FEW porn stars become household names. But even by the adult-film industry’s modest standards, Stephanie Clifford was not particularly well-known before 2018. Despite 271 credits to her name over a 16-year career, and a brief cameo—playing a porn star, naturally—in the 2005 Judd Apatow comedy “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”, Ms Clifford has rarely appeared near the top of pornographic popularity rankings. Last year her stage name, Stormy Daniels, was searched a mere 2,500 times a day on Pornhub, an adult-video website that draws 64m visitors every day.

Nonetheless, Ms Clifford holds a trump card that few other members of her profession can claim to possess: according to numerous reports, she had an affair with Donald Trump in 2006 and 2007, shortly after his wife Melania gave birth to their first child. (Through his press representatives, Mr Trump has denied the allegation.) Ms Clifford appears eager to tell her story, but is bound by a non-disclosure agreement she signed just days before the 2016 presidential election, for which Michael Cohen, Mr Trump’s lawyer, paid her $130,000. On February 27th Mr Cohen obtained a restraining order preventing her from discussing whatever transpired between her and Mr Trump. Ms Clifford responded on March 7th with a lawsuit of her own, which argues that the original agreement is void because Mr Trump never signed it himself, and because Mr Cohen breached its terms by confirming that he had made the payment to her.

It is now up to the courts to determine whether Ms Clifford gets to reveal her secrets, which the original pact says include “certain still images and/or text messages which were authored by or relate to DD”—that’s “David Dennison”, Mr Trump’s own alias in the document. But regardless of how the suit turns out, the saga has already helped Ms Clifford gain unprecedented exposure. With every development in the story—first the report of the $130,000 payment on January 12th; then her television appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, a late-night talk show, on January 31st; then Mr Cohen’s admission that he was the source of the payment on February 13th; and once more upon the filing of her lawsuit—searches for “Stormy Daniels” on Pornhub have rocketed. Compared with their average figure for 2018, they have risen by 300-600% on such news; relative to her paltry numbers from the previous year, the increases are far greater. (For the past few years Ms Clifford has also worked behind the camera, as a director.)

Moreover, Ms Clifford’s gains have been particularly pronounced in states that voted for Mr Trump in 2016. Conceivably, her relative advantage in popularity in red states might stem from her declaration in 2010 that she was a Republican—an announcement she made while exploring the possibility of launching a campaign against a sitting GOP senator. “I have never said that I’m the best person for the job. I absolutely am not,” she said at the time. “I just think I’m a better choice than the senator they already have.” Given Ms Clifford’s way with words, Mr Trump has extra reason to hope she loses her lawsuit.