Politics

Michael Avenatti Never Should’ve Been a Resistance Hero

Michael Avenatti.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Politicon.

I can’t say I was surprised when Michael Avenatti was arrested on suspicion of felony domestic violence on Wednesday. It’s not that he seems like someone who’d assault a romantic partner. For one thing, that’s not something you can accurately glean from a guy’s tweets and cable news appearances. For another, Avenatti strongly denies the allegations. But even if Avenatti didn’t do what he’s been accused of doing, the ingredients of this scandal—gossip rags! a thing to be mad about! a political opponent to loudly blame!—perfectly suit Avenatti’s confrontational, grandstanding persona.

At times, it feels like Avenatti, who came into our lives earlier this year as Stormy Daniels’ lawyer and shows no inclination to ever leave, is something akin to the drama-seeking friend who moans, “I’m so unlucky, drama just seems to follow me everywhere!” At others, he comes off as a full-on “messy bitch who lives for drama.” His past is full of weird professional tangents—he’s a race car driver?—and personal litigation. His present is packed with televised outbursts, high-profile beefs, and a compulsive urge to make his clients’ stories about him. It was only a matter of time before a lurid allegation about his personal behavior ended up on TMZ.

Now, Avenatti will likely lose whatever goodwill he still held with Donald Trump haters who hoped Daniels’ attorney held the key to impeachment. Alyssa Milano, who appeared at an anti-Trump protest with Avenatti in July and has been a hypervisible leader of the #MeToo movement, tweeted that she was “disavowing” him. Daniels says she’ll drop him as her lawyer “if these allegations prove true.” But even if Avenatti isn’t charged or convicted, it’s hard to imagine him retaining the trust of anyone who cares about women’s rights. That’s especially the case after the public statement in which he said he would “never disrespect [his two daughters] by touching a woman inappropriately or striking a woman,” a bizarre line of defense—he needs a reminder of his own female flesh and blood to keep him from abusing women?—to wedge into an extremely short comment to the press.

Avenatti’s former fans on the left had started to sour on him even before this week’s arrest, given his attempt to transform sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh into fame and feminist cred for himself, his immature potshots at Trump’s physical health, his extremely early and unwanted bid for the presidency, and his assertion that the Democrats’ 2020 nominee had “better be a white male.” But in retrospect, it seems like we should have seen Avenatti’s eventual public downfall coming from the very start. When he became a household name in the Donald Trump saga in March, #resistance heads hailed him as something of a hero. By May, Slate’s now-departed chairman Jacob Weisberg was calling Avenatti “the brilliant egomaniac who could bring down Donald Trump.” But the qualities Weisberg admired about Avenatti, the things that made him just like Trump, and thus a threat to the president—that he’s “a risk-taker and a rule-breaker” who “gets his energy from insulting enemies and taking theatrical umbrage at their pathetic responses”—also marked him as someone whose self-image threatens to overtake his good sense. For all Avenatti’s goading that led the president and his then-lawyer Michael Cohen to stammer themselves in circles, he was never going to be the steady hand the Daniels case needed, much less the righteous savior the resistance wanted him to be.

There were other signs, too. Take his tweets from March: Does a reliable, steadfast attorney with his clients’ best interests at heart invest his social capital in making a hashtag that makes no sense happen? Does he make a custom hat emblazoned with that hashtag and wear it in front of the paparazzi the day before his client appears on 60 Minutes in an interview that could make or break her case? A lawyer who cares more about pursuing justice than maintaining his place in front of the cameras does not tweet “time to buckle up” when his settlement offer is refused, because he’s not out there looking for a bumpy ride. He doesn’t tweet “#checkmate” before a verdict comes down, because he can’t promise a win. He doesn’t send out the link to the page his client is using to crowdfund his fees—not when he’s just won a historically gigantic $454 million class-action verdict and he’s representing a private citizen who’s going up against a sitting president. If you’re not going to go pro bono then, then when?

While it’s fair to call his recent loss of esteem a downfall, Avenatti should never have risen to such great heights in the first place. A resistance folk hero with staying power would have recognized that Daniels’ story, not his own, should remain at the center of any publicity push. But this is a guy who dropped his motion to represent Daniels in the federal investigation of Michael Cohen rather than give up his ability to trash Cohen on cable news. Someone that deeply in love with his own voice will never be inclined to make room for someone else’s.