Jim VandeHei
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A new Washington syndrome: Trumpression

AP

I'm not a doctor. But I have noticed a growing number of longtime Washingtonians in a prolonged, deep Trump-induced funk. It's ... Trumpression. The daily challenge to "normal" — normal behavior, normal practices, normal responses — is grinding on people's psyches.
Its symptoms include not only anger or Twitter rage, but a genuine concern for the health of our democracy. This is not a Democratic or media condition.
I see it the eyes of people I have known for years, who now work in the White House. For readers who love Trump, you probably love the shock and change. But the accompanying Trumpression is like nothing I have seen in 30 years of doing this.
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Why Trump can't get Congress to do what he wants

Evan Vucci / AP

Presidential power over a party or Congress comes from enough lawmakers needing, fearing or genuinely liking them. Donald Trump has none of this.

Almost four months into office, Trump has been unable to gain leverage over his party, especially in the Senate, much less Congress as a whole.

  • Senate Republicans don't need him. They're pressing ahead with their investigations into Russian interference in the election and pushing sanctions against Vladimir Putin. They're pushing their own health care bill on their own timetable and hardly rushing to Trump's defense. With a very favorable set of 2018 races, it's hard to see a need materializing.
    • I'm told Senate Republicans will also go their own way on tax reform, unconstrained by White House policy priorities or timetable.
  • Most Republicans don't like him. President Obama used a mix of need and genuine affection to jam through Obamacare in his first two years. There are very few Trump Republicans, much less lawmakers who dig their president. They tolerate him and they often vote with him, because Trump has largely embraced conventional GOP ideas. But most think he's blowing it.
  • No one fears him. Not long ago, Republicans worried about a Trump tweet fired their way. No more. And Democrats certainly don't fear a president opposed by most Americans. In fact, as Axios' Jonathan Swan reported in his weekly Sneak Peek newsletter last night, they're ready to effectively shut down the Senate to force a special prosecutor for the Russia probe.
  • Why all this matters: A top GOP lobbyist tells me: "Business feels the agenda is going down the toilet. ... This said, his supporters are hanging in there."

Read more ... N.Y. Times front page, above fold, "Senate G.O.P. Is Edging Back From President," by Jennifer Steinhauer ... WashPost A1, at fold, "Senate GOP wrestling with agenda full of peril," by Sean Sullivan and Kelsey Snell.

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100-day report card: Trump's hits, misses

AP

A quick rundown of President Trump's first three months in office. Day 100 is on Saturday, April 29.

Hits:

  1. Winning confirmation of Justice Gorsuch: Trump did it fast, with little drama and huge consequence. The win tipped the Court, invigorated conservatives, and bought him credibility with the establishment. It's the president's one achievement so far that will outlast him, regardless of what else unfolds.
  2. Pro-business executive orders and regulatory changes: Nothing lifts a presidency (or increases the chance of reelection) more than a rising economy. Trump's early pro-business rhetoric and assault on regulations has boosted many industries. And the market "Trump bump" has given business a new spring in its step.
  3. Encouraging CEOs to think more systematically about American jobs: Businesses talk openly about trying to "bait" a positive tweet from Trump (or insulate themselves from assault) by announcing factory openings or job expansions. These overtures aren't always all that they seem: Some were already in the pipeline, or may never come to fruition. But he has forced huge companies to reckon with the issue.
  4. Operation Normal I: Installing experienced national-security and economic teams, obviating the fears of some Republicans that a Trump Cabinet would have a bit of a clown-car aura.
  5. Operation Normal II: Post-Flynn, establishing a national-security decision-making process that has produced well-executed policies that have been regarded as sensible by mainstream Republicans. This includes the Syria strike, the embrace of NATO and the China state visit.
Misses:
  1. No significant new laws: He has full Republican control of Washington — and little to show for it. In retrospect, some White House aides think they screwed up by rushing into health care, and wish they had plunged into tax reform or an infrastructure package.
  2. Little personal growth in office: His loose style, resistance to structure and amorphous views (and loyalties) leave White House aides insecure, and create internal inefficiencies and blind spots. This chaos contributed to the health-care debacle, provoking weeks of public butt-covering and finger-pointing. To this day, many aides tell us the West Wing reality is even worse than is publicly portrayed.
  3. Failure to articulate a theory of the case, foreign or domestic: International allies and Congressional Republicans are left uncertain of what he believes, and opponents have an opening to define the vacuum on their terms.
  4. Inability to get over it: The president hasn't kicked any of his bad campaign habits, all of which complicate governance — score-settling, name-calling, reckless tweeting, petty grievances, and unnecessary shots at allies and others he will one day need to succeed.
  5. Resistance to reaching out to the 54% of 2016 voters who voted for someone else: Trump's low approval ratings make it harder for Democratic leaders on the Hill to make deals with him. Ditto his continued incitement of the Democratic base.
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Trump 101: How to deal with Donald

Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Top CEOs have a new First Customer. With President Trump taking a hands-on approach to negotiations, here are five tips for surviving and thriving — based on conversations with executives, aides and friends who have battled Trump in private and found some success.

  1. Get to the table, whether you love him or not. Trump is a transactional guy with unformed views on many topics. He frequently seeks advice and occasionally takes it. While it might feel right to buckle to pressure and refuse meetings, you lose your leverage, instantly and profoundly.
  2. Give him something he can call a win. Trump has an elastic view of winning, as seen by his trumpeting of companies announcing new U.S. jobs that were set in motion long before the president won. He NEEDS something to tweet, but often needs the specifics filled in, several business leaders told us. The easiest win is something, anything related to creating American jobs.
  3. Find and exploit common ground — on people, real estate, politics or private aircraft. Trump has been most engaged and open-minded when dealing with aerospace companies (partly because he can talk planes, given that he owns a Boeing 757) and infrastructure execs (because he spent his career building things). He has a surface-level-at-best understanding of most policies, so going in for arcane policy discussions doesn't work.
  4. Know he's a vindictive guy who harbors grudges long beyond the moment. If you refuse to meet with him or put out anti-Trump messages, prepare to suffer revenge. He pays close attention to critics, and his aides hand him printouts of anti-Trump statements made by people or companies they don't like. They have a notional enemies list that gets used for everything from rejecting appointments to key jobs, to deciding who gets a voice in policy debates.
  5. Work Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner. Both men sit it on key meetings, and often get Trump alone afterward to shape reaction and follow-up to interaction. Both are accessible by text and cell, and like playing the role of the Trump whisperer.

Then sit back and pray he doesn't whack you with a Saturday morning tweet.

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The known knowns about Trump

Lazaro Gamio / Axios

As Donald Trump reaches Day 50 of his presidency, halfway to the fabled hundred days, here are some of the "known knowns" about him — certainties we have learned since the inauguration:

  1. Trump is Trump. A wise friend told us that the one guy who's NOT CHANGING is a 70-year-old billionaire with his name on the building. Think about the arc of claiming 6 years ago that President Obama wasn't a U.S. citizen to claiming Saturday that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. Trump might surprise, but he will never change.
  2. He's a media junkie. For all his anti-media tirades, we have never had a president this obsessed with the media. This has been a reality for Trump since the 1980s and will never change. So, brace yourself for twitchy Twitter responses to Fox, the N.Y. Times and "Morning Joe" until this presidency ends.
  3. The Trump show will always be improv. His advisers can make all the plans and give all the advice they want. Trump always has, and always will, go with his gut; usually based on the last person who got him jazzed.
  4. Trump is transactional. He wants to claim wins on creating American jobs, undoing Obamacare and reducing taxes. He likes working people face-to-face or on his cell. And the details are always negotiable.
  5. Chaos isn't a theory, it's a governing reality. Competing factions, widespread insecurity and rivalry promise many more months and years of reality show-worthy stories and governing. The truth is: Trump likes the commotion.
  6. Russia's a problem that won't go away. You have all the ingredients for an investigation that might never, ever end: multiple, mysterious meetings between Trump officials and Russia; some elements of the intelligence community clearly out for payback; congressional probes launched; and the opposition party smelling blood. Ask Bill Clinton how long these dramas drag on.
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What Trump gets most right and most wrong

