Dec 5, 2018

Axios AM

☕️ Good Wednesday morning ...

🍺  New York City students and young professionals: Take a study break and have a drink with Axios at 5 this evening in Greenwich Village.

  • Free drinks, snacks, networking, and a conversation about the future of news and media worthy of your time. Bring a friend and RSVP here.
1 big thing: The Democrats' wild free-for-all

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Democrats are about to hit the wildest turn we have seen in a presidential campaign: Dozens of people are thinking of running — and running early — in the rage-and-rapid-reaction era of Donald J. Trump. Oh, and they may be doing this while trying to impeach the guy they're running against. 

  • There will be no Clintons (probably), no Kennedys (probably) and no Obamas (probably) — leaving a wide open field for the 30+ and counting Democrats thinking about running.
  • There will be women and men; African Americans, whites and Hispanics; very young and very old; plutocrats and socialists. 
  • Democratic officials tell Jim VandeHei and me that the race will be the biggest strategic free-for-all in modern political history, with a quiet war for donors, staff and endorsements already being fought across the country.
  • This process is a wonder of democracy where everyone from Oprah to Massachusetts congressman Seth Moulton can be taken seriously.

Just this week:

  • Joe Biden said he thinks he's "the most qualified person in the country to be president" because "The issues that we face as a country today are the issues that have been in my wheelhouse", as a Harris poll showed him with a double-digit lead over the closest contender, Sen. Bernie Sanders.
  • Billionaires hit the campaign trail: Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke in Iowa, and told AP he'll do everything he can to make climate change the race's defining issue. And Tom Steyer held a roundtable on voting rights in South Carolina.
  • Sanders' 2016 campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, said "a much bigger campaign" is being planned for 2020.
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), who recently visited Hollywood to pitch potential donors, was on "Hardball," talking about running.
  • Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.) is "seriously thinking" about a bid, per Colorado Public Radio.

Plus, Julián Castro of Texas told Rolling Stone he's "likely" to run.

  • And shortly after the midterms, Beto O’Rourke of Texas met with Barack Obama at his post-presidency office in Washington, per the WashPost. Many potential staffers are waiting to see if Beto gets in. Oddly, a dude whose claim to fame is losing a Senate race is the hottest early name.

Among those who are interviewing for campaign staff, according to Democratic sources: Bloomberg, Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, and former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz (who has talked to former GOP operative Steve Schmidt).

  • "The fear of backing the wrong horse is huge and palpable among the small number of qualified D operatives," said one well-wired Democrat. "True also for pollsters, [general consultants], and media consultants."
  • "It’s a massive seller’s market, because everyone’s hiring and no one is signing on."

The Democratic official close to the process sees "a dozen different routes to the nomination." Here's a peek at the closed-door conversations going on among hopefuls and potential campaign mangers:

  • "What the hell is the strategy? California early voting starts at the same time as Iowa. Do you camp out in California and try to rack up delegates? Do you do the traditional Iowa organizing? Do you just raise money so you can be on the air in the Super Tuesday media markets?"
  • "Do you try to lock down South Carolina through endorsements? Do you focus on New Hampshire retail? Your opponents could include up to three billionaires who self-finance. Others could have ... Beto-level online money."

Be smart ... David Axelrod, mastermind of Barack Obama's first presidential campaign, told me: "One of the revelations from this past election cycle was that the candidates who won, by and large, came not through command-and-control decisions from Washington but competitive primaries across the country."

  • "The Democratic Party shouldn’t fear the competition. The last three winning Democratic candidates came through open, competitive primaries."

Go deeper.

2. The number that scares Trump
Mueller's sentencing memo for Flynn

A number scaring the hell out of the Trumps: 119.

  • 70 hours of Michael Cohen interviews with Mueller's team + 30 hours of interviews with former White House counsel Don McGahn + 19 Michael Flynn interviews with prosecutors.

Jonathan Swan's smart brevity on last night's 13-page sentencing memo for former national security adviser Michael Flynn, in which Robert Mueller recommends no jail time because Flynn was so helpful:

  • First: The good stuff is all redacted!
  • Second: Flynn has helped the Justice Department on three separate investigations: Mystery Criminal Investigation #1, the special counsel's probe, and Mystery Investigation #2. It's possible the second probe is a counterintelligence investigation rather than a criminal investigation, in which case its results will never see the light of day. Solving the mystery of Investigation #1 is going to be job numero uno for everyone today.
  • Third: Flynn appears to have set an important example. Mueller writes that his early cooperation "likely affected the decisions of related firsthand witnesses to be forthcoming with the SCO and cooperate." Who are those witnesses? What are they saying? Ahhhhh!

"14 questions Bob Mueller knows the answer to," by Garrett M. Graff for WIRED:

  • "How closely related is the investigation of the 2016 election related to the Trump Organization’s financial scandals? The Michael Cohen plea agreement highlighted ... how little we know about the business holdings, income, business partners, or investors in Donald Trump’s business empire."
  • "The first rule of any scandal is always the Watergate maxim: Follow the money. Who were (or are) Trump’s business partners and what part of the 2016 election attack was played by any of them?"
3. Presidents club assembles for Bush funeral
Mourners pay their respects in front of the casket of George H.W. Bush as he lies in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

"The death of George H.W. Bush is bringing together the five remaining members of an oh-so-exclusive fraternity — the presidents club," AP's Catherine Lucey writes.

