Late on the night of November 8, 2016 – to be honest, it might have been the early hours of November 9 – I made a pledge to myself: Never say never when it comes to people running for president.
After all, Donald Trump, had just been elected President of the United States. A man who has done the opposite of what conventional wisdom dictated in every situation during the campaign. A man with a, um, colorful past – and present. A man who said all sorts of impolitic things. Over and over again.
Two-and-a-half years removed from my pledge came the news that Michael Avenatti, the man who has emerged in the national consciousness as the lawyer for porn star Stormy Daniels, is considering running against Trump in 2020.
“IF (big) [Trump] seeks re-election, I will run, but only if I think that there is no other candidate in the race that has a REAL chance at beating him,” tweeted Avenatti on Wednesday morning. “We can’t relive 2016. I love this country, our values and our people too much to sit by while they are destroyed. #FightClub #Basta”
Appearing on CNN’s “The Lead” on Wednesday, Avenatti said that he’d be qualified “because I have three things this president lacks: Brains, heart and courage.” He added: “if [Trump] is re-elected, this country is in a world of hurt.”
Now. My natural inclination when presented with the idea of a porn star’s lawyer running for president is to roll my eyes so hard I strain them. (This is an actual injury once sustained by The Point’s own Brenna Williams.)
Here’s (some of the reasons) why:
- Avenatti is a well-known figure to obsessive watchers of cable TV. Unfortunately for him, that doesn’t mean he is a well-known figure to the average person. My guess is that if his name was tested in a national poll upwards of 75% of the public would have never heard of him. Maybe higher.
- Avenatti is, well, known for being a lawyer to a porn star alleging she and the President of the United States had an extramarital affair.
- Avenatti’s former law firm owes almost $500,000 in back taxes related to a past bankruptcy filing.
The truth is we know very, very little about Avenatti. He’s done an incredible job of taking Daniels’ case, which appeared to be dead in the water before Avenatti arrived, and pushing it into the center of the national conversation. Whatever she is paying him to represent her, she should double it! But simply being good at getting attention for allegations about the sexual proclivities of the President does not make you qualified to be President. Neither does being a good talker on cable TV. Or being famous for being famous.
Of course, the easy rejoinder to my case against Avenatti above is that Trump is the President of the United States. Which renders all traditional ways in which we measure someone’s chances of being president totally moot.
Except, not entirely. Sure, there are parallels between Avenatti and Trump – the most notable being that their love of and skill at cable TV has made them known figures.
But unlike Avenatti, Trump had been part of our broader culture – as a symbol of wealth and overdoing it – for a very long time. (Trump was even in “The Little Rascals” remake – playing the rich kid’s dad!) Avenatti is a very new arrival on the cultural scene. Sure, I know him. And, you, solely by dint of the fact that you are reading this, probably know him. But he is nothing close to the cultural figure Trump was when he started running for president three years ago.
And while Trump is almost certainly less rich than he says he is, he is still a billionaire. Avenatti, to the best of our knowledge, is not. And without the capacity to self-fund a presidential bid, Avenatti would have to raise tens of millions of dollars. From where? I have no idea.
Then there is this: Will Democrats go for someone who kind of, sort of might remind people of Trump to take on Trump in 2020? Someone with zero political experience? Someone who is a creature, primarily, of cable TV?
Add it all up and the idea of Avenatti even being taken seriously as a candidate is decidedly far-fetched.
But, but, but, but: I said I would never say never. So I am not saying Avenatti has a 0% chance of winning the Democratic nomination. But it can’t be much higher than that.