Michael Avenatti’s attacks on the Democratic establishment are creating new friction as the party debates how abrasive an approach to take against President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE.
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Avenatti, who is stoking the possibility that he could run for president, calls prominent party strategists “out of touch” and “clueless” about how to win against Trump and Republicans.
“I think they’re out of touch. I don’t think they understand what’s required,” Avenatti said in an interview with The Hill on Monday.
“I think they’re clueless. We’re not living in 2012 or 2008 or 1992 anymore,” he said. “You’ve got to engage in smash-mouth politics if you’re going to beat Donald Trump.”
Democrats warn that Avenatti is dragging their party into the gutter, and they argue the Stormy Daniels attorney hurt the party’s efforts to block Supreme Court nominee Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughGOP senators urge Trump to back off Murkowski threat Judd Gregg: A government in free fall The 7 most anticipated Supreme Court decisions MORE’s confirmation.
“There’s a difference between getting in the gutter and being tough, and I don’t think Michael Avenatti understands that,” Patti Solis Doyle, Democratic strategist and former campaign manager to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE’s 2008 presidential campaign, said in an interview.
“This isn’t a strategy, this is a spectacle,” she added. “And the spectacle is great for getting a lot of Twitter followers and retweets, but when push comes to shove … what’s he doing for the party?”
Democrats question Avenatti’s motives during the Kavanaugh fight.
The lawyer represented Julie Swetnick, who in a public declaration said she had witnessed Kavanaugh attending parties in the early 1980s where she said he had fondled and grabbed girls without their consent. She also alleged that at some parties, young men had lined up to “gang rape” young women who had become incapacitated from drinking.
Kavanaugh denied the allegations, and Democratic senators generally stayed away from them during the public debate over the nomination. Republicans pounced, arguing Trump’s nominee was being victimized by a smear campaign and arguing the involvement of Avenatti proved it.
A senior Democratic aide told The Hill that Avenatti was counterproductive to their efforts to stop Kavanaugh and defend Ford’s credibility.
“He f—ed it all up,” the aide said.
Avenatti — who spent the weekend headlining events for the South Carolina Democratic Party and the Horry County Democratic Party — is unapologetic for his approach.
“I’m traveling around America and people are very enthusiastic about me potentially running and my approach and my message,” he told The Hill. “So perhaps Patti and others should venture outside the Beltway and start talking to rank-and-file Democrats.”
Avenatti maintains he’s serious about running for president. He has been informally seeking advice from Adam Parkhomenko, an adviser to Clinton, among other Democratic operatives.
He’s convinced the only way to beat Trump is to beat him at his own game.
“Democrats are not going to beat Donald Trump by engaging in wishy-washy yammering ways of the past,” he said. “It’s never going to happen. The only way you’re going beat him is by hitting him twice as hard as he hits you. He is a classic bully and that’s how you deal with bullies.”
Some of Avenatti’s antics have rubbed Democrats the wrong way.
As an example, some criticized his suggestion last week that he wants to take on Donald Trump Jr.Don John TrumpTrump Jr. calls elderly supporter who was assaulted Trump Jr. hits Howard Stern for going ‘establishment,’ ‘acting like Hillary’ Trump Jr., GOP senator lash out at Facebook for taking down protest pages on stay-at-home orders MORE in a mixed martial arts fight for charity.
Avenatti and Solis Doyle got into it on Twitter over the weekend after Solis Doyle penned an opinion piece on CNN.com in which she said the best way for the party to win back the White House was not to employ Avenatti’s tactics.
“If you get in the gutter with Trump, no one will be able to tell the difference between the two of you,” she wrote. “A three-round mixed martial arts fight between Avenatti and Donald Trump Jr. may be a spectacle to rival one of Trump’s press conferences, but really have we gone that low?”
In response, Avenatti took to Twitter: “Establishment Dems like @PattiSolisDoyle are the problem,” he wrote. “They are why we continue to get beat and why we are presently in a fight for the survival of this republic. Their weak approaches are why we lost 2000, lost 2016, never got a Garland vote, etc etc.”
Other Democrats including Lis Smith, the longtime Democratic operative who worked for former President Obama’s 2012 campaign, also weighed in on Twitter, pushing back on Avenatti.
“I’ve spent 15 years in the trenches knife fighting, and gosh it’s funny, I just don’t remember seeing you there,” Smith wrote. “Winning elections is about more than just talking tough on Twitter and TV.”
Some strategists say Avenatti’s tone toward “establishment Democrats” has been largely unhelpful to a splintered Democratic Party.
“If he wants to run, he should be focused on building coalitions instead of demeaning people who’ve spent their lives in public service,” said Basil Smikle, a Democratic strategist who served as an aide to Hillary Clinton. “Many of us are content to work behind the scenes and be advocates for good people and good policy.”
Avenatti says that he isn’t the one picking fights with Democrats. He’s merely responding to their criticism.
“People like Patti and others should back off and stop going after me,” he said, adding that they “see me as a threat.”
“I don’t take shots at any Democrats first,” he said. “I only respond when certain Democrats attack me. If they come after me, I’m going to hit back twice as hard.”