There are plenty of nightmare scenarios for the Democrats in the upcoming 2020 election. Figures as dull and unpopular as Michael Bloomberg and former Attorney General Eric Holder are weighing presidential runs, and Chelsea Clinton recently told The Guardian that running for office is a “definite maybe” for her. These are disconcerting developments, to be sure, but something much dumber looms over the horizon. Michael Avenatti, the media-savvy lawyer for adult-film star Stormy Daniels, appears to be laying the groundwork for a 2020 run, making appearances at the Iowa State Fair and meetings of the Democratic National Committee. Will he be able to get anywhere near the Democratic nomination? Probably not, given his lack of political experience or connections within the Democratic establishment, but the fact that anyone, anywhere, is willing to tolerate the possibility is a very bad sign for the party’s future.
Avenatti addressing a DNC session about non-white voter outreach, discussing his advocacy for immigrants separated from their parents.— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) August 23, 2018
He’s running. pic.twitter.com/pfyD3z2OXv
The 47-year-old Avenatti made his name with class-action lawsuits against large entities like the Kimberly-Clark Corporation and the National Football League, largely staying out of politics until taking up Daniels’ case earlier this year. Since then, his main activity has been loudly opposing Trump during near-daily appearances on cable news, a vocation whose requirements begin and end with having read a given week’s newspaper headlines. Naturally, his platform is skeletal and borrowed from other, more policy-minded Democrats: “In the event that I decide to run, I’m not going to accept any corporate PAC dollars,” Avenatti told the crowd during a 20-minute speech in Iowa last week, an odd stance for a TV personality with no apparent grassroots support to take.
Avenatti’s pitch has an uncanny-valley feel to it, like a neural network trying to suss out which phrases get audiences to hoot the loudest. The strangest part of his speech is a bleak alternate history he imagines: “We should have fought like hell to get an up-down vote on Judge Garland for the U.S. Supreme Court, and we didn’t ... I would have shut the government down ... I would have gone on a 50-state tour.” In this hypothetical — in which Avenatti is Obama and he has advance knowledge that Republicans will block any nominee by a Democrat — he still tries to compromise with them by nominating a white-bread moderate from Harvard. He just does more media spots about it.
There is a sense among most Democrats that a deficit of something in their party’s public presentation was responsible for their inability to defeat Trump. For the Bernie Sanders wing of the party, the missing link was an array of bold, easy-to-understand policy proposals reminiscent of the New Deal. For others, like Iowa State Fair attendee Mike Carberry, the solution appears to be much simpler: “I’ve seen [Avenatti] on television [as] the type of person that understands media and understands how to use media and social media just as good as our current president. And he can fight tit for tat.”
The fact that anyone, anywhere, is willing to tolerate the possibility of an Avenatti candidacy is a very bad sign for the Democratic party’s future.
While I don’t want to pin the delusions of the #Resistance as a whole on poor random Iowa State Fair attendee Mike Cranberry, who I’m sure is very nice, this quote is tragically misguided in several ways. First, an aside: no one is as good at social media as our current president. Second, what have Avenatti’s hundreds of media appearances accomplished other than raising his personal profile? Since January 2018, when the Stormy Daniels scandal was revealed and Avenatti became a de facto public figure, Trump’s average approval rating has risen from 39.1 percent to 42.1 percent. During that time, Avenatti appeared on cable news more often than any individual candidate or member of Congress. Were he to officially join the 2020 Democratic primary lineup, CNN and MSNBC would be forced to seriously curtail his appearances in the name of fairness — or pressure from better-connected candidates. Without the TV appearances, the man doesn’t have much to offer.
Many have asked me my position on various issues. Below is a summary of where I stand. This is not an exhaustive list and more positions & details will follow. Most importantly, I didn't have to hire a pollster or political consultant to tell me what to say or what to believe. pic.twitter.com/hbXj1Vv3O9— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) August 14, 2018
Democrats, who are understandably in need of reassurance as Trump and his cronies loot the country unabated, have overindulged in primetime cable news. Wall-to-wall coverage of Russia and Stormy Daniels seems to have created the illusion, at least for those enabling Avenatti as a potential candidate, that those are the most important issues to all voters. This runs contrary to polls showing relative apathy toward Trump’s scandals. If the age demographics of CNN and MSNBC viewers are any guide — primetime viewers average 59 and 66 years old, respectively — the scandals for which Avenatti is an avatar largely appeal to older voters. Senior citizens already have the highest voter turnout of any age group (70.9 percent in 2016), and those seniors enamored enough with cable news to be fans of Avenatti might be the biggest lock Democrats have. What possible use could there be for a candidate that appeals only to them?