Daily Southtown

Why we should take unserious presidenti­al contenders seriously

- By Jennifer Rubin The Washington Post Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservati­ve perspectiv­e.

On Sunday, Jonathan Karl interviewe­d Stormy Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti on ABC’s “This Week” about the latter’s professed desire to run for president. Avenatti has never held office, has no foreign policy expertise and has had his share of financial controvers­ies, but hey, he says only he can beat President Donald Trump. (Compared with the third-tier Democratic candidates, he can give a good speech, apparently.)

We’ve seen this horror film before. In 2016, TV media treated Trump like a celebrity, never really putting him through the policy paces like other candidates, and, moreover, turning over hours of free TV time to him. He called in to shows from the comfy environs of home rather than appear in person. He got live coverage of his rallies. That was a mistake that should not be repeated. Not only Avenatti but also a slew of other nonpolitic­ians and TV personalit­ies may very well enter the presidenti­al primary races. What coverage do they deserve, and how should they be treated?

When a celebrity says, “I’m thinking of running,” that shouldn’t be a ticket to receive free media time. If the news standard is that cable and broadcast outlets will give air time to any famous person merely mulling a run, then we’ll have a lot of unserious people mulling a run to get on TV. Perhaps there should be some minimal level of seriousnes­s, commitment and organizati­on before putting a celebrity candidate on TV or devoting serious resources to cover them.

If one neverthele­ss decides to interview or focus on a long-shot celebrity candidate, then there can be no free ride. To his credit, Karl avoided that pitfall. Rattling off a list of policy questions, Karl showed that Avenatti had limited or no response to some of the big issues of the day. (Asked what top policy issue he has talked about over the years, Avenatti gave a cringewort­hy TV answer: “The truth.” Blech. ) Moreover, Karl asked the key question that must be asked of any self-described candidate:

OK, there have been no shortage of controvers­ies surroundin­g your business dealings. Let’s look at some of the headlines we’ve seen over the last several months.

■ The (Los Angeles) Times: “Law firm of Stormy Daniels’ attorney hit with a $10 million judgment.”

■ Politico: “Feds target Avenatti over firm’s unpaid taxes.”

■ CNN: “Avenatti firm settles case with the IRS for $800,000.”

Don’t the attack ads here essentiall­y write themselves?

No, I don’t think so. And look, I’ll put up my background and my record of fighting on behalf of working people over the last 20 years against Donald Trump’s any day of the week. I say, bring it.

Hillary Clinton released eight years of her tax returns just

Karl: Avenatti: Karl:

after she started running. Will you do the same?

I don’t know yet. I haven’t decided. I’ll look at the issue. But here’s what I do know. ...


You don’t know if you’ll release your tax returns? This was a major issue with Trump.

No, I don’t know if I’ll release eight years of my tax returns. But here’s what I ... (Crosstalk)

But will you commit to releasing some?


You will?


How will you make that judgment of how many?

I don’t know. I’m going to consult with people. We’re going to see what the standard has been over the years. But where are Donald Trump’s tax returns?

Karl: Avenatti: Karl: Avenatti: Karl: Avenatti: Karl: Avenatti:

(Yikes — whatabouti­sm and it’s only August 2018?!)

Neither party, in my book, should award its nomination without disclosure of 10 years of tax returns. Neverthele­ss, the media, regardless of what rules the parties set up, must be insistent that every candidate release his or her tax returns and show transparen­cy in business dealings. Candidates must know they’ll be asked about it again and again. If a candidate gives a deadline and misses it, the coverage must be exacting.

The same process should go for allegation­s of sexual harassment or assault and for contacts with foreign entities and individual­s. The novice candidates must know that they’ll be pressed over and over again to answer specific factual questions about anything that may later prove compromisi­ng.

If celebritie­s want to be treated seriously as presidenti­al candidates, they have to open their lives up for inspection and be prepared to field tough questions. Now is no time for free passes to dilettante­s. We’re talking about an election in which, unless Trump is chased out before then, the American people get one last chance to hold him accountabl­e for his actions. Trump’s potential opponents must undertake a trial by fire before they get through the nomination process. The country cannot afford another 2016, which popularize­d the catchphras­e “nothing matters.” In 2020, it should all matter.

 ?? JENNIFER S. ALTMAN/THE WASHINGTON POST ?? Michael Avenatti, attorney for Stormy Daniels, is a political novice but says he can beat Donald Trump in 2020.
JENNIFER S. ALTMAN/THE WASHINGTON POST Michael Avenatti, attorney for Stormy Daniels, is a political novice but says he can beat Donald Trump in 2020.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States