Jim VandeHei
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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.

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Payback politics

Photo illustration by Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Politicians are often like kids: "Why did you hit your brother?" "He hit me first."

This is the simplest way to understand how the highly consequential debate over Neil Gorsuch will unfold.

Republicans will argue Gorsuch is a mainstream conservative worthy of confirmation. They will demand fair and speedy hearings and a vote to get him on the bench, tiling the court their way for at least the next four years.

But Democrats are livid Republicans denied a vote on their Supreme Court nominee for almost all of 2016, creating a new, arbitrary precedent of refusing to approve a Justice during an election year. This denied their party a Supreme Court majority, a huge deal for a party now fully out of power.

The pressure to retaliate is immense. Liberals want payback, and have very few ways to exact it: So Democrats might very well hit Republicans simply because Republicans hit them first — and block the nomination, leaving a 4-4 court. They can do this, under current rules, by locking arms and using the 60-vote threshold.

Literally with minutes of the pick, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) announced he would vote no. Soon another eight Democratic senators piled on, signaling deep skepticism or outright opposition. Watch for more to join soon.

If the rest of the party follows...

Republicans, in turn, will likely retaliate with the so-called nuclear option, essentially changing the rules requiring 60 votes for confirmation to 51.

(Click here for how the nuclear option works.)

Since there are 52 Republicans, this would virtually guarantee confirmation — and the holy grail of politics: GOP control of the White House, Senate, the House and the Supreme Court. We can't stress enough how much power this will give President Trump and his party.

And guess what they will do to justify this? Bingo: they will blame the Democrats, who a few years back changed the 60-vote rule for some federal judges and political appointees for their benefit. They will throw quotes like this in Democrats' faces.

So, welcome to the next round of payback politics. "You're an obstructionist!" "I know you are, but what am I?"

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Bannon's power grab

Win McNamee /Pool Photo / AP

If you want to understand President Trump's wild, chaotic and controversial first days, study up on White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.

Bannon's fingerprints are all over the executive order banning entry from seven Muslim-majority nations. Just like they were all over other executive orders. Just like his ideas and words were sprinkled throughout Trump's inaugural address.

First, take 10 minutes and read this transcript of Bannon's remarks delivered by Skype to the Vatican in 2014 (first reported by BuzzFeed), as his view of nationalism was rising in Europe and here. You will hear many echoes of this speech in Trump's words and action during his first days in office.

Then consider this updated list of Bannon's power plays:

  • Trump yesterday added Bannon to the National Security Council's Principals' Committee, on par with the SecState and SecDef. Neither Karl Rove nor David Plouffe nor David Axelrod were on the Principals' Committee. This will give him enormous power over national security debates.
  • Bannon and his close friend and ally, policy chief Stephen Miller, were instrumental in crafting the refugee executive order, and limiting input from others.
    • CNN reports: "Friday night, [the Department of Homeland Security] arrived at the legal interpretation that the executive order restrictions applying to seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen — did not apply to people with lawful permanent residence, generally referred to as green card holders. The White House overruled that guidance overnight, according to officials familiar with the rollout. That order came from the President's inner circle, led by Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon. Their decision held that, on a case by case basis, DHS could allow green card holders to enter the US.
  • He packed the administration's economic team with officials who were friendly to, or at least open to, his nationalistic plans.
  • He really is the architect: During the transition, he dreamed up a governing plan that was acutely attuned to Trump's base, with a clever outreach to unions and minorities through an infrastructure-spending plan.
  • A small but telling detail: A portrait hanging in camera-shot of Trump in the Oval Office is of President Andrew Jackson, a Bannon favorite. It wasn't coincidence that Bannon hailed the Inaugural address as "very Jacksonian," and it's hard to imagine Trump himself is a student of the former president.

Here is an earlier running list we posted last week of Bannon/Miller rising clout:

  • They wrote the Inaugural speech and set in fast motion a series of moves to cement Trump as an America-first Nationalist.
  • They maneuvered to get more key allies inside the White House and positioned for top agency jobs.
  • They wrote many of the executive orders, sometimes with little input from others helping with the transition.
  • They egged on Trump to take a combative approach with the media, China, Mexico and critics.
  • And Bannon punctuated the week with a full-throated, Trump-pleasing bashing of the media.

