The woman approached Michael Avenatti with obvious purpose. A 79-year-old retired physicist with long blond hair, she wore a blue T-shirt that said AVENATTI IS MY SPIRIT ANIMAL. It was mid-August, and Avenatti had just finished giving a rousing speech at a county Democratic picnic in New Hampshire. As he threw his arm around her and grinned for the umpteenth selfie of the day, she slipped a folded piece of paper into his hand.
Later, as he checked into his luxury hotel near Manchester, Avenatti took the paper out of his pocket and unfolded it. It was a check for $1,000, made out to “Avenatti for President.” In the memo line, the woman had written, in precise lowercase print: “Our hopes are in your hands.”
This is the effect Michael Avenatti has on many of the Democratic faithful: he thrills them to the core. His presence at the picnic had instantly tripled ticket sales. Pink-hatted students mingled with retirees in single payer now tees as the state party chairman, one of the country’s leading Democratic power brokers, introduced him as “Donald Trump’s worst nightmare, Michael Avenatti!” to rapturous cheers. And the idea that the 47-year-old lawyer could be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2020 began to appear not entirely unrealistic.
A run for President would thrust Avenatti into the middle of the party’s identity crisis. The Democrats have not been this powerless since the 1920s, and their members have responded by nominating a historic number of women and people of color for office. But when it comes to the party’s presidential nominee in 2020, Avenatti thinks in different terms. “I think it better be a white male,” he says. He hastens to add that he wishes it weren’t so, but it’s undeniable that people listen to white men more than they do others; it’s why he’s been successful representing Daniels and immigrant mothers, he says. “When you have a white male making the arguments, they carry more weight,” he says. “Should they carry more weight? Absolutely not. But do they? Yes.”
Beneath the pugnacious persona, Avenatti’s own political instincts are rather conventional. He’s for Medicare for all but against abolishing ICE, and fears Democrats are overreaching on immigration. In his speeches, he advocates secure borders and calls on Democrats to woo back Midwestern white men. His platform’s major plank, he says, would be a massive government-funded infrastructure push. “You can’t go into Youngstown, Ohio, and tell everybody they’re going to be retrained and go work for Google or Apple,” he says. But he was vague on the details, like whether he would raise taxes to pay for it. “I’m not afraid to say I don’t know yet,” he demurs.
If the Avenatti boomlet is real, so too is the fact that many Democrats have little appetite for his antics. Some accuse him of sealing Kavanaugh’s confirmation: Swetnick’s claims were repeatedly cited by Senate Republicans, including the key swing vote, Susan Collins of Maine, as self-evidently absurd, and Avenatti’s role as discrediting. But these are dangerous times to ignore the power of desperate partisans. As Republicans have discovered, outsiders sometimes see things the Establishment can’t: its blind spots, its assumptions, its blithe confidence in a hollow status quo. Even Avenatti’s critics have to concede he’s won many of the battles he’s taken up so far. He fights, and he wins: to many of the beleaguered party faithful, that may be enough.
SOURCE: MOLLY BALL and ALANA ABRAMSON