Avenatti’s latest troubles are an opportunity for liberals to take a deeper look at how they’re approaching this political moment. Easy answers to the Trump presidency aren’t going to present themselves out of nowhere. If they do, they will probably come from grifters taking advantage of the political moment by selling unrealistic fantasies to an audience that wants solutions without work. In that sense, Avenatti’s arrest is a blessing for Democrats: Maybe now the left can figure out a real strategy for the 2020 election.
A year ago, Avenatti was the steely lawyer who could take out Trump. He promised to expose Trump’s hush-money payment to his alleged paramour, Stormy Daniels, and use the revelation to hamstring the president. Avenatti became a regular on MSNBC and CNN, and Vogue commissioned an Annie Leibovitz photo spread of Avenatti and Daniels to go along with an in-depth profile. And by the time Avenatti flirted with a run for president, his profile was at its peak.
On one level, Avenatti’s strategy was legitimately masterful. He clearly understood that regular media appearances would antagonize Trump and that being attacked by the president would further promote Avenatti’s brand. But Avenatti’s quest to stay in the news showed the limits of this approach, not merely for his presidential hopes, but for his legal practice.
The fall began in September, when Avenatti claimed to represent a client who had damning information against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh. When the woman denied the claims that Avenatti had made on her behalf, he was roundly criticized for deprioritizing other alleged victims.
In November, Avenatti was arrested on allegations of felony domestic violence; he said he had been set up, and ultimately, prosecutors declined to pursue charges against him. Then, earlier this month, Daniels announced that Avenatti was no longer representing her. Monday’s charges seem like a dramatic punctuation to Avenatti’s fading trajectory.
But the lawyer’s latest troubles obfuscate, to some degree, the more difficult question of why he became a household name. Avenatti skillfully exploited the collective liberal horror at a Trump presidency to further his profile. Liberals eagerly — though unwittingly — allowed that to happen.
A majority of Americans, according to regular polling, oppose the president. And for liberals, the desire and need for a quick and effective pushback solution to the Trump presidency is overwhelming. As a result, some voters have seized on everything from the prospect of Russian collusion in the 2016 election to the Daniels sex scandal in the hopes that this moment in U.S. history can be over and we won’t have to think about it anymore.
That mentality has contributed to a lazy desire to live vicariously through whatever authority figure promises to end the Trump presidency, whether it’s a tough-talking attorney representing an adult-film actress or a Republican former head of the FBI who, somehow, will find evidence that the president is a Manchurian candidate.
If it seems almost cruel that the lawyer’s fall is occurring simultaneously with the Mueller investigation seemingly landing with a thud, liberals should take some comfort in the timing.
Yes, the president and his allies are crowing now as they take a “victory lap.” But liberals have time to get over the fantasy that the Trump administration will end before next year’s election and get to work on developing a real alternative not just to Trump, but to Trumpism.
If, on the other hand, the liberal resistance to the Trump administration consists of sitting back and waiting for someone to force the president out of office, then we’re probably looking at six more years of this presidency rather than two.