The Bannon coup

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The Trump bulldozer

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

We can't stress this enough: Watch closely the specific, substantive moves of the Trump White House. Try to block out the white noise of outlandish statements and unforced errors, and the hyperventilating they provoke.

Otherwise, you miss the big — and in some cases, radical — changes coming our way. In fact, White House officials tell us they welcome what seem like needless distractions, because it allows them to jam through transformative, disruptive ideas and orders without focused public scrutiny of any particular item. (Remember the justified conflict-of-interest hysteria?)

Read the weekend papers, and flick through cable, and the unambiguous conclusion is that Trump's debut was pretty much a debacle. But was it?

If you examine what he did based on what he wants to do and ignore much of what he says for show, this was actually a remarkably productive start. By the White House's count, 13 presidential actions in first week tied to specific campaign promises.

No doubt, the fears of his critics are real and could easily be realized. We could see a trade war with Mexico, or retaliation for his ban on people coming from seven Muslim nations, or other leaders exploiting Trump's inward focus and impulses.

But from the point of view of the president's brain trust, he's getting his way, and, with each passing day, more Republicans and outside leaders seem to be falling in line, even as critics rage. This is more a bulldozer than a runaway train.

Political, business and even union leaders buckled...

  • The CEOs and labor leaders who met with Trump walked away mainly impressed with the new president's economic plan and willingness to play ball. Inside the room, Trump was in full deal mode. Several of the attendees — most of whom were not supporters of Trump — said they found his approach refreshing compared with President Obama's more rigid, frustrating style.
  • These visitors all have a vested interest in having their dealings with the White House being as normal as they can, so everyone seemed to accept the new reality. Like members of Congress, the business leaders all fear the tweet or taunt that could hurt their professional interests. So they succumb.
... taking the global stage...
  • For all the talk of Putin love, the diplomatic highlight of this week was the White House visit by British Prime Minister Theresa May, a fellow beneficiary of the global populist wave. Their press conference and working luncheon went off without a gaffe, and now Trump plans to visit the U.K. later this year. He talked via phone with Putin, but did the same with more traditional allies. They all need the United States, so like CEOs or union bosses they have huge incentive to behave like all is normal.
...securing the base...
  • He locked down some of his most fervent backers by exceeding their expectations with policies and promises. Case in point: He won strong, loyal support of Christian conservatives by sending Vice President Pence to the March for Life rally, restricting U.S. funds for abortion-related services overseas and telling the Christian Broadcasting Network that Syrian Christian refugees should get preference in coming to America. Hard to imagine these voters turning on Trump anytime soon.
...Republicans fell silent — and in line.
  • All those who ridiculed the Muslim ban during the campaign — from Speaker Paul Ryan on down — stayed largely silent as it took effect and left some refugees literally stranded at airports.
  • Ryan and others refuse to comment when Trump says things that makes them uneasy, brushing it off as Trump being Trump. This pattern has broken what was once a very credible wall of critique and opposition.
  • A senior Republican member told us that Trump holds real power over congressional Republicans (especially the House) — the likes of which he's never seen. Nobody wants to be the first to cross him. Hence, the nothing-to-see-here-folks silence.
So far, Trump is owning the policy debate:
  • There is broad agreement now to fund his wall (even if U.S. taxpayers foot the bill), repeal Obamacare and replace it with something that protects coverage for the sick and poor, and pursue the tax reform and infrastructure plans Trump has promised.
  • He banned Syrian refugees and suspended those from specific Muslim countries, just as promised during the campaign, and started his crackdown on illegal immigration.
  • He withdrew from a major overseas trade deal and made plain NAFTA is headed for serious renegotiation. And he ordered a housecleaning of federal regulations, and paved the way for two big pipeline projects to resume.

As the next week begins, never forget how effortlessly people in power can normalize, rationalize and bargain away their core beliefs in pursuit of the bottom line. It's one of the most captivating story-lines of the Trump era.