If you listen to Michael Avenatti hold forth in front of a live audience for long enough, you realize he is the Democratic version of Donald Trump. There’s the rambling answers that morph into performance monologues. The casual arrogance and braggadocio. The celebrity aura. The vulgarity. And of course the undisguised contempt for his political opponents—most of all for Trump.
Maybe this is why Avenatti is convinced he could win against Trump in 2020. Perhaps he has concluded, not without reason, that our political life has become so debased that only a self-promoting outsider opportunist on the Left stands a chance against the president.
Maybe he is right. During a softball one-on-one session with John Heilemann at the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin on Friday, Avenatti played to an adoring crowd that seemed ready to embrace him as the Democratic presidential nominee. Even reporters seated in the front row of the auditorium enthusiastically cheered at every partisan applause line he threw out.
One of his first lines, which met with uproarious laughter, was both a sexual brag and a dig against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh: “I, too, am a virgin. I’m still a virgin—under his definition.”
Avenatti burst onto the national stage as onscreen prostitute Stormy Daniels’ attorney, but he has since managed, through incessant appearances on cable TV news and a Trump-like Twitter habit, to thoroughly insinuate himself into our decaying national political life.
His latest trick was to post on Twitter, a day before the Ford-Kavanaugh hearing, a sworn affidavit from Julie Swetnick, the woman who says that 35 years ago she witnessed Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge attend parties where women, including Swetnick, were verbally abused, groped, and gang raped.
It is by far the most outlandish and salacious of the claims that have surfaced against Kavanaugh in recent weeks, so of course Avenatti is right at the center of it. Never mind that there are no corroborating witnesses, or that no media outlet has been able to verify any of Swetnick’s claims. Avenatti’s stunt has already achieved its purpose: it has put him back in the spotlight.
During the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday, as soon as Sen. Dianne Feinstein got a chance to speak she read Swetnick’s allegation into the record, plunging Avenatti into the center of the latest political scandal. Since then, he been furiously tweeting about the pending FBI investigation into the allegations against Kavanaugh and decrying the entire process as rigged, phony, and corrupt. Sound familiar?
Avenatti Fans Will Believe Any Outrageous Thing He Says
By casting himself as the righteous defender of women who have been abused and discarded by powerful Republicans, Avenatti has become a hero to the left. If our national life were a reality TV show, Avenatti would be one of the central characters—for Democrats, the breakout star with a heart of gold.
Like Trump, Avenatti enjoys a kind of invincible adoration among his partisan fans, no matter what crazy thing he says. When Heilemann asked him why Swetnick never told anyone about the crimes she supposedly witnessed at the multiple gang rape parties she says she attended, his answer was that young people don’t generally go to the police when they witness crimes. Really.
Here’s @MichaelAvenatti explaining why his client Julie Swetnick didn’t tell anyone about the drug- & booze-fueled gang rape parties she alleges Kavanaugh attended in high school. #TribFest18 pic.twitter.com/WYcfme2S2l
— John Daniel Davidson (@johnddavidson) September 28, 2018
His outlandish answer elicited no groans of disbelief from the audience, no derisive laughter—nothing but earnest, knowing nods. He was among his tribe, and the tribe is ready to believe anything its champion says. That’s not unlike the crowd at a Trump rally.
The One Way Avenatti Is Not Like Trump
Avenatti says he is fighting for those who have no voice, who cannot fight back against Trump and the “misogynist” old white men in the Senate. It is a sanctimonious but familiar pose on the Left, and in a way it is a version of what Trump said in 2016: that he was fighting for all the forgotten Americans who were suffering under a political establishment that did not care about them.
But there is a crucial difference between Trump and Avenatti: Trump might be a braggart and a buffoon, but at the end of the day he is a patriot. Trump loves America not because she is perfect but because she is America. “Make America Great Again” is not a policy slogan, it is a crude expression of a primary loyalty.
By contrast, Avenatti is what G.K. Chesterton calls the “cosmic anti-patriot,” or the “uncandid candid friend.” He is the man who, in his candidness, is holding back his pleasure in being so candid. He is the man who says “I am sorry to say we are ruined,” and is not sorry at all.
Whatever else Avenatti says about getting the country out of “this dumpster fire we’re in,” he is at bottom a pessimist, and the pessimist “has a secret desire to hurt, not merely to help,” writes Chesterton: “The evil of the pessimist is, then, not that he chastises gods and men, but that he does not love what he chastises—he has not this primary and supernatural loyalty to things.”
In this way, Avenatti is almost a mirror image of Trump, and he might just be the perfect candidate for a leftward-lurching Democratic Party that quite clearly does not love what it chastises.