WILKINS: Go away, Michael Avenatti

He offers a false dichotomy — elect someone who would be good at governing, or elect someone who can win.


Michael Avenatti, a trial lawyer who represented adult film actress Stormy Daniels, is currently mulling a 2020 presidential bid. 

Courtesy Luke Harold, Wikimedia Commons

The Democratic Party is still debating how to respond to its lack of local, state and national power and a pugilistic, norm-breaking president of the opposite party in the White House. Just as policy debates have raged — should Democrats take an economic populist approach or hew to a centrist agenda? — another debate has emerged — whether the next Democratic nominee shouldn’t be judged primarily on policy priorities, but on how hard they can hit back against Trump. One such voice is Michael Avenatti, a trial lawyer who represented adult film actress Stormy Daniels and who, in a sign of the strangeness of our political times, is currently mulling a 2020 presidential bid. 

Avenatti admits that his sole qualification for the presidency would be his supposedly singular effectiveness in defeating Trump in 2020; the Democrats have been too timid and unwilling to play dirty politics, but he would be the “street fighter” the party needed. According to Avenatti, the Democratic nominee can’t be afraid the “fight fire with fire,” because all the experience in the world doesn’t matter if you can’t defeat Trump. “When they go low,” Avenatti said in an Iowa speech, “I say hit back harder.” And the person Avenatti sees as best fulfilling that role is none other than himself. 

His fire-and-brimstone philosophy is resonating with rank-and-file Democrats. He draws surprisingly large crowds at the numerous Democratic fundraisers he’s attended since mid-2018. Fans flock him for selfies and push $1,000 campaign checks into his hands. Bill Maher has praised him as a “folk hero,” and Steve Bannon has stated that Avenatti poses a serious threat to Trump in 2020. 

And some Democratic operatives are taking him seriously. He has been assembling a campaign apparatus and recruiting alums of the Sanders and Clinton campaigns. Adam Parkhomenko, a veteran Democratic operative and founder of the Ready for Hillary super PAC, said that “he’s absolutely the person I’m supporting in the 2020 primary.” According to Mark Mellman, a longtime Democratic operative, “At this point in the campaign Trump was a joke, too … Our definition of impossible needs to change.”

But despite his strange popularity, Avenatti would have deeply destructive effects on the Democratic primary if he continues to gain popularity. For one, Avenatti’s entire philosophy — that the best qualification for the presidency is how willing one is to fight fire with fire — rests on deeply flawed foundations. He offers a false dichotomy: elect someone who would be good at governing, or elect someone who can win. If the Democrats nominate “another career politician like the other 16/17 Trump beat in 2016,” he has argued, the party would lose again in 2020. While Avenatti is justified in raising concern over Democratic electability — perhaps it is true Democrats will need to have sharper edges in the 2020 race in order to win — he should not do so at the expense of dismissing the importance of experience, knowledge and talent. 

The Democratic Party needs someone who can both win and be good at governing in order to adequately address the severe economic, social and political problems of American society. By presenting this choice between electability and good governance, Avenatti is only exacerbating the results of Trump’s election — blurred lines between entertainment and politics and the ascension of image-making as the most important factor in the political process. 

Hopefully, with his recent comments that the Democrats’ next nominee “better be a white male,” Democratic activists will array themselves against Avenatti and his strange, only-in-2018 momentum will be halted. But even if Avenatti doesn’t end up running, he is already influencing other Democrats mulling 2020 bids. For example, Former Attorney General Eric Holder recently asserted that “When they go low, we kick ‘em” should be the Democratic mantra for 2020, emulating one of Avenatti’s signature phrases. Without even officially entering the race, Avenatti has already tempted the Democratic Party into his philosophy. 

So just as Democrats should be wary of Avenatti’s candidacy, they should be wary of adopting his tactics. While Democrats shouldn’t be naive about 2020 — Trump’s unprecedentedly hostile campaign style will probably require Democrats to fight back with more force than they’ve done in the past — they shouldn’t follow Avenatti’s playbook of prioritizing aggression over good governing. Our current president has done enough of that already. 

Jack Wilkins is a Viewpoint Writer for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com.

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