The tweet is probably inevitable. “Dopey Avenatti is a total lightweight and desperate for attention,” it might say — or something like that. But for now, anyway, President Trump is laying off the man who might be his most visible antagonist, Michael Avenatti, the attorney for Stormy Daniels.
At least one Trump tweet on Thursday morning indicated the president was watching “Fox & Friends,” yet he refrained from commenting on a segment in which the hosts cited a report by the conservative Media Research Center that Avenatti has appeared on TV 147 times in the past 10 weeks. Trump has never made public remarks about Avenatti.
One possible explanation is that Trump is being disciplined. If he was tuned in to “Fox & Friends” at the right time on Thursday, he would have seen Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary under President George W. Bush, advise him to “ignore” Avenatti.
“He is the sideshow,” Fleischer said. “Look, the only threat to the White House is [special counsel Robert] Mueller, and I think that’s a receding threat, frankly, ’cause there’s no evidence of collusion anywhere. So focus on what’s important, and the things that are the sideshows, let them be the sideshows. Probably the most painful thing for Michael Avenatti is to be treated like a sideshow ’cause he wants to be in the center ring.”
Sound guidance, perhaps, but Trump is not known for restraint. During the 2016 campaign, he did not hold back after being criticized, once, by a previously unknown Gold Star father. After Trump raged against “ungrateful fool” LaVar Ball last year, Fox News’s Neil Cavuto ripped the president for his habit of “punching down” and “using a bazooka to respond to a pea shooter.”
Trump insults a lot of people, but New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow argued in the fall that the president “has a particular taste for the degradation of racial, ethnic and religious minorities and women.” Avenatti is a white man.
White men are not exempt from Trump’s fury, but there is sometimes an observable difference of degree. Last year, I noted a pattern in the way Trump attacks MSNBC's Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski:
When Trump hits Brzezinski and Scarborough on Twitter, he hits Brzezinski harder, more personally and in a way that seems designed to portray her as someone who is insecure (“facelift”) and unintelligent (“low IQ”) — and who would not be on TV if not for her romantic relationship with Scarborough.
Though Trump has not gone after Avenatti, he did refer to “this crazy Stormy Daniels deal” in an interview on “Fox & Friends” last month.
The Times reported Thursday that Avenatti and Trump's former White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, are pitching themselves to TV networks as co-stars in a potential new series. An unlikely theory is that Trump is taking it easy on Avenatti as a courtesy to the Mooch.
Another possibility is that Trump simply hasn’t seen many of Avenatti’s TV appearances.
“I seldom, if ever, watch CNN or MSNBC, both of which I consider Fake News,” the president tweeted in December. Most of Avenatti’s appearances have been on those two channels.
Trump may watch CNN and MSNBC more than he lets on, but New York magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi reported this week that White House aides have managed to wean the president off the networks most likely to infuriate him and that his current television intake is “mainly a complete dosage of Fox,” according to one official.
Though he has mounted a Twitter campaign to book himself on Sean Hannity’s program, Avenatti has appeared on Fox News only once.
Then there is the chance that Trump maintains a fellow showman’s appreciation of Avenatti’s style. As The Washington Post’s Emma Brown and Beth Reinhard wrote this week: “To become one of Trump’s chief adversaries, Avenatti has carved a Trumpian path. He taunts his opponents. He uses Twitter to make explosive accusations. And he is omnipresent on cable news.”
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Trump might just view Avenatti’s barrage as a kind of compliment.