On August 10, Michael Avenatti, lawyer to "Stormy Daniels" of porn industry fame, delivered a speech calling on Democrats to be a party that "fights fire with fire." Avenatti's message was obviously at odds with that offered by former first lady Michelle Obama in 2016, when she told Democrats to "go high" in response to insults. Two years later, Avenatti declared to thunderous applause, "When they go low, I say hit back harder."
This speech comes after Avenatti's announcement that he is strongly considering a run for president in 2020, but only serves to expose the reality that he is not fit for elected office. Despite an enthusiastic reception from the Democrats in attendance at his speech, Avenatti's strategy demonstrates both the blatant hypocrisy of the Left and a fundamental misunderstanding of governance in a republic.
The recent outpouring of support for Avenatti among Democrats as a potential candidate represents an embrace of the very strategies left-leaning thinkers were so quick to condemn when used by Donald Trump. Everyone from Senator Elizabeth Warren to a pro-Clinton Super PAC called Trump a "bully" throughout the 2016 election. As president, Trump has been called a "grave and existential threat" to the press, with press freedom becoming a rallying point for Democrats. Even the attention bestowed on Trump by the press is incredibly contentious, with journalists like CNN's Fareed Zakaria arguing that Trump treats the presidency like a TV show.
Enter Avenatti, a new democratic champion who refers to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani as a "pig," and Trump attorney Michael Cohen as a "moron." Avenatti has appeared on programs ranging from CNN to Stephen Colbert's late show, a near constant face on television screens across the country, in each appearance raging against the president. Yet the potential candidate's similarities to Trump do not stop at gratuitous insults and media manipulation, either. When The Daily Caller, a conservative news outlet, published a story on Avenatti's "questionable" past, including lawsuits, unpaid debts, and bankruptcy filings, he responded by attempting to stifle honest criticism with threats of defamation lawsuits.
Support on the Left for an Avenatti campaign would represent a hypocritical embrace of everything Democrats were so quick to loathe during the 2016 election cycle.
Support on the Left for an Avenatti campaign would represent a hypocritical embrace of everything Democrats were so quick to loathe during the 2016 election cycle. Accepting him as a legitimate candidate would make a powerful statement that both sides find personal attacks acceptable, as long as they are against the right people. It would also imply that media manipulation is fine, as long as it is twisted in your side's favor. Most dangerously, support for Avenatti would send a message that it is okay to use unfounded claims of defamation to attempt to silence media criticism, so long as you do it covertly, and against conservative media.
Regardless of whether Democrats choose to support Avenatti's presidential run in 2020, his tendency toward striking back against political opponents conveys a crucial misunderstanding of how republican governments are meant to function.
Republics necessitate coalition building in order to promote effective governance. By dividing the country by way of an us-versus-them mentality, political figures like Avenatti prioritize personal gain at the expense of the American people, especially as voters demonstrate an increasing sense of disconnect with the two-party system. Pew Research reported in 2017 that 37 percent of registered voters identify as political independents, a figure that outnumbers voters who identify as Democrats (33 percent) and Republicans (26 percent). While the majority of these voters lean in one direction, the refusal to officially declare loyalty to a party represents a clear desire to overcome partisanship.
Candidates like Avenatti (and Trump) benefit from creating ingroup biases within their chosen party. By channelling negative attention on an outgroup, like an opposing political party, candidates strengthen the bonds between partisans while increasing animosities between parties.
But what does this mean when it comes time to govern? Campaigns may end, but the fighting mentality endorsed by Avenatti and others lingers. How can candidates be expected to work across the aisle and promise positive reform for all people once elected, when people like Mark Brown, the spokesman for Senate candidate Phil Bresden, refer to Trump as a "f---stik" and says "f--k 'reaching out' to Trump voters. The idiots aren't listening?" Is this the "fire" Avenatti wants to see emerging from the Democratic Party?
Politics for the people should not be about going low, and it certainly ought not to be about going lower in response.
Republics are founded on the basis of compromise, but mudslinging campaign strategies have made genuine compromise a rarity. Building rifts and capitalizing on political divides does not benefit American citizens, and Avenatti's clear endorsement of such a strategy represents a failure to understand what it means to work on behalf of all people, instead of only those with which you agree. While insult-hurling may make work well for a courtroom lawyer or television personality, it simply does not suit the Oval Office.
Avenatti, Trump, and all candidates who employ similar strategies must recognize that once the campaigning is over and the votes have been counted, elected officials have to actually govern. Burning bridges and building walls between people of different political mindsets during campaign season makes this nearly impossible. Politics for the people should not be about going low, and it certainly ought not to be about going lower in response. Though it makes for great entertainment, governance is not a game—and it is time to stop endorsing candidates who treat it like one.