Michael Avenatti Urges Democrats to Reject Michelle Obama’s Advice on Trump - The New York Times

Michael Avenatti gave his first speech as a prospective presidential candidate on Friday at the Wing Ding, a Democratic Party fund-raiser in Clear Lake, Iowa. Credit Chris Zoeller/Globe-Gazette, via Associated Press

CLEAR LAKE, Iowa — Michael Avenatti, fresh off his declaration that he may run for president in 2020, used his first big speech as a prospective candidate to call on the Democratic Party to reject Michelle Obama’s oft-quoted advice about President Trump and his allies: “When they go low, we go high.”

Mr. Avenatti, the hard-charging lawyer who represents the pornographic film star Stephanie Clifford, known as Stormy Daniels, did not once mention the former first lady in his keynote speech Friday night at the Democratic Wing Ding, a party fund-raiser in northern Iowa. But there was no mistaking his meaning.

“We must be a party that fights fire with fire,” Mr. Avenatti said to cheers from the audience, his voice rising. “When they go low, I say hit back harder.”

He received a thunderous ovation at the end of his speech, notably louder than the applause for the night’s other speakers, including Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio as well as Representative John Delaney of Maryland, who is running for president.

At times, his language verged on apocalyptic. The Democratic Party, he said, is “fighting for no less than the survival of our republic,” and doing so against “a man that wants to turn back the hands of time, to send us back to the Dark Ages.”

In such a fight, he continued, “we must honestly ask ourselves whether those that we fight for can afford our gentleness.”

It is a message in keeping with the work that has made Mr. Avenatti a boldface name: his alliance with Ms. Clifford, who claims to have had an affair with Mr. Trump and is suing the president’s onetime fixer, Michael D. Cohen.

As Ms. Clifford’s lawyer, Mr. Avenatti has adopted the president’s brash manner and some of his tactics. He has a similar instinct for using the news media to his advantage; he seems always to be on one cable news show or another. His Twitter feed is sometimes combative, sometimes coy, virtually always provocative — an example of the tack he is now urging the Democratic Party to take.

There was a certain tension, however, in his speech, which mingled calls to arms with calls for Democrats to reach out compassionately to Trump voters whose support for the president may be wavering. Democrats should think of such voters “not as evildoers but as victims of a great con,” he said. “Decent people get conned all the time, and let’s face it, Trump is a very good con man.”

He also devoted part of his roughly 20-minute address to political platitudes. At times, it became abundantly clear that he was trying, at least to some extent, to recast himself from pugnacious lawyer to palatable politician. He talked about “good-paying jobs” and about giving people “a real shot at a real American dream.” He talked about saving Roe v. Wade. He listed some standard items on the Democratic platform: equal pay. Women’s rights. Gay rights. He ended by declaring that the people would “make America decent again.”

But it was when talking about political combat that he was most enthusiastic, and visibly most in his element.

Want peace? he asked the audience. “We must be willing to do battle to achieve it.”