Since the Stormy Daniels narrative peaked with the publication of her book last month (there's only so much mileage you can wring out of a 12-year-old one-night, even for somebody who pursues media coverage with an almost pathological intensity), Michael Avenatti has been buffeted by one scandal after the next - some self-inflicted (like his self-serving demand that the Democrats nominate a white male in 2020) - and some the result of dogged reporting (like a Daily Beast expose about his shambolic finances and personal beefs).
And considering that some Democratic Party stalwarts still blame him for undermining the Democrats' accusations against Brett Kavanaugh by introducing the public to his deeply non-credible (and possibly criminal) client Julie Swetnick, now might seem like an odd time for a soft-pre-announcement of his intention to seek the Democratic nomination in 2020. Yet, with the help of one extremely credulous Politico reporter, Avenatti has accomplished just that.
In a story published Monday, the Washington-based digital media organization reported that Avenatti is planning to reveal whether or not he intends to run by the first of the year. And in case you're unfamiliar with the established rituals for presidential campaigning, allow us to clarify: This probably isn't a trial balloon. Avenatti is running. And there are a handful of longtime Democratic Party operatives who think the nearly bankrupt former lawyer has a chance to win it all. Indeed, Avenatti has already started his own Super PAC (called the Fight PAC) and even become embroiled in a fundraising scandal.
Two sources close to the Avenatti operation confirmed that John Robinson, who worked as a chief operating officer for Bernie Sanders‘ 2016 campaign and has worked with former presidential candidates John Edwards and Al Gore, has consulted with Avenatti for about two months. If Avenatti runs, he is likely to tap Robinson as his own operations chief, the sources said.
Also among those whom Avenatti regularly, but unofficially, seeks advice from is Jack Quinn, a former White House counsel under Bill Clinton. Quinn said he plays no formal role in any campaign but acknowledged he’s given Avenatti advice as he would to any potential 2020 candidate.
Susanna Quinn, Quinn’s wife and founder of the beauty and fitness app Veluxe, recently threw a private dinner for Avenatti at the couple’s home, bringing him before D.C. media, while Jack Quinn took Avenatti to an economic summit event in Washington, according to an Avenatti aide.
Another experienced Democratic hand, Adam Parkhomenko, a Hillary Clinton adviser who founded the Ready for Hillary super PAC, is acting as a liaison between Avenatti and Democratic National Committee members, superdelegates and state party leaders.
“He’s absolutely the person I’m supporting in the 2020 primary, should he decide to run,” Parkhomenko told POLITICO. “I think he is 90 [percent] to 95 percent leaning toward doing it.”
Last week, Avenatti announced Roger Salazar, a Sacramento-based operative, would help handle media. Salazar’s political pedigree includes advising the Clinton White House and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Tracy Austin, a Los Angeles consultant, is assisting with fundraising and Amy Wills Gray, who also served as the Ready for Hillary committee treasurer, is acting as treasurer and compliance officer for Avenatti’s The Fight PAC.
The fact that Avenatti's mother isn't the only name included on this list begs the question: What exactly do these experienced pols see in a man who is by all accounts a crude, boisterous, attention-seeking and irresponsible? Well, that's just it - it's all of those things. And even if you think Avenatti's political ambitions are maybe a little too ambitious, his grueling touring schedule suggests that he doesn't agree, and has found at least enough enablers in the form of out-of-work consultants who are betting on a miracle.
By Nov. 7, Avenatti will have held or taken part in political events in at least 20 states, including five visits to Ohio, multiple trips to Iowa, California and Texas; three visits to New Hampshire, and six trips to South Carolina. Avenatti even plans to travel to Puerto Rico in November for a state party chair meeting.
As one Avenatti enabler told Politico, the mainstream party sees Avenatti and his willingness to attack Trump and other critics on twitter has made other contenders (a group that just might include Hillary Clinton) fearful of his impact.
"The institutional Democrats now look at Avenatti as a threat. Now they’ve got to discredit him and blame him," said David Betras, the Mahoning County Democratic Party chairman who this summer met Avenatti in his visit to Youngstown, Ohio. "They weren’t blaming him in the spring when he was knocking the socks off of Donald Trump and Michael Cohen. They weren’t calling him a bad guy then."
It's worth remembering that while Cohen and Trump may have begrudgingly released Daniels from her NDA, a California judge earlier this month dismissed a defamation lawsuit brought by Avenatti on behalf of his client, Stormy Daniels, and ordered Daniels to reimburse the president for his legal fees.
One of the Democratic Party insiders who has thrown his lot in with Avenatti praised the attorney for "breathing life" back into the Democratic party's base by helping to publicize Michael Cohen's role as Trump's fixer. Though this is more of a knock against the Democrats' nonexistent bench of likeable candidates than it is a credit to Avenatti's political viability.
To many Democrats outside of Washington, Betras said, Avenatti is admired as an anti-Trump icon - the onset of the Stormy Daniels narrative, he explained, made widely public the idea that Trump’s personal attorney acted as a fixer.
"When our Democratic base was dead, beaten and broken, he came and breathed life in the party," Betras said. "No one else was breathing life into the party. No one else was doing that."
Still, even a glancing look at the polls will tell you that far-left fringe candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the slate of progressive women who are running for office this cycle have done far more to bring out young and minority voters than Avenatti has. Is it possible that Avenatti, who is in many ways a Democratic mirror-image of the president, could unify voters who disapprove of Trump? Yes. But then again, at this point in Trump's political life cycle, voters who are so inclined would vote for a ham sandwich if it was running under the Democratic ticket. And in that respect, Avenatti would probably be about as good a candidate of any white male fighting for the nomination.