Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The 2020 bull case for tech startups, and the investors who love them, is that federal regulators will intensify their antitrust investigations into incumbents like Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google.

The catch: This isn't about successfully breaking up the goliaths, which could only come after years of legal challenges. It's about distraction — and disincentives to move into new categories, thus creating more space for startups to grow.

  • That's the same sort of environment that Google enjoyed in its early days, when Microsoft was otherwise engaged.
  • U.S. tech startups may have an added advantage as other federal authorities take a tougher tact toward Chinese upstarts (pay close attention to how the TikTok situation gets resolved).
  • The caveat, as perhaps evidenced by Google's recent deal for Fitbit, is that today's incumbents learned from the Microsoft example, and won't stop buying and building unless forced.

The bottom line: Big Tech is unpopular in both political parties, particularly among some of the leading presidential candidates (despite their ad spends), and that antipathy could help birth Big Tech's next generation.

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