It's actually happening: Michael Avenatti to speak at traditional Democratic presidential primary event in Iowa

I keep telling myself that this is just an elaborate PR stunt by a guy who never met a camera he didn’t like.

Problem: I told myself that in 2015 too.

My compromise position is that he’s not quite serious but not quite unserious either. It’s a trial balloon. He’s going to speak at some political rallies, do some events in early primary states, and just let things develop as they may. If he finds that Democratic voters view him as a novelty act in which they have no real political interest, he’ll quietly cut back his political tour and eventually say that he was never all that sold on running. If he finds that Democratic voters actually do respond to him — he’s a “fighter,” as he likes to point out every five seconds on Twitter, and at this point arguably the most omnipresent Trump critic in America — then he’ll start chatting up major donors. There’s no downside to him from kicking up political buzz.

In the end, though, he has no chance. A major political party would never nominate for president an amateur whose chief talent is trash-talking his enemies on cable news.

There are only four confirmed speakers on the Wing Ding website right now: Avenatti, two marginal Democrats who have already declared their 2020 candidacies, and Rep. Tim Ryan, the Rust Belter whose own presidential ambitions were touted just a few days ago by The Intercept. In 2015, notes the Hill, all three major Democratic candidates (if you want to include Martin O’Malley as “major”) attended the Iowa Wing Ding. Presumably more serious Democratic contenders will be added to this year’s program in the next two weeks. What happens if Avenatti brings down the house and upstages the Kirsten Gillibrands and Elizabeth Warrens on the bill? Which wouldn’t be hard, let’s face it.

I expect his speech to be 95 percent “we need a fighter!” blather (what else can he say to convince voters to prefer him?) plus five percent innuendo along these lines:

The idea that Avenatti has the goods on Trump and is just methodically maneuvering him towards a big revelation/court defeat explains the great bulk of his appeal to lefties, I think. Yeah, he’s good on TV, and yeah, he tells them what they want to hear about how Trump is the devil, but his real pull lies in the image he’s created for himself as a rare adversary who doesn’t seem overmatched by Trump. It’s not that he’s a “fighter,” it’s that he seems to know what he’s doing. At a moment when Democrats are powerless in Congress, reduced to dismal floor speeches and whiny press releases, Avenatti seems to have a bit of real power over the White House in terms of what he knows and what he might be able to get Trump and/or Cohen to reveal. I wonder if lefty interest in him will fade if Democrats retake the House this fall and claw back some meaningful power of their own.

I think Trump’s own alleged assessment of who his most formidable opponent would be in 2020 is wise:

Advisers to President Trump say Joe Biden is the Democrat he most fears running against, and that Pennsylvania is the state he worries most about flipping against him…

Trump advisers say Biden, like the president, conveys authenticity, is comfortable in his own skin, can work a crowd, and relishes throwing and returning punches…

A Democratic source close to Biden said he’d be strong with “Obama-Trump voters” in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin where “the blue wall became the red threat” — Obama won them twice, then they flipped narrowly to Trump.

These are white, working-class voters who aren’t college graduates (or have some college) and are anti-Washington. They voted for the anti-establishment candidate (Obama) in 2008 and again in 2016.

If there was any single decisive demographic factor in 2016, it was working-class whites who had voted for Obama in previous elections flipping to Trump. Logically Democrats would be looking for a nominee who’s best positioned to claw those votes back. Who better than Obama’s own VP, who’s always had more of a blue-collar touch than much of his party’s leadership? He wouldn’t be as ostentatiously populist as Bernie Sanders would but he’d be better positioned to dodge GOP accusations that he’s an ideological radical than Sanders would. I don’t think he’ll be the nominee but he probably would pose the biggest challenge for Trump. Especially if he were even five years younger.