I wanted to interview Donald Trump again, as I had in 2004. Our President passed on coming to the All-England Tennis Club, but I got wind that his prime foe, Michael Avenatti, would be attending. I looked for him Friday, but Martina Navratilova told me that he wasn’t here – he’d be coming today. I caught up with the controversial attorney in the walkway under Centre Court during the Djokovic-Nadal semi.
This interview is very political. Some may not like it. Then again, I’ve published interviews with many prominent Republicans: Presidents Donald Trump and George H.W. Bush, the former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, and the former California Gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon (no relation). I always like to interview political figures who come to Slams. This is a strong piece – what else would anyone expect from a conversation with the President’s most outspoken critic? So if you want tennis-only coverage, check out all the other pieces we’ve posted this fortnight.
INSIDE TENNIS: Billie Jean King told me the other day that every generation must step forward and fight for freedom and democracy – it’s not a given. Does that resonate with you?
MICHAEL AVENATTI: There is no question – absolutely. I agree with that 100%. And Billie Jean King is not only an unbelievable tennis player, but an incredible human being.
IT: The late Nelson Mandela said that sports can bring people together in some ways that government and politics can’t.
MA: There is no question about that. Over the history of time, sports has always played a vital role in mending fences and bringing people together.
IT: You’ve been watching Rafa Nadal out there on Centre Court with all his intensity. What is the role of intensity and ferocity in sports and in politics?
MA: I’ve always been a big fan of Rafa’s. I love the passion with which he plays the game. I love his intensity – he’s my kind of player. He’s a street fighter. He’s had his challenges, but I like that he’s a battler. He always finds a way to dig deep – I’m a big fan.
IT: We’re about to see Serena play in the semis. What is her genius? She came out of Compton and has seemed to bend the world toward her.
MA: Serena Williams – her story is the American dream. Where she came from, what’s she’s become, the icon she is around the world. Not because of her form, but because of her substance. She’s served as a role model for a lot of young women around the world.
I have two daughters – Lauren and Nicole – that play. They play throughout Southern California and they go to IMG Academy [in Florida] every year for a couple of weeks. They are pretty decent players. They have a passion for the game. They’ve been playing for a long time. They’re 15 and 13 and they’re big fans of Serena’s. It’s great that girls of all colors and creeds look up to Serena.
IT: What do you like most about the sport of tennis?
MA: What I like is that it has a good balance between intensity and strategy. In a lot of ways it’s a chess match. When you watch players at this level, you can see that obviously a big part of the game is physical, but a significant part is mental. Some players are better at playing the chess match than others. You can see that.
IT: And is our politics a chess match too?
MA: Some people play tennis better than others, and some people play three-dimensional chess, while other people play tic-tac-toe.
IT: Some have said that you’re often ahead of the game. What’s the gift you have?
MA: I think I have been blessed with incredible, if I say so, vision. I think I have good vision. I think I am a very good chess player. You know, I think that our current president is a bad chess player. I think he’s an embarrassment to the office. I’m very concerned about the image he has projected around the world to our allies and to others. Like here in the UK, to come to someone else’s home, to degrade them and disrespect them. Where I grew up, in the Midwest, it’s not what you do…
[Plus] Donald Trump doesn’t see women for their substance, or their intelligence, or their competitive spirit – or their heart. He views them as objects. He has always viewed them as objects. He is misogynist, and I don’t think this will ever change.
IT: Does power reveal character?
MA: We are beginning to see. We are 19 months in, we are witnessing what this man really is, and what he’s all about. And it’s frightening and it’s disturbing. And we have to do something about it, because if we have another six years of this there is so much damage that can be done, not just to the office of the Presidency but to the status of the United States in the world and the relationships we have with our allies. The amount of damage can be significant. And this is a very dangerous time.
IT: So, Mr. Avenatti, are you saying these are perilous times?
MA: Absolutely. It is a very serious time, not only for the future of our Republic but for our status in the world.
There is a balance in the world that has existed for a long time, and it’s largely dependent on the United States fulfilling its role as a stable super power. It’s not good when the rest of the world starts to wonder what the hell is going on in the United States. It’s a very, very dangerous thing.
IT: Critics have said our President is somehow more comfortable with authority figures, rather than our allies.
MA: Look, I don’t understand what the relationship is with Vladimir Putin. It doesn’t make any sense to me. It boggles the mind. I don’t understand why he has such an affinity for this guy. It’s dangerous. It sends the wrong message. This isn’t some reality show. This is serious business, and when the President behaves the way he does on the international stage, it’s a significant problem.
IT: Our President has defeated or criticized so many. Does someone who is running against him have to have a certain ferocity or intensity?
MA: I agree one hundred-and-ten percent. This is a guy that cannot be underestimated politically, A lot of people made that mistake. I think in a lot of ways, politically he is genius. He knows how to run a campaign and how to tap into a certain segment of the population. He knows how to deliver a message and what messages resonate.
If the Democrats nominate a candidate that is similar to the other fifteen, sixteen, seventeen experienced politicians that he already beat, they would be foolish to expect different results. This guy crushed a number of those candidates along the way. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
IT: So, Michael, are you going to run for president?
MA: I don’t know what my plans are yet. But I would say whoever runs against him in 2020 better be able to engage in a street fight. It will be a very brutal campaign and they’d better be prepared to take the fight to him. There are only two questions as it relates to who should be put up against him to run.
Number one, would they be a better human being, with better values and morals than he has? I think that question is fairly easily answered.
And secondly, can the candidate beat him? Because the Democrats don’t have any business nominating somebody that can’t beat him. Otherwise, having all the experience in the world doesn’t matter. The problem is not that we have a “Celebrity President.” The problem is that we have a President that doesn’t have a fundamental value or moral system. He doesn’t have enough intelligence, courage and heart to properly lead our nation. And he’s a guy that people generally don’t want to work with. That’s why he has such a hard time filling Cabinet positions.
He promised the American people the best and the brightest, but he can’t fulfill that promise, because people don’t want to work with him – because he’s too much of a demagogue.
I grew up in St Louis, and whoever is the nominee they have to be able to go to these battleground states in the Midwest, like Michigan, and Wisconsin, and Ohio, and Western Pennsylvania, and talk to those folks, and identify with them, and listen to them. And project a vision for how their life is going to look better.
IT: You’re from St Louis – are you a Jimmy Connors fan?
MA: Yes, and I always liked the entertainment factor of McEnroe, back in the day. I’m Martina [Navratilova’s] guest here today… She was kind enough to invite me…She’s an incredible human being herself, and obviously an unbelievable player and champion.
IT: What courage, to leave communist Czechoslovakia!
MA: Yes, her story is like Serena’s – it’s remarkable. And you know, they are both forged iron.
IT: You have been on so many cable TV shows. Let me do a lightning round of cable broadcasters, and you react.
MA: A lightning round – OK.
IT: Don Lemon
IT: Anderson Cooper
IT: Jake Tapper
IT: Lawrence O’Donnell
IT: Rachel Maddow