Aug 22, 2017

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen
1 big thing: Normal for a night ... "Behind the desk"

President Trump chose normal over instinct when he yielded to his generals on Afghanistan policy, providing yet another reminder of the frequent disconnect between what he says and what he does.

In a highly symbolic decision unfurled in his first prime-time policy address, Trump sided with SecDef Jim Mattis in approving a modest increase in troops. But Trump gave no number, which was flagged as disingenuous by Jeremy Bash, a CIA and Pentagon chief of staff during the Obama administration.

  • Bash on MSNBC: "In Afghanistan, ... we are part of a 39-member, NATO-led coalition. It's inconceivable that we will deploy troops there, tell the Afghan government the number, tell 39 other nations the number ... but not tell the American people. ... In some ways, you do have to telegraph to our friends, as well as our adversaries, our commitment to Afghanistan over the long term."
  • In 2013, Trump called for "a speedy withdrawal," and later tweeted: "Let's get out!"
  • David Ignatius on "Morning Joe": "There's very little enthusiasm for this policy ... in the Pentagon, but ... not a single person there, really, can bear the thought of walking away."

The keeper line from last night's speech: "My original instinct was to pull out — and, historically, I like following my instincts. But all my life I've heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office. In other words, when you're President of the United States."'

  • A Republican close to the West Wing gave this snap appraisal: "He seemed emotionally committed to his words. Very little ad-libbing or free form. His bearing was serious and as 'Presidential' as he is capable of conveying. Hill Republicans are skeptical about his staying power once the base reacts to his policy about face. It was a conventional R hawk speech, unveiling a conventional R hawk policy."

Axios' Jonathan Swan, who reports that the speechwriting was led by Stephen Miller, emails: "Would President Hillary Clinton or President Marco Rubio have given a different speech? Maybe in some of the rhetorical flourishes and framing, but the substance is what matters and Trump sided with the national security establishment tonight."

  • "It was the language of populist nationalism used to sell a very mainstream, consensus, national security strategy."

The president couldn't sneak this past Customs. The N.Y. Times reports that "top national security officials were ... taken aback at a meeting in the Situation Room on July 19, when an angry Mr. Trump began ripping apart their latest proposal to send thousands of additional American troops to the country."

At that point, Steve Bannon thought he was winning.

There were instant signals the decision could mean trouble with the base. Breitbart News called it a "flip-flop" in a huge red headline, and conservative radio host Laura Ingraham tweeted: "Who's going to pay for it? What is our measure of success? We didn't win with 100K troops. How will we win with 4,000 more?"

Swan reports: "Breitbart will go big on this. It's everything Bannon fought against. They'll attack Trump for selling out his base and being a third term of Obama. Also, you can quote this from a high-profile Trump supporter: 'Trump just succumbed to the false song of globalism.'"

I asked a respected Afghanistan-policy watcher — Vance Serchuk, adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security — for his top takeaways:

  • "The big policy moves — rejecting a timeline-driven approach in favor of one based on conditions on the ground, promising a more coercive approach on Pakistan's sheltering of terrorists — mark a rejection of the mistakes made by President Trump's predecessors that contributed to the stalemate he inherited."
  • "[T]he question is whether the commitment is real and persists — whether he really takes ownership for the policy and continues to make an affirmative case to the American people about why we have vital national interests in South Asia and can't afford to walk away."

Be smart: Remember all the praise for President Trump's stick-to-the-script address to Congress back in February? Tonight in Phoenix, Trump has a "Make America Great Again" campaign rally. Normal may not be in town for too long.

Go deeper ... Dave Lawler's speech highlights.

2. Our longest war

From President Trump's 25-minute address last night at Fort Myer in Arlington, Va.:

Love for America requires love for all of its people. When we open our hearts to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice, no place for bigotry, and no tolerance for hate. ...

[N]early 16 years after September 11th attacks, ... the American people are weary of war without victory. Nowhere is this more evident than with the war in Afghanistan, the longest war in American history — 17 years. I share the American people's frustration. ...

[T]he consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable. ... We cannot repeat in Afghanistan the mistake our leaders made in Iraq. ...

When I became President, I was given a bad and very complex hand, but I fully knew what I was getting into: big and intricate problems. But, one way or another, these problems will be solved -- I'm a problem solver -- and, in the end, we will win.

3. The president's paper
Bonus: Tweet du jour
4. Save that tape

Speaker Ryan to Jake Tapper last night at a CNN Town Hall in Racine, Wisconsin, immediately after Trump's speech:

"I believe it's going to be far easier for us to do tax reform than it was, say, for health care reform.

"It gets a little weedy, but one of the challenges we had with health care reform, particularly in the Senate, is we had to use the Senate rules to write that bill. And all the health care reform items that we want to put in the health care reform bill we couldn't because of these Senate rules, medical liability reform, interstate shopping. ... [T]he entire tax reform bill can go into one bill through the House and the Senate. So procedurally it makes it much easier."

More from the town hall.

5. Rare "operational pause"

"The Navy said ... the world's largest and most powerful armada will immediately pause operations for a fleet-wide safety review following the pre-dawn collision of a guided-missile destroyer and an oil tanker that left 10 sailors missing near Singapore, the fourth naval accident in the Pacific this year." (L.A. Times)

Retired Army general Barry McCaffrey said on MSNBC that the accident series "signals a level of vulnerability and incompetence that detracts from our deterrence."

6. The collision of business, tech

"Dalio Says the U.S. Is the Most Divided Since 1937" ... "Billionaire hedge fund manager Ray Dalio said [on LinkedIn that] he's 'tactically reducing our risk' because he's 'concerned about growing internal and external conflict leading to impaired government efficiency,'" Bloomberg's Katia Porzecanski reports:

"Dalio, whose views on ... Trump's administration have soured in recent months, said 'politics will probably play a greater role in affecting markets than we have experienced any time before in our lifetimes but in a manner that is broadly similar to 1937.'" Read his post.

Google's chief economist says that technology will help people transition into new roles, even as it changes the nature of jobs, Axios' David McCabe reports:

"Hal Varian noted that technology has made it easier for people to learn crucial job skills — while on the job. Drivers, he noted, no longer need to have a perfect grasp of a city's geography; they can learn as they go because technology exists to help with navigation. Online content, such as Khan Academy, can help teach new skills."

7. The conversation

Jon Meacham Op-Ed in N.Y. Times, "Why Confederates Should Go": "Those who took up arms against the Union were explicitly attempting to stop the American odyssey. While we should judge each individual on the totality of their lives (defenders of Lee, for instance, point to his attempts to be a figure of reconciliation after the war), the forces of hate and of exclusion long ago made Confederate imagery their own."

WashPost front page, "In [WashPost/ABC News] poll, clear disapproval of Trump response to Charlottesville," by Scott Clement and David Nakamura:

  • U.S. adults: Approve of Trump's response to Charlottesville protests 28% ... Disapprove 56%
  • Democrats: Approve 6% ... Disapprove 84%
  • Independents: Approve 28% ... Disapprove 55%
  • Republicans: Approve 62% ... Disapprove 19%
8. Celestial Super Bowl

Brian Williams had a great eclipse lead-in on his 11 p.m. MSNBC show, "The 11th Hour": "Just when we thought we run the show down here ... "

It was a rare day of community for America: to obsess about something non-Trump — something that was bigger than ourselves, and something that was terrifying to the ancients, but a diversion and fascination (and, yes, commercial opportunity) for us.

Of all the eclipse anchors, Fox's Shep Smith had by far the most fun, racing maniacally around the "Fox News Deck," his personal set, and having fun with the different brands of gum, cereal, etc., boxes that people were using for their eclipse-viewing gizmos:

"Gotta give us names on pets. C'mon: We love the pets! ... It's interesting that NASA has been able to place its logo next to the sun — see that over there. ... Tell us something amazing! ... No! No! Mr. Production Manager, remove the clouds!"

The networks branded the once-in-a-lifetime event:

  • Fox News graphics heralded "FIRST COAST-TO-COAST TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE IN 99 YEARS."
  • CNN — which at times had double "ECLIPSE CAM" boxes, with a tiny Wolf Blitzer head floating between them — dubbed it '"ECLIPSE OF THE CENTURY."
  • CBS went picture-in-picture during ads, keeping the eclipse image live.
  • ABC's coverage of 'THE GREAT AMERICAN ECLIPSE" included countdown clocks "TO END OF TOTALITY" and "TO NEXT TOTALITY."
  • MSNBC called it "TOTAL ECLIPSE 2017."
  • CNBC covered "THE GREAT AMERICAN ECLIPSE."

CNN got the last word, tracking the solar stunner after it was over on the U.S. mainland at 3 p.m. ET, with live cruise-ship coverage "Aboard Royal Caribbean in Atlantic Ocean" — from the Bermuda Triangle.

9. "Don't look!"

From the White House pool report by The Guardian's Ben Jacobs: "At approximately 2:39, the President initially gesticulated to the crowd below and pointed at the sky. As he did so, one of the White House aides standing beneath the Blue Room Balcony shouted 'don't look.'"

Last night on his Fox News show, Tucker Carlson called it "perhaps the most impressive thing any president has ever done." The WashPost's Callum Borchers says: "Carlson was surely joking." (He was.)

10. 1 fun thing

"Alabama starts atop AP poll for 2nd straight year," by AP College Football Writer Ralph Russo:

  • "The Crimson Tide became the first program in 12 years to take the top spot in The Associated Press preseason media poll two straight years."
  • "Coach Nick Saban's program has become the surest thing in sports these days. The Tide does not always win the national championship — just half the time over the last eight years — but is always in contention. Since 2008, only once has Alabama lost more than one game before bowl season."

The Top 25 (number of first-place votes):

  1. Alabama (52)
  2. Ohio State (3)
  3. Florida State (4)
  4. USC Trojans (2)
  5. Clemson
  6. Penn State
  7. Oklahoma
  8. Washington
  9. Wisconsin
  10. Oklahoma State
  11. Michigan
  12. Auburn
  13. LSU
  14. Stanford
  15. Georgia
  16. Louisville
  17. Florida
  18. Miami
  19. South Florida
  20. Kansas State
  21. Virginia Tech
  22. West Virginia
  23. Texas
  24. Washington State
  25. Tennessee

Others receiving votes: TCU 98, Utah 85, Notre Dame 65, Boise St. 37, NC State 26, Northwestern 25, Pittsburgh 23, Oregon 21, Houston 19, Colorado 18, UCLA 9, San Diego St. 9, BYU 5, Appalachian St. 4, Nebraska 4, Tulsa 4, Kentucky 3, Texas A&M 3, Michigan St. 1.

All politics is local ... L.A. Times front-page tease: "Trojans are ranked No. 4 among the top 25 college football teams, their top spot in the era of college playoffs."

Mike Allen