Jun 12, 2019

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

🇨🇳 Tomorrow in downtown D.C.: Please join me at 8 a.m. for an Axios News Shapers breakfast event exploring China, tariffs and trade.

  • I'll have one-on-one conversations with Arturo Sarukhán, Mexico's former ambassador to the U.S.; Rep. Veronica Escobar (D) of El Paso, whose district relies on cross-border trade; Sen. Mike Rounds (R) of South Dakota, whose farming state has been hit by tariffs; and Craig Allen, president of the U.S.-China Business Council.
  • RSVP here.
1 big thing: Trump's re-election crisis
Yesterday’s Iowa split screen: Trump in Council Bluffs, Biden in Ottumwa. Photos: Nati Harnik/AP; Matthew Putney/AP

Everywhere he looks, President Trump can see flashing warnings that his re-election is in serious peril, a week ahead of his official campaign launch next Tuesday in Orlando:

Why it matters: Trump should be crushing it. Unemployment is at a near-historic low. The economy is growing. Peace and prosperity abound. But his numbers are sagging.

The warning signs:

  • The N.Y. Times reported: "After being briefed on a devastating 17-state poll conducted by his campaign pollster, Tony Fabrizio, Mr. Trump told aides to deny that his internal polling showed him trailing Mr. Biden in many of the states he needs to win. ... Trump instructed aides to say publicly that other data showed him doing well."
  • National Journal's Josh Kraushaar writes (subscription) that Trump is "in the weakest political shape of any sitting president since George H.W Bush": "Trump hits 50 percent disapproval ... in North Carolina, Arizona, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Iowa — all states he carried in 2016."
  • Pay little attention to national polls in a race where states are what matters. But as a sign of voter mood, six Democrats (Biden, Sanders, Harris, Warren, Buttigieg and Booker) each beat Trump in the first 2o2o Quinnipiac University National Poll, released yesterday.

The other side ... A Trump ally familiar with the campaign's strategy said: "Trump has always under-polled. Until it's actually a binary contest, though, these polls really don't matter."

  • "Educating voters on what Green New Deal and Medicare for All actually mean = an absolute disaster for Democrats."
  • "When Trump gets a shot at defining someone one-on-one, they're no longer going to be what they are now, which is for the most part a 'generic Democrat.'"
  • "Historical data says that with the economy roaring like it is, the incumbent always wins."

Be smart: Trump is betting polls will swing when it's a choice between him and someone he can lampoon as a dumb socialist. 

  • But, but, but: Even the self-avowed socialists are beating him — Bernie Sanders is up 12 in Michigan.

The bottom line: The 2018 elections were a wake-up call for Trump. Democrats had record turnout; his Midwest presidency-makers of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania reverted to their Democratic form; and conservative states, including Texas, showed the demographic dangers for the GOP. 

2. Big Tech's timid deepfake defense

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Facing a widely predicted onslaught of fake political videos going into the 2020 election, social media companies will either keep the videos at bay or allow them to flood the internet, Axios emerging tech reporter Kaveh Waddell writes.

  • But these platforms are loath to pass judgment on a clip's veracity on their own — an approach experts say could lead to a new election crisis.
  • "A deepfake could cause a riot; it could tip an election; it could crash an IPO," says Danielle Citron, a University of Maryland law professor who specializes in deepfakes. "And if it goes viral, [social media companies] are responsible."

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have relied on their existing rules against things like nonconsensual porn and election manipulation — if a fake video falls into those categories, it's gone.

  • They also watch for behaviors that suggest a botnet or coordinated misinformation campaign.
  • But manipulated videos that don't set off either alarm can fall through the cracks.
3. Why falling coffee prices could cost you
Expand chart
Data: FactSet. Chart: Axios Visuals

Coffee is trading below $1 a pound, less than half the value it fetched five years ago, because of a flood of beans from leading producer Brazil and its weakening real currency, Axios Markets editor Dion Rabouin writes.

  • Why it matters: In a market twist, the falling prices of coffee beans could lead to higher coffee prices for Western consumers.

Wait! What? "Many growers around the world are having to abandon their farms or turn to illicit crops such as coca," the Financial Times reports (subscription). "This, in turn, is casting doubt over the future sustainability of supplies — and could, ultimately, prove costly for consumers."

Be smart: The WashPost points out that coffee's downturn is adding to the historic flow of migrants, struggling on farms in Central America, to the U.S.

4. Pic du jour
Photo: Loren Elliott/AFP/Getty Images

A Guatemalan migrant recently released from federal detention held this envelope as he waited inside a bus depot in McAllen, Texas, yesterday.

5. Jewish Birthright trips become political

Birthright, the nonprofit that has sent 700,000 young Jews on all-expenses paid trips "to bolster a distinct Jewish identity and forge an emotional connection to Israel," has seen its trips become a focal point for protests, writes the N.Y. Times' Farah Stockman.

  • "[S]ome Jewish activists [say] the trips erase the experiences of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank."

A generational divide ... "Just 6 percent of American Jews over the age of 50 believe that the United States gives Israel too much support ... But that view is held by 25 percent of Jews aged 18 to 29, the cohort that goes on Birthright trips."

6. Trump's tease
Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Departing the White House yesterday for Iowa, President Trump was asked about unannounced parts of his agreement with Mexico that held off tariffs.

  • Trump toyed with the journalists by displaying a folded paper and saying: "That’s the agreement that everybody says I don’t have. ... This is one page of a very long and very good agreement for both Mexico and the United States."

The Washington Post was able to reconstruct three paragraphs from two photos of the page that Trump brandished, and found little new.

  • Mexico later indicated there is some kind of agreement about what might be triggered in the future.
7. In Valley, Chinese cash is suddenly toxic

"As U.S. startups reject their money, Chinese venture-capital firms in U.S. are dialing back investments, structuring deals to avoid regulators or shutting down," writes the Wall Street Journal's Rolfe Winkler (subscription).

  • Why it matters: "Behind the shift in sentiment is an effort by the U.S. government to stem a talent and technology outflow it fears could threaten American economic and military superiority."
8. New overnight: Hong Kong erupts again
Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images

"Hong Kong police fired tear gas and high-pressure water hoses against protesters who had massed outside government headquarters Wednesday in opposition to a proposed extradition bill." (AP)

  • "The afternoon violence marked a major escalation in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory’s biggest political crisis in years."
9. 📚 What we're reading

Courtesy Dutton

Out this week from former Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who began at the Pentagon as a physicist and served presidents of both parties ... "Inside the Five-Sided Box: Lessons from a Lifetime of Leadership in the Pentagon" (Dutton):

A chapter called "The Troops Deserve the Truth" has a lesson for leaders of all kinds:

War has to be spoken about bluntly, especially when leaders are talking with members of families who has sacrificed everything for their country. ...
At every important moment of the wars during my time as SecDef, I gave a speech explaining to the troops what they were doing and why it was important. ...
I wanted them to have a clear notion of what their mission was in my own words ...

Go deeper.

10. 1 ranch thing

Photo: Kraft/BusinessWire

Kraft says it's repackaging its classic ranch dressing as "Salad Frosting" — in a squeezable tube — pitching the product as an "innocent, smart lie" to help parents get kids to eat healthier.

  • "Innocent lies parents tell their kids help alleviate the pressures of everyday parenting, and if it gets kids to eat their greens, so be it," says Sergio Eleuterio, Kraft's head of marketing.

Yes, but: Two tablespoons of Kraft's ranch has just about the same number of calories, double the fat, and four times more sodium than the same amount of Betty Crocker vanilla frosting, according to CNN.

Mike Allen

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