Andrew Harnik / AP

The Trump presidency is one month old — 47 (or 95) more months to go. So what has President Trump gotten most right and most wrong? After talking to dozens of officials inside and out of the WH, we came up with this list:

Most right:

  1. In policy promises and rhetoric, he has created a fairly strong climate for economic growth, an essential ingredient for first-term success. Voters are more forgiving when they have jobs, wage growth and optimism. Business hates uncertainty, but stock prices are rising and consumer confidence is growing. Hard to see tax cuts, lighter regulations and infrastructure spending doing anything but helping.
  2. Forcing U.S. companies to think harder about creating U.S. jobs. We can argue all day whether most big jobs announcements — Carrier, for example — were overhyped. But you can't dispute that CEOs are looking anew for ways to showcase job creation in America, a good short-term trend for U.S. workers. And very good long-term politics for Trump.
  3. Keeping his promises. Trump, for better or worse, has done precisely what he said he would do in terms of pulling out of trade deals, clamping down on illegal immigration and banning travel from Muslim-majority nations. While it's been sloppy, it has been similar to what was promised. And his Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch, was on the list he shared as a candidate and looks like a virtual lock to win approval. This has kept Republicans solidly in his corner.
Most wrong:
  1. Scaring off talent. Others will argue for what they see as greater sins. But Trump's paranoid, chaotic way of leading has spooked some of the smartest, most capable Republicans who wanted or were willing to work for him (especially in intelligence and defense positions). We know: We've talked to them. We have heard from scores of talented officials who took a pass after watching how outsiders are treated by the existing team — and witnessing the far reach of Steve Bannon and the White House oligarchy. You can't run a great business with mediocrity — or retreads or yes-men. This is a big, long-term risk on many fronts.
  2. Delegitimizing people he will one day need. Mark our word: The moment will come when Trump needs the public or world to believe something "fake news" journalists are reporting, or needs judges to give his idea a fair hearing, or needs the intelligence community to have his back in a tense moment, or needs allies such as Germany or Australia to support him, or needs establishment Republicans to take a tough vote. All five groups could hurt him badly on the Russia investigation (a topic that could easily be #1 on this entire list). Revenge is a human instinct not confined to Trump.
  3. Being consumed with small-ball grievances. This has been a hallmark of Trump going back decades. He allows petty slights to preoccupy his mind, his team and decision-making. This has slowed action on Capitol Hill and obscured the genuine accomplishments listed above.
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The media IS the opposition party

Lazaro Gamio / Axios

President Trump claims traditional media represent a stronger, more effective opposition party than the Democrats. So far, he's undeniably correct.

This has only a little to do with the Democrats. They have no power in Congress, so no real oversight authority, and few high-profile voices since Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama exited the stage. Rarely do you see Democrats shaping the conversation about President Trump.

It has a lot to do with the media, which was unambiguously anti-Trump during and after the presidential campaign, but is now legitimately hammering away on administration scandals and missteps. A snarling press corps is turning ravenous.

The media — often, but not always, with an assist from anti-Trump career government employees — is the new U.S. Oversight Committee. The Washington Post exposed national security adviser Mike Flynn's deceptive statements about his Russian contacts, then kept up the drumbeat until he resigned shortly after the paper had posted another devastating story, this one revealing that the White House had been warned last month that he was vulnerable to blackmail.

This week, The New York Times and CNN broke twin stories reporting Trump campaign aides were "in constant contact" with Russians. The committee's most effective members have been the Post (Greg Miller, Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima), and Times investigative reporters led by Mike Schmidt (who also broke the story that Hillary Clinton used a private server in office).

Some of the mainstream media's Trump anti-coverage once was stoked by ideology. Now, the tsunami is being fed by facts and revelations that cause many reporters to feel that their instincts have been vindicated.

And there is no incentive for reporters to calm down, take a breath, give Trump the benefit of the doubt. With Trump's frequent, gleeful attacks on the press, anyone seen as going soft on him looks like a chump. Trump feeds these fears on a near-daily basis.

Journalists have responded by uniting in their opposition. You see this with the sharing, applauding and echoing the critical coverage by their colleagues. And constant reminders to the public to subscribe to the New York Times, Washington Post and other outlets doing a lot of the Trump investigating. These reminders are working, especially for the Times. In what the media website Poynter called a "Trump-bump subscription surge," the Times recorded record net quarterly growth for digital subscriptions at the end of last year, with the momentum continuing into this year.

Trump gets very little positive coverage, and probably won't. The conservative Media Research Center said coverage of Trump on the network evening newscasts during the fall was 91% hostile. That's probably an exaggeration, but the point is no doubt true, and the coverage certainly hasn't become any rosier since the inauguration, with the president's approval rating near 50 percent in a divided country.

Just like the campaign, it isn't clear the media is winning the PR battle. Remember: the public has more distrust of media than Trump. Two polls show Trump's favorable rating in high 40s, and a strong stock market and steady flow of companies bowing to the president on creating US jobs could keep it there, absent even more serious revelations.

In the meantime, the White House game of thrones is so intense that Trump can't even count on his allies. Breitbart, despite its close ties to the administration, ran an article Tuesday reporting that Trump "has been privately critical of Priebus in many settings."

So Trump and senior strategist Steve Bannon are clearly right about the media being the opposition. What was once a useful foil for Trump is becoming a real danger to his ability to control the national conversation — and govern.

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Republicans should fear health care protests

Photo illustration: Greg Ruben / Axios; Photo: Fruggo / Wikimedia Commons

Republicans aren't panicked about the protests over their Obamacare repeal plans. They should be.

Democrats in Congress are under direct orders from party leaders to crank up their own protests, to build on the loud and angry demonstrations at Republican town halls. And there is every reason to believe they will be highly effective.

How do we know? Because Republicans exploited the same fears, energy and trends to do unto Democrats as Democrats are about to do unto them.

Here's how it's going to go:

Double down on demagoguing. Health care is an easy topic to politicize. In 2009, it was Democrats who had the angry protesters at their town halls. They got smacked around with all kinds of demagoguery — "death panels," "socialized medicine," "government takeover of health care." It wasn't true, but by the time Obamacare passed, the damage was done.

This year's version of "government takeover" is "throwing 20 million people off of health insurance." Democrats have been throwing that line around, even though Republicans are trying to find a replacement plan that covers people in other ways. (Their problem: They can't guarantee it will cover all 20 million.)

Exploit the numbers. The big reason this is an easy target: roughly four out of 10 Americans — around 147 million — benefit from government-backed health programs, including Medicare, Medicaid/CHIP, military health care, and Obamacare subsidies.

And it's not just the people who gained coverage directly from government programs. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is encouraging Democrats to talk about the 150 million Americans with employer coverage, too — because they get popular benefits from the law as well, like preventive care services and the end of lifetime coverage limits.

Pound the unknown. Obamacare supporters are already putting Republicans on the defensive for having "no plan" after repeal, especially for sick people. The truth is that Republicans have talked about at least three different plans for covering sick people — but they can't agree which one to use, which doesn't help them in town halls.

So far, Republicans don't seem to know how to answer the attacks. At one town hall this weekend, Rep. Gus Bilirakis did say he wanted to find a way to make the "popular provisions" work under a more sustainable law. At another, Rep. James Sensenbrenner said only that covering sick people "will have to be addressed in some form or manner."

Fan the protests. And just as Republicans encouraged the anti-Obamacare protesters with their own rhetoric, Democrats are encouraging the anti-repeal protests now. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is trying to get House Democrats to hold pro-Obamacare rallies on Feb. 18, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Bernie Sanders are encouraging senators to do the same on Feb. 25.

Every time the Democrats talk about sick people losing coverage, or Medicare beneficiaries losing benefits, they're encouraging the organized but volunteer-driven protests at the Republican town halls. That's what Republicans did in 2009 too, egging on the anti-Obamacare protests with all of the "government takeover" talk. (Like Mike Pence did.)

Republicans are busy debating whether these protest are real or manufactured. It might not matter. Democrats were sure the 2009 protests were manufactured too, and that didn't matter either. The energy, as we saw then, builds upon itself.

Once Democrats see coverage of protests elsewhere getting media attention, it's natural to plunge in and pile on. Truth is, these things are usually a mix of contrived and organic. But, once they snowball, it makes no difference.

Previously on Axios:

Photo illustration Greg Ruben / Axios

Democrats are finding their inner Tea Party

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How tech ate the media and our minds

Let's face it: most of us are more distracted and more frazzled than ever. We are prisoners to our phones: tweeting our every thought, or snapping our every emotion, or Facebooking our every fantasy, feeling or family moment. We scroll, click and swipe our days away, better connected than at any point in humanity — but not necessarily better informed.

We've been hit with more technological innovations than we are capable of responsibly handling.

Ten short years ago: The iPhone was born, Facebook was a small social network used mostly by college students, and there was no Snapchat, Instagram or Pinterest. Most people still relied on three network evening newscasts and a local newspaper, hand delivered, to be informed about current events. If you wanted to share a photo, you probably mailed it; if you wanted to share your opinion, you screamed it at the TV in your basement or wrote a letter to the editor, maybe by hand.

But then technology blew up — and blew (and took over) our minds. Now, every day there are:

  • 1.2 billion web pageviews, per Chartbeat
  • Billions of Google searches, per Google
  • 13.8 billion hours + of video shared on YouTube, per Google
  • 13M audio/video calls made on Facebook Messenger, per Facebook
  • 50 billion messages sent on WhatsApp, per Facebook
  • 500 million Tweets sent, per Twitter

Our brains have been literally swamped and reprogrammed. On average, we check our phones 50 times each day — with some studies suggesting it could three times that amount. We spend around 6 hours per day consuming digital media. As a result, the human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds to eight seconds since 2000, while the goldfish attention span is nine seconds. And we just mindlessly pass along information without reading or checking it. Columbia University found that nearly 60 percent of all social media posts are shared without being clicked on.

For better or worse, Google and Facebook are mostly to blame. Nearly 60% of our media-consumption time happens in mobile apps, and a majority that traffic is owned by those two companies. (See below). This paradigm has destroyed the business model for news publishers, creating perverse incentives for publishers to generate as many clicks as possible, creating a "crap trap" — the deal media companies made with the devil to dumb things down (and lose credibility) by seeking the broadest reach. But, the house always wins: Facebook and Google now eat up almost two thirds of all ads and gobbled up 90 percent of all growth in media spend — while publishers perish.

Data: 2016 Mobile App Report, comScore Mobile Metrix, U.S., Age 18+, June 2016; Chart: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

And, at least for now, the more we know, or can see, the less we trust. Roughly 62% of U.S. adults get news on social media and 68% of people don't trust the news they see or read. Think about that: most people don't trust REAL news. The proliferation of fake news is almost certain to get worse, as we see left-leaning groups racing to adapt manipulative techniques that helped conservatives in 2016. Case in point: A 2016 BuzzFeed News analysis found that top fake election news stories generated more total engagement on Facebook than top election stories from 19 major news outlets combined.

This has created a conundrum: There is more good information than at any point in humanity, but it's harder than ever to find and trust. Almost every trend cited here is getting worse, not better. And so much of the power to change it rests in the hands of the few, mainly Facebook but also Google, Twitter and Snapchat. Some publishers are putting the emphasis on quality content, which can help. And others are moving fast to adapt serious news and information to better fit in these exploding off-platform ecosystems. But ultimately, the burden will fall on individual consumers to exploit what should be the golden age of information by adjusting their own habits.

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Sorry! American politics will get worse

Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Donald Trump was a symptom, not the cause, of our cancerous politics — and the disease is metastasizing.

Signs of it spreading are everywhere.

In our politics:

  • There is no market for normal politics, much less compromise. Politicians respond to incentives, and right now nearly every incentive calls for extreme, grand-act politics. If you want to raise money, get on TV, organize a rally, go viral or attract friends and fans, go big — or go unnoticed.
  • Centrism is almost extinct at the national level. Clinton Democrats, the final vestige of 90s-era moderation, were the last ones standing. That movement was sucking wind before the election and died a quick death after. And you can fit the number of moderate Republicans still in Congress around a card table.
    • With the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party extinguished, the minority party will be dominated — and defined — by a much more aggressive and formidable liberal uprising. These restless activists are building their version of the Tea Party movement that pulled Republicans right during the Obama years. Protests will be the great weapon. You see this in the anti-trump rally on Inauguration Day, the Women's March, the explosion of demonstrations nationwide against the immigration restrictions and sporadic uprisings against the Obamacare repeal at congressional town hall meetings.
  • National political parties, once protectors of establishment order, are shells of their former selves. Who needs the RNC and DNC when you have Facebook, Twitter and rapid supporters? (Read "How Politics went Insane" for a great look at the decline of institutional guardrails).
  • Finally, and probably most importantly, Trump appears incapable of — and completely disinterested in — toning down his rhetoric or actions. In fact, his advisers believe Democrats are falling into their trap with radical reactions they believe will cost them in 2018 and the base of voters who elected Trump. They WANT to radicalize both sides. And Congressional Republicans, a very conservative bunch to begin with, will have every reason to support Trump, even when they don't want to. In off year elections, with fewer people voting, older, white voters (Trump's base) are even more important than presidential election years. Republicans won't want to cross them.

In our media:

  • All these flames will be fanned with even more fake news. With passions running so high, and so many people hunting for "news" that amplifies their own views, look for more people to produce and profit off make-believe journalism. The steps Facebook is taking will not stop, and might not even slow, the proliferation of fake news. And even if they do, it's easy to profitably move this crap through third-party ad platforms.
  • And forget fake news, people increasingly don't trust real news. A decade ago, there was still a small number of networks and newspapers trusted by big swaths of people. With each passing year, faith in media declines. So there is no trusted referee. Hard to imagine this changing, especially with daily presidential charges of lies and manipulation in the press. There has been similar spike in Democrats charging "Fake News" when they don't like what they see or read.

In our businesses:

  • Major US companies are getting pulled into the partisan free-for-all, with tech companies in liberal California siding strongly with Democrats over immigration. You now have executives such as Uber's Travis Kalanick refusing to meet with the president, and employees at Google, Facebook and many others egging their leaders to take similar stands. On the other side, most non-tech companies, with a mix of fear and profit-seeking, are hesitant to challenge the president, knowing they would benefit from his tax policies - and suffer if he goes on the attack against them in public.
  • Companies have lost their ability to mitigate polarized, uncertain politics. Starting with the Howard Dean movement on the left in 2004 and the Tea Party movement on the right in 2009, power has swung to the most passionate people. Political money from corporations once mattered profoundly. No longer. The instant, constant, cost-free connection of everyone, always on social media took over.

Why this matters: Without these calming influences in politics, media and business, there are no checks on the forces reshaping the national discourse. People talk about how they are worried that what's happening now will be normalized. They've got it backwards. This is now normal. And it will only get worse.