Saturday, August 11, 2018


Michael Avenatti says he wants to run for president, and Dave Weigel is taking his bid very seriously. Here's Weigel (writing with Felicia Sonmez) in The Washington Post:
Michael Avenatti, the attorney for adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, told Iowa Democrats on Friday that Democrats are seeking a “fighter” who will take on President Trump — and that they should look no further than him.

“What I fear for this Democratic Party that I love is that we have a tendency to bring nail clippers to gunfights,” Avenatti said at the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding, an annual party fundraiser. “When they go low, I say: We hit harder.”

... Iowa Democrats, who are optimistic about winning back the governor’s mansion and two seats in Congress, have been slow to focus on the 2020 race.... As the names of the Wing Ding’s speakers were read, the applause was mild — until the audience heard “Michael Avenatti.”
Here's Weigel on Twitter:

(Delaney is John Delaney, a little-known Maryland congressman who's considering a run.)

I don't think Avenatti will be the nominee. I think it's easy to misjudge his star status among Democratic voters. Sure, he's a hero to those who watch him on MSNBC and CNN, but not every Democrat is a cable news junkie. I keep thinking of a 2015 survey from Public Policy Polling, which revealed the big difference in news consumption between Republicans and Democrats:
"... Fewer than 25% of Republicans trust ABC, CBS, Comedy Central, MSNBC, CNN, and NBC. They’re closely divided on PBS with 37% trusting it and 39% distrusting it. But really they just trust Fox News and nothing else with 66% saying they put their faith in it to just 25% who don’t.”

“It’s almost the opposite story when it comes to Democrats. Majorities of them trust ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, NBC News, and PBS. And more of them than not (44/30) trust Comedy Central as well. The only outlet they don’t trust is Fox News...”
Republicans gets their news from Fox. Democrats get their news from a wide variety of sources. Avenatti is a regular presence on a couple of the cited news outlets, but he's not a celebrity to those who get their news from the three original networks (or from newspapers or newspaper websites).

Also, the Democratic Party doesn't have an all-ideologue voter base, the way the Republican Party does. That's why socialists and Sanders/Ocasio-Cortez progressives aren't winning every primary. I cite Gallup's annual ideology survey all the time, but here it is again:

Self-described conservatives (in red above) greatly outnumber self-described liberals (blue) every year -- and yet Democrats win the popular vote in nearly every presidential election and routinely win (or come close to winning) the overall congressional popular vote. Obviously, the majority of self-styled moderates are Democrats -- and people who call themselves moderates (gray above) outnumber those who say they're liberals.

Avenatti got a great reception from that Iowa crowd, but, as the Post story notes, the big names from politics haven't made a lot of visits to Iowa recently:
... few of the party’s biggest names have made trips to Iowa. Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), who narrowly lost the 2016 Democratic caucuses, has traveled to the state to sign books to support a congressional candidate who lost his primary. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), who is up for reelection this year, has given two speeches in the state. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), who are also on the ballot this year in their states, have not visited Iowa; former vice president Joe Biden’s recent long book tour did not come to the state.
But I'll give Avenatti credit -- the biographical information in the Weigel tweet above is the kind of thing I'm not hearing from many of the best-known Democratic aspirants. Policy positions are important, but voters in American presidential elections want to be swept along by a larger narrative. The narrative can be one of big changes to America (Obama, Sanders, Trump), but it usually includes an origin story. Obama had that. Bill Clinton was the Man from Hope. Trump's origin story was the media myth of his life built by his books and media appearances, and by The Apprentice.

By contrast, here's all you get about Kamala Harris's early life on a campaign site she still maintains:
Born in Oakland, Kamala Harris is a graduate of Howard University, America’s oldest historically Black university....

Kamala earned her law degree from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.
Americans like to vote for a person, not a résumé. We'll need to hear more from her if she wants to win.

Is Avenatti right when he says that Democrats need to be Trump in order to defeat Trump? I've questioned that premise ever since Philippe Reines advanced it in a Washington Post op-ed a few months ago. I think they'll need someone with the force of personality to seem unfazed when Trump attacks. That might mean a brawler -- or it might mean a Barack Obama, someone who can counterpunch, and seem unbruised after going a few rounds with Trump, but who radiates as much positive energy as Trump radiates negativity. Regrettably, I don't know who fits that bill -- Biden? Sanders? Warren? -- and I worry that it's gendered, that men get more credit for this than women.

On the other hand, maybe the Democrat won't have to go head to head with Trump in 2020 -- maybe the public will just want someone who's very much unlike Trump. Obama didn't go head to head with Sarah Palin in 2008, hard as she tried to provoke him into a conflict. Maybe 2020 will be like that.

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