Historians might remember Stormy Daniels most for her role in a still-unfolding presidential scandal.
But it’s unlikely many patrons at PT’s Showclub were arguing politics when the adult film actress took the stage Wednesday night.
A little after 10 p.m., an announcer who spent more than half an hour pumping up the crowd finally said, “Let me hear you scream for Stormy Daniels” as a clap of thunder rolled from the sound system.
Daniels — dressed in a Wonder Woman-like outfit with a red, white and blue corset and cape, with a red, white and blue garter — took to the stage to “American Woman.” She was flanked by two large bodyguards and a third carried a laundry basket with props: a soft blanket, a bottle of lotion and a transparent negligee.
She danced for three songs, finishing her performance to “American Girl” by Tom Petty. Then she knelt by each corner of the stage collecting $2 bills. One middle-aged woman with shoulder-length, salt-and-pepper hair mouthed thank you twice. Another man, after giving Daniels a couple of bills, said “You’re awesome!”
Some patrons got closer than others, depending on the donation they produced. Daniels smiled and danced her way around the stage before she was whisked away by the same two large bodyguards.
A club employee used a plastic garden rake to sweep up all the bills thrown onto the stage or otherwise not tucked into Daniels’ elastic waistbands.
After her 20-minute performance, it was back to business as usual at the Portland nightclub — thumping music, flashing neon lights, other partially naked women. The crowd that had formed around the stage disappeared back into other parts of the room, or left entirely.
Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, is touring the nation’s strip clubs, signing autographs and taking fan photos. The tour, while not overtly political, is a prime display of the media savvy that has helped Daniels match President Trump blow for blow as each has criticized the other for the better part of a year.
“This is not fake news,” declared the club’s roadside marquee. “Stormy Daniels Wednesday and Thursday.”
Daniels is performing twice each night, at 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.
Nearly all the pleather chairs around the club’s three stages were packed by 9:20 p.m. Wednesday. Some people appeared to come with their significant others — women and men, spanning all ages. One man held a cane, a mixed drink on the cocktail table in front of him.
Around 9:30, a man who appeared to be in his 20s entered wearing a Make America Great Again cap and a Trump T-shirt. He, too, was with someone, a woman about his age.
HISTORY IN THE MAKING
Daniels’ allegations that she had an affair with Trump before he became president and his denials of that affair attracted a large crowd to PT’s Wednesday night. Many of the people who were interviewed outside the Riverside Street nightclub said they had never been to a strip club before, but came because they wanted to be part of history.
“I’m here because she is part of American history,” said F.R. Vance of Portland. “I believe she is going to be a big part of (Trump’s) fall. And I respect her as a woman.”
Vance’s friend, Nancy Ayer of Portland, said she thought about sneaking a small sign into the performance that said “Dump Trump,” but decided that such a display might not go over well with some members of the audience.
“I came tonight because I wanted to support her and hopefully be in the same room as a lot of anti-Trump people,” Ayer said.
Michael Goodwin, who lives in New York City, said he admires Daniels for her courage in standing up to one of America’s most powerful politicians.
“There are so many levels that you can admire her on,” Goodwin said. “For me, it’s her guts. She told the president, you’re not going to (expletive) with me because I am a woman.”
Vance, Ayer and Goodwin, who were accompanied by their friends, Eric Garcia and Nadia Novikoff, both of Portland, said they had never been to PT’s before. Though they weren’t sure what to expect once they got inside, Goodwin said, “It’s going to be a trip and we’re going to have fun.”
Ellia Manners and George Bradt, a wife and husband from Portland, came to PT’s to show their support for Daniels.
“We’re strip club virgins,” said Bradt, 76. In his mind, Daniels’ alleged affair with Trump is irrelevant. What’s more important is that she displayed the courage to stand up to him.
“It’s a David versus Goliath story,” said Bradt, a retired news reporter.
Manners said Trump is a narcissist who uses his power and influence to intimidate critics, especially when that critic turns out to be a woman.
“I hate the fact that she is being taken advantage of in so many ways by Trump and by the people that support Trump,” Manners said. “He engages women by having power over them and he uses his money and influence to gain an advantage.”
Daniels entered the political fray in January, when the Wall Street Journal reported that Daniels and Trump had a brief sexual affair in 2006, and that a month before the election, Daniels was paid $130,000 by Trump to keep quiet about the alleged encounter.
Her story is also similar to the allegations made by former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal, who says she had sex with Trump and was paid to keep her story from emerging publicly.
The payment to McDougal came from American Media, Inc., a tabloid company that owns the National Enquirer and other outlets. McDougal’s story was never published, as part of a scheme known as “catch and kill,” which allowed AMI’s CEO and longtime Trump associate David Pecker to prevent the publication of stories that could have been damaging to the president in the run-up to the 2016 election.
The details of the payment arrangements were confirmed in federal court on Aug. 21, when Michael Cohen, the president’s former lawyer, pleaded guilty to five counts of tax evasion, one count of making a false statement to a bank and two campaign finance violations for willfully causing an illegal corporate contribution and making an excessive campaign contribution.
Trump at first denied knowing about the payment to Daniels in a statement to reporters aboard Air Force One in April, but his story shifted over time. By early May, Trump’s new personal attorney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, said Trump knew of the general arrangement between Cohen and Daniels, and that Trump repaid Cohen the $130,000. The president at later points then denied Giuliani’s statement, but during an interview with Fox and Friends on Aug. 23, Trump said the money came from him personally, not his campaign, and that he only learned of the arrangement later on.
ALL HANDS ON DECK
Meanwhile, Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who was appointed to look into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign, also is investigating whether Trump took steps to obstruct justice during the special counsel investigation.
The campaign finance violations related directly to the payment to Daniels and McDougal, which Cohen admitted were made “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office,” the first time Trump was directly implicated in a criminal prosecution.
The payments, which far exceed federal campaign contribution limits, should have been disclosed because their primary purpose was to aid a federal candidate for office.
Cohen faces a prison sentence of between 46 and 63 months.
Daniels also is locked in civil litigation that grew out of her brush with Trump. She is suing Cohen in California court in an attempt to release her from the non-disclosure agreement, and she also is suing Trump personally, alleging defamation.
The lawsuit in California was placed on hold.
Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, who has frequently appeared with his client, is not accompanying Daniels while she is in Maine.
“I didn’t book him,” Collins, the club’s manager, joked.
Collins said that it was “all hands on deck” for Daniels’ performances. He said customers should have no problem getting into one of Daniels’ shows at PT’s Showclub, which has a seating capacity of 500 people.
Collins said Daniels has performed at PT’s Showclub on two previous occasions, though under much different circumstances.
“She didn’t have the star power before. She has got a lot of star power now, for sure,” he said. “People I’ve spoken with are aware of her story. I think there is a lot of curiosity.”
The club’s Facebook page promoted the show with a message: “There is a storm in Portland, Maine this week.” The message was set against the backdrop of a thunderstorm.
Despite the political overtones involved with Daniels’ appearance, Collins said he does not expect there to be much of a political theme to her appearance.
“This show is all about having fun,” he said.
F.R. Vance and Nancy Ayer, right, both of Portland, Michael Goodwin, center, of New York and Eric Garcia of Portland speak Wednesday night with a reporter from the Portland Press Herald before heading in to see Stormy Daniels perform at PT’s Showclub, a Portland strip club. (Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald)