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Matt Rourke / AP

Few at the Koch donor retreat here in Indian Wells, Calif. trust that Donald Trump, a nationalist populist, will carry out a conservative policy agenda. So conservative governors and donors are putting their hopes — and advocacy — in VP Mike Pence.

Data points:

  • While they're cool on Trump, Charles Koch and his top lieutenants have great relationships with Pence. They're also close to Pence confidant Marc Short, who used to be a top Koch network official and is now the Trump administration's point man in dealing with Congress.
  • We pressed Koch officials and a top donor — Texas businessman Doug Deason — on why they think they can get criminal justice reform done this year given Trump's 1960s-style law-and-order campaign. The answer we got: "Mike Pence."
  • During a Republican governors panel on Monday, Arizona's Doug Ducey, Illinois' Bruce Rauner and Wisconsin's Scott Walker were bullish about getting more authorities and money back to the states now Republicans have unified power in Washington. Moderator Mary Katharine Ham asked which specific areas Trump said he'd push authorities back to the states. Ducey's response was revealing: "When he picked Mike Pence as Vice President..." The Koch donor audience loudly applauded.

Our take: Pence's conservative credentials are impeccable, but measuring his influence over Trump is less straightforward. Remember that Trump and his chief strategist Steve Bannon have something close to contempt for the Koch and Paul Ryan school of principled, ideological, conservatism.

Back in 2014, Bannon told a Skype audience at the Vatican: "The second form of capitalism that I feel is almost as disturbing [as state-sponsored capitalism in China and Russia], is what I call the Ayn Rand or the Objectivist School of libertarian capitalism." That worldview hasn't changed.

Go deeper

13 hours ago - World

Maximum pressure campaign escalates with Fakhrizadeh killing

Photo: Fars News Agency via AP

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran’s military nuclear program, is a new height in the maximum pressure campaign led by the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government against Iran.

Why it matters: It exceeds the capture of the Iranian nuclear archives by the Mossad, and the sabotage in the advanced centrifuge facility in Natanz.

Scoop: Biden weighs retired General Lloyd Austin for Pentagon chief

Lloyd Austin testifying before Congress in 2015. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Joe Biden is considering retired four-star General Lloyd Austin as his nominee for defense secretary, adding him to a shortlist that includes Jeh Johnson, Tammy Duckworth and Michele Flournoy, two sources with direct knowledge of the decision-making tell Axios.

Why it matters: A nominee for Pentagon chief was noticeably absent when the president-elect rolled out his national security team Tuesday. Flournoy had been widely seen as the likely pick, but Axios is told other factors — race, experience, Biden's comfort level — have come into play.

Updated 15 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: WHO: AstraZeneca vaccine must be evaluated on "more than a press release."
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York COVID restrictions.
  3. World: Thailand, Philippines sign deal with AstraZeneca for vaccine.
  4. Economy: Safety nets to disappear in December Black Friday shopping across the U.S., in photosAmazon hires 1,400 workers a day throughout pandemic.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.