How many ways can you ask Michael Avenatti whether he’ll run for president?
At Politicon on Saturday, he was asked whether he’ll run, how far along he was in his thinking, who would be his running mate, and what his platform on immigration would be, should he choose to run.
Avenatti, who vaulted to fame this year as the lawyer for adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, danced around every iteration of the question while describing the candidate he said would be able to win against President Trump — and it sounded a lot like himself.
“When I look into the field of potential Democratic nominees, I see a number of very qualified, accomplished politicians, many of whom would make an exceptional president. However, what I don’t see is many of whom could actually beat Donald Trump,” he said. “If you don’t beat Donald Trump, you never get a chance to govern.”
Avenatti has become a star attraction at Democratic campaign events across the nation as the Nov. 6 midterm election approaches. And he was asked repeatedly to pose for selfies at the L.A. Convention Center at an event dubbed a Comic-con for politics.
A longtime Newport Beach consumer attorney in class-action cases, Avenatti has never run for public office, but he recently set up a committee, Fight PAC, that funds his political activities. He has also hired a political advisor, Roger Salazar, a veteran California Democratic strategist.
Avenatti said he’d been to 15 states and was going to be in another eight or nine before the midterms, raising money and speaking at events.
With his pugnacious rhetoric in frequent television appearances, he’s cast himself as a champion of a combative Democratic approach to Trump as the president seeks reelection in 2020.
Sharing the stage Saturday with comedian Kathy Griffin, whose 2017 photo with a mock decapitated head of Trump derailed her career and made her the target of a federal investigation, Avenatti said the way back into the White House for the Democratic Party was not by playing nice.
“If you want to take this nation back, you’re going to have to engage in a brutal campaign,” he said. “That’s what’s going to have to happen in 2020, I firmly believe that.”
Griffin had plenty of not nice things to say about Trump — “aggressively stupid” and worse, much of it not printable in these pages — but she said the aftermath of her photo was a serious issue that went beyond her own career. She said Trump ordered an investigation and placed her on a no-fly list.
“It’s fun to take sides, but once you really start to erode away the 1st Amendment ... it really can happen to anyone here,” she said.
Avenatti said he gives Trump credit for his use of Twitter during the 2016 campaign and after, directly reaching 55 million people a day and forcing journalists to report on his tweets. So how best should Democrats go against that?
“Whoever is gonna go against him needs to understand how to operate in the current culture,” he said. (Avenatti has 877,000 followers on Twitter as of Saturday evening, but who’s counting?)
Journalist Jonathan Capehart asked Avenatti if his presence was a welcome distraction and easy target for conservatives, noting that politicians and commentators on the right zeroed in on him during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. Avenatti represented a third woman who came forward with allegations against Kavanaugh.
Avenatti, dismissed by Trump as a “total low-life,” has become a favorite target of Fox News. The conservative network has irritated Avenatti by branding him a “creepy porn lawyer” even though Daniels is his only client in the pornography business.
On Saturday, the attorney said conservatives’ attacks against him were a sign that they perceived him as a viable challenger.
“The right is not used to having a fighter on the left. I am a threat and I am going to continue to be a threat to the Republican Party and this dumpster fire of a presidency,” he said. “I’m not going anywhere, period.”
As for his stance on immigration, lest he decide to run, he said he is against disbanding Immigration and Customs Enforcement, believes strong borders are vital, and would stop the caravan of migrants from Central America recently making headlines.
Avenatti’s incendiary manner and representation of Daniels, who says Trump had extramarital sex with her in 2006, have left some Democratic leaders cautious about embracing him.
Trump has denied any affair with Daniels. But prosecutors say his business, the Trump Organization, reimbursed his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen for making an illegal $130,000 payoff to Daniels to buy her silence in the closing days of the 2016 presidential campaign.
Times staff writer Michael Finnegan contributed to this report.
For more California news, follow me on Twitter @vicjkim