Michael Avenatti was in Iowa this weekend. Because he is thinking, actively, about running for president. Of the United States. Which is something we have to take seriously. Because Donald Trump is president.
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The logic goes like this: Trump was a businessman who had never run for office before but was famous for being on TV. Avenatti, who, in case you haven't watched cable TV in the past few months (shame!) is porn star Stormy Daniels' lawyer, has also never run for political office before and is famous for being on TV.
Avenatti himself is drawing comparisons between himself and Trump, insisting that the only way Democrats can hope to beat this most unconventional of presidents is with his own medicine. "I think there's a huge appetite within the party for a fighter," Avenatti said in Iowa. "I think the party has yearned for a fighter -- a fighter for good, if you will -- for a significant period of time. And for many, I'm probably seen as that individual."
Here's the thing: I know Donald Trump. I have covered Donald Trump. And you, Michael Avenatti, are no Donald Trump.
Like it or not, Trump had been a symbol of wealth, success and, yes, excess for decades prior to even considering a run for president. "Art of the Deal" was a huge bestseller. "The Apprentice" and "The Celebrity Apprentice" were on broadcast TV every week for years. (I was struck by just how known Trump was for being rich and famous when I was watching the re-make of "The Little Rascals" with my kids. Trump is in that! And guess who he plays? The father of the rich kid! Sidebar to the sidebar: Trump is also in "Home Alone 2" -- where he plays himself.)
Trump's ubiquity -- and what he symbolized to large swaths of the country -- was central to his rise as a candidate. Trump had been selling the idea of being as rich and successful and famous as he was for years and years. While the political class rolled their eyes at the idea that Trump could be taken seriously as a candidate, for lots and lots of people it made perfect sense. Trump succeeded in everything he did, so why not this?
Avenatti is not that person. In fact, he's the opposite of Trump. He is someone that people in the political class know and know well due to the fact that he is constantly on cable TV. But the average person has no clue who Avenatti is. In a Quinnipiac University poll in June, nearly three quarters of those tested said they didn't know enough about Avenatti to offer an opinion on him. Of those who did have a view on Avenatti, it was very much mixed; 12% approved of him while 14% disapproved.
Trump is also, for all of his boasts, very, very wealthy. Like, billionaire wealthy. And while he didn't spend anywhere near as much of his personal money as he said he would, Trump did wind up writing checks totaling $66 million for his campaign. From the little we know about Avenatti's finances, he doesn't appear to have anywhere near that sort of money. And in order to anywhere close to as well-known as Trump was on the day he descended that golden (gilded) escalator in the lobby of Trump Tower would take tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars.
The one commonality that Avenatti does have with Trump is that he makes for good TV. The camera likes him, and he has a very strong innate sense of how, when and where to make news. And it is a possibility that Trump fundamentally changed the game in 2016 when it comes to how much media exposure matters. If Avenatti can command the same sort of attention in the early days of the 2020 campaign that Trump did in the early days of the 2016 race, it's possible that his name identification with actual voters could soar in a relatively brief period of time and without a huge expenditure of money.
That could happen. And I *could* dunk a basketball at age 42.
But simply because something is mathematically possible doesn't mean it will happen. And the reality is that, for all of his obvious and, at the time, not-so-obvious problems, the simple fact is that Trump was a far more credible national candidate than Avenatti. People knew him. Many of them admired him for his wealth, his fame, the beautiful women he always seemed to have on his arm. That's simply not the case for Avenatti. People don't know him -- and those that do don't think all that much of him.
Could Avenatti, taking advantage of a presidential nominating process forever changed by Trump, emerge as a real candidate for the Democratic nomination? I doubt it highly, but sure! If he does, however, it's not because he's the Democratic Donald Trump: He's not.