The celebrity lawyer says his family has requested that he not mount a campaign against Donald Trump.
Michael Avenatti has long reveled in playing the role of the combative underdog. But the mounting challenges in and outside the courtroom were too much even for him.
The hard-charging Los Angeles attorney pulled the plug on his nascent presidential bid, announcing Tuesday he will not run in 2020.
Avenatti, best known for representing porn star Stormy Daniels, said the decision came after consultation with his family. “I do not make this decision lightly — I make it out of respect for my family. But for their concerns, I would run,” Avenatti, a father of two teenage girls and a 4-year-old son, said in a statement.
His announcement, made in a statement posted on Twitter, came after months of meetings and speaking events that advanced what once seemed to be a completely implausible White House bid. But his fortunes plummeted since his November arrest on domestic violence allegations, in which he might face a misdemeanor charge, and amid an ongoing contentious divorce from his second wife.
After traveling to more than 15 states to speak in front of Democratic groups, forming a PAC and launching his first digital political ad, Avenatti was forced to scale back his public activities after the domestic violence arrest, leading some of his most loyal allies to express doubts about his viability. He also faded from the cable TV line-up where he initially built up his name ID.
Last week, Daniels publicly questioned Avenatti’s credibility after complaining about a lack of transparency over a crowdsourced legal account. She also alleged Avenatti had filed a defamation lawsuit against Donald Trump against her wishes. On Sunday, Daniels reversed herself, saying she and Avenatti had patched things up, but the public dispute further tarnished Avenatti at a time when he could ill afford it.
“I think today’s a good reminder that this whole thing is a marathon and not a sprint. Just because someone is the most click bait-y or cable-ready candidate at any moment doesn’t mean they’re going to go the distance,” said Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist and former Hillary Clinton deputy national press secretary. “The world changes too fast to think somebody who can get some retweets is going to retweet himself into the White House. In the end, there are a lot of ways to beat Trump but you don’t beat Trump’s reality show with your own reality show. You beat him with your own reality.”
Avenatti told POLITICO on Friday that his recent round of challenges would have no bearing on the decision about his political future.
“The events of the last two-three weeks have had no impact on my plans or decision making process,” he said.
In fact, Avenatti predicted he would overcome the domestic violence case and be even more appealing in a Democratic field that he believes is too weak to take on Trump.
“I think the field is shaping up to be even more advantageous for someone like me, not less,” Avenatti said. “I think my chances have only gone up, not gone down.”
Before the midterms, Avenatti was a hot ticket for Democratic fundraising and party events across the country, including headlining a major Iowa Democratic Party event. Yet he remained a polarizing figure within his own party, where there was no love lost between him and the Democratic establishment. In an October Iowa poll, Avenatti was the only potential Democratic 2020 candidate whose negatives were above 15 percent.
He was the target of anger among Democrats who believed he undermined the credibility of their challenge to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when, during the hearings, Avenatti over Twitter made incendiary allegations involving wild parties, spiked punch and gang rape and promised his client, Julie Swetnick, would testify to the details. NBC News interviewed Swetnick and reported inconsistencies between her statements to them and what she wrote in a sworn affidavit.
The Swetnick backlash led Avenatti to scrap plans to hold a Democratic rally in Texas before the midterms. He said it wasn’t worth the risk in light of Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke’s insurgent campaign against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.
“That’s Beto’s race. If he loses that race, I don’t want to be blamed. I don’t want that to be basically, Swetnick 2.0, me being blamed for something I had nothing to do with,” Avenatti told POLITICO in October. “I’m going to let him run his race and do his counter rally and he’ll get the credit on the upside or the downside.”
Avenatti added: “If he loses that race, I don’t know how he could run for the U.S. presidency.”
Avenatti maintains that the Democratic Party has yet to come up with a tough enough contender, despite a potentially sprawling field of potential candidates.
“I remain concerned that the Democratic Party will move toward nominating an individual who might make an exceptional President but has no chance of actually beating Donald Trump,” he wrote in his tweet Tuesday. “The party must immediately recognize that many of the likely candidates are not battle tested and have no real chance at winning. We will not prevail in 2020 without a fighter. I remain hopeful the party finds one.”
Republicans on Tuesday jumped on Avenatti’s statement, holding it up as Exhibit A of a weak Democratic field.
“For all of his flaws, Michael Avenatti has one thing right: the Democratic field is a disaster and the likely candidates ‘have no real chance at winning.’” Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Ahrens said in a statement.
Still, one of Avenatti’s most loyal political backers, Mahoning County, Ohio, Democratic Party Chairman David Betras, wasn’t ready to completely write off Avenatti.
“I never say never,” said Betras.