  • The 11 a.m. "state funeral for the late president will be attended by 'formers' Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter."
  • "The last time they were together with Trump was at his inauguration in 2017. Recalling the funerals for Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, they will all sit together in Washington National Cathedral, with the exception of the younger Bush, who will be seated nearby with his family."

What and who to watch, per AP:

  • "Four men are expected to deliver eulogies. The late president’s son George W. Bush, also a former president; former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who held the post while the elder Bush was president; former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., who has known the Bush family since the 1960s; and historian Jon Meacham, who wrote a Bush biography."
  • "All eyes will be on the row directly in front of the pulpit. That’s where President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, are expected to sit, along with the remaining former presidents and their families: George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and his wife — Trump’s 2016 Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton."
  • "Trump has extended traditional courtesies to the Bush family, including allowing them to stay at [Blair House] and visiting with them there."

"Also attending: Britain’s Prince Charles, the king and queen of Jordan, Polish President Andrzej Duda and other dignitaries from around the world. Look, too, for some of the graybeards from the late president’s administration."

Former President George W. Bush and his brother Jeb greets mourners. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
4. Post-midterm tweets turn blue
Expand chart
Data: Twitter; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

New data from Twitter shows the top 10 U.S. politicians who were most tweeted about in the few weeks after the midterms were Democrats, replacing a list that was once dominated by GOP lawmakers the majority of 2018, Axios' Marisa Fernandez reports.

  • The top five most tweeted about politicians during the year were Republicans, with President Trump holding the number one spot. After the election, spots two though six were Democrats — though Trump still held the lead.
  • Twitter users closely followed along with elections in states like Georgia and Florida that were too close to call after the polls closed.
5. Postal report puts muscle behind Trump's Amazon grudge

A task force created by President Trump said the U.S. Postal Service should consider increases to the cost of shipping some packages, a move that could hurt Amazon along with other e-commerce companies, Axios' David McCabe and Erica Pandey write.

  • The report suggests that the Postal Service determine when a "strong social or macroeconomic rationale exists for government protection in the form of price caps and mandated delivery standards" for packages and mail.
  • It doesn't single out Amazon, despite the presidential attacks that led up to the creation of the task force.

The big picture: The Postal Service report comes as Amazon's continued dominance ignites pushback on multiple fronts.

6. "Chaos breeds chaos": Trump’s erratic claims roil globe

"Global markets demand consistency and reliability, but Trump delivers neither," the WashPost's Damian Paletta and Phil Rucker report.

  • "Instead, he makes knee-jerk announcements that surprise investors, lawmakers and even some of his own aides and advisers, who sometimes find themselves reversing course depending on the president’s whims."
  • "The whiplash nature of Trump’s economic policies and pronouncements bore tangible consequences [yesterday], when U.S. stock markets cratered amid investor skepticism of Trump’s China talks. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 799 points, or 3.1 percent."
7. "Foreign entity" hacked House Rs

"The campaign committee for House Republicans discovered in April that the email accounts of several of its senior officials had been hacked by what analysts later concluded was a 'foreign entity,'" per the N.Y. Times' David E. Sanger and Emily Cochrane.

  • Why it matters: This highlights "the continued vulnerability of the United States to interference in its elections."
8. "Transactional" sex and a secret resignation letter

"Facing multiple sexual misconduct allegations and fearing his career as an entertainment titan was over, Leslie Moonves, the chief executive of CBS, destroyed evidence and misled investigators in an attempt to preserve his reputation and save a lucrative severance deal, according to a draft of a report prepared for the company’s board," report the N.Y. Times' Rachel Abrams and Edmund Lee.

  • "The report, by lawyers hired by the network, says the company has justification to deny Mr. Moonves his $120 million severance."

The takeaways from the Moonves report, according to the Times, which reviewed a copy:

  • The former CEO received "transactional" oral sex from at least 4 CBS employees, along with an employee who was "on call" for such acts and protected from termination as a result.
  • A member of CBS' board knew about Moonves' alleged assaults since 2007 but brushed them aside — and, in 2017, the network's communications chief drafted a resignation letter for Moonves that was never signed.
9. Media pivots away from advertising

For decades the primary source of revenue for media companies was advertising. But competition from technology companies and more privacy scrutiny are pushing most media companies to explore alternative forms of revenue, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

  • Why it matters: Most media companies have to unwind years worth of sales and product infrastructure to make way for the transition. Not all will survive.

Most companies are looking for creative ways monetize their owned and operated channels and content, but the transition away from advertising and Facebook traffic has been difficult.

Be smart: Most companies are in the experimental phase, and haven't yet figured out what their long-term strategy for growth will be — if there is one.

10. 1 wedding thing

"To protect the environment, many couples are saying 'I do' to Zero-Waste weddings, focusing on sustainability for everything from floral design and dresses to invitations and food," writes the AP's Katherine Roth.

  • "The goal is to recycle, reuse, compost and otherwise keep anything from becoming trash in a landfill."

Some tips for hosting your own:

  • "Choose cloth napkins, and authentic tableware, glassware and plates, rather than disposables."
  • Use "colorful displays of fruits, vegetables or even flower petals as table centerpieces that guests can take home and enjoy."
  • "Vintage or second-hand dresses are also popular, and can be tailored to size. Some designers now make Zero-Waste dresses using fabric scraps otherwise destined for the trash."