WASHINGTON — The two perched themselves between the bookstore’s Film and Religion sections — Washington’s courtliest hostess-journalist and the only porn actress she can remember interviewing.
“Tonight, we will be talking about the president of the United States,” the journalist, Sally Quinn, began on Monday evening, introducing Stormy Daniels to a few hundred of her new fans, “while one of the most honorable presidents of the United States is lying in state at the Capitol.”
A brief hush fell. Heads nodded in solemn remembrance of former President George Bush.
O.K. Time to move on to the current officeholder.
“We’re going to get to the Trump part,” Ms. Quinn promised her audience. “But as Stormy points out, it was only two minutes out of her life.”
And, at last count, nearly two years of this city’s, somehow.
From its inception, the Trump presidency has doubled as a kind of perpetual arm-wrestling match between a capital full of institutions and a man set on bulldozing them, bending Official Washington to his rhythms and mores with every overnight Twitter missile and gilded indiscretion.
But few sights have told the tale as neatly as this: Ms. Quinn, long the town’s ranking socialite, in conversation with the nation’s most famous adult film performer — filling a space where recently scheduled forums included a Jonathan Franzen appearance and a meditation on Saul Bellow — to dissect a tome that lingers on graphic descriptions of President Trump’s genitals.
Audience members whispered their reviews of Ms. Daniels to each other: “Dressed relatively modestly.” “Do you think Trump’s lawyers are watching this? Is Giuliani in disguise here?”CreditT.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times
“You have turned ethics and values and morals around, upside down, in this country,” Ms. Quinn said at one point. “You — Stormy Daniels the porn star — are the one who is the ethical person.”
Ms. Daniels smiled. “How messed up is that, yo?” she responded. (She did not say “messed.”)
By now, Ms. Daniels’s recent history is well known. She is the woman at the center of a six-figure hush payment intended to keep her from discussing the alleged affair with Mr. Trump in 2006. Mr. Trump, whose statements about the episode have often shifted, has broadly denied that he did anything wrong, though not always with the zeal that tends to define his grievances.
“You are the only person who I can think of who Donald Trump is afraid of,” Ms. Quinn said, noting that the president had often refrained from attacking Ms. Daniels.
“I’m a lot of things — a lot of things,” said Ms. Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford. “But I’m not a liar.”
Speaking about her book, “Full Disclosure,” in a very liberal corner of a very liberal city, Ms. Daniels was given something of a hero’s welcome, greeted with a mix of giggling and gratitude for facing down a president whom the room seemed to universally despise. And at times, she appeared to disarm those who knew little of her before this year, detailing an abusive childhood and a business-minded career while guests whispered their reviews to each other:
“Dressed relatively modestly.”
“How old is she? Thirties? Forties?” (Thirty-nine.)
“Do you think Trump’s lawyers are watching this? Is Giuliani in disguise here?”
The bookstore, Politics and Prose, co-owned by a former adviser to Hillary Clinton, can feel like an anti-Trump hub even without a featured act like Ms. Daniels.
Offerings include a collection of “protest postcards” meant to benefit the American Civil Liberties Union; a “Bad Hombres Magnetic Play Set” featuring doctored images of Mr. Trump and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia; and an animal-themed spoof of one of the president’s least favorite books: “Fire and Furry: Pets Get Political,” edited by “Michael Woof.”
Before Ms. Daniels arrived, visitors eyed copies of Michelle Obama’s memoir, swiped through cellphone pictures from a recent Kennedy Center ceremony and chipped away at crossword puzzles they had brought from home for the wait.
Explanations for attendance varied.
“Intellectual research,” said Arthur Silver, 76, likening Ms. Daniels to the subject of a play he saw in London years ago about a mistress to King Charles II.
“Articulate porn star,” said Marjorie Perloff, 75. “That’s what makes her special.”
“Attractive woman,” said Dan Schwartz, 73, hoping aloud that Ms. Daniels might remove her clothes. “Write that down.”
There would be none of that. And it was often Ms. Quinn who coaxed Ms. Daniels into cheekiness, leading her to recount a now-infamous anecdote involving Mr. Trump’s backside and a Forbes magazine, and to hold forth on the contours of the adult film industry.
“I’ve watched Stormy’s porn, and it’s really good,” Ms. Quinn said, to heavy laughter in a crowd that appeared unsure if she was serious.
Ms. Quinn asked Ms. Daniels how she planned to describe her profession to her daughter, 8, in the years ahead. “I don’t tell her that I’m a nurse or a pilot or whatever,” Ms. Daniels said. “Sometimes I play one.”
After 60 minutes or so, she stepped off the temporary stage — unable to stay for a wider meet-and-greet, organizers said, because of a prior engagement: She was due to appear again later Monday night, at a club about a mile from the White House.
“A STORM IS BREWING,” the venue advertised. “AND SHE’S READY TO LET LOOSE ON WASHINGTON D.C. ONE MORE TIME!”