst.
But here’s the odd thing: Any one of these weather systems should, by ordinary standards, capsize a high official. So why don’t they merge into a perfect storm of scandal for Trump?
I put the question to the experts, meteorologists Jason Samenow and Angela Fritz of the Capital Weather Gang. They thought it over and found a weather analog that explains well what is happening to Trump. It seems the president is benefiting from the Fujiwhara Effect.
When two hurricanes (or even two low-pressure systems) approach each other, one would expect that they would merge into a larger and more powerful storm. But this isn’t what happens. As the Japanese meteorologist Sakuhei Fujiwhara first identified in 1921, the two storms begin to circle each other as if on a pinwheel. Under the Fujiwhara Effect, the two storms may alter each other’s paths and then go their separate ways, or, more likely, the weaker storm will dissipate and be absorbed by the larger storm.
But even as the bigger storm absorbs the smaller storm, the dissipating storm disrupts the stronger storm’s structure and circulation, creating wind shear and limiting the development of thunderstorms.
The merged storms, in short, are less than the sum of their parts.
The proliferation and intermingling of Trump scandals, likewise, reduce the impact that any one of them would have by itself.
Hurricane Daniels might be a major storm, but when it begins to dance the Fujiwhara with Hurricane Mueller (a slow-moving Cat 5), Hurricane Porter (Cat 3) and Tropical Storms Pruitt and Shulkin, the system becomes highly disorganized and loses strength.
Trump is saved by scandal overkill.
There are so many that they compete for energy: The resignation of White House speechwriter David Sorensen, also amid abuse allegations. Daily infighting among current and former officials in a White House staff that has already had a 34 percent turnover, as the New York Times’s Peter Baker reports. The adviser to the first lady whose firm was paid $26 million by Trump’s inaugural committee. The heads of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the Health and Human Services Department resigning over allegations of impropriety, and indications of similar ethical issues at Housing and Urban Development, Interior and Treasury. The Trump family using the federal government for personal financial gain. The White House ignoring Russia’s once and future disruption of U.S. elections.
Sorry, Stormy, you’ve been downgraded.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.