Jul 18, 2018

Axios AM

Good Wednesday morning.

Breaking ... European Union’s biggest-ever antitrust fine: "The European Union plans to hit ... Google with a record antitrust fine of ... $5.06 billion ... in a decision that could loosen the company’s grip on its biggest growth engine: mobile phones," the Wall Street Journal reports from Brussels.

  • "The EU’s antitrust regulator has been looking into whether Google had abused the dominance of its Android operating system, which runs more than 80% of the world’s smartphones."
1 big thing: A case study in Trump’s GOP mind-control super power

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Yes, almost every elected Republican we talk to privately thinks President Trump’s warm embrace of Vladimir Putin was unexplainable, unacceptable and un-American.

  • Yes, they wish they could say this publicly.
  • No, they won’t — not now, and probably never. 

The cold, hard reason: They see no upside in speaking out — and fear political suicide if they do, numerous Republican officials tell us.

  • Why it matters: This is the mind-control power Trump has, thanks to 90 percent of Republicans approving of his tactics and performance.
  • These 90 percent empower and are empowered by Fox News and a pro-Trump social media ecosystem that always comes to the president’s defense, even if they flinch for a moment or two. 

We just witnessed this power on full display:

  • You had a rare moment where virtually every Republican was aghast at Trump’s words.
  • But almost every Republican — except those leaving the stage — softened their direct criticism of Trump and ran from TV or reporters like the plague. 

GOP lawmakers' immediate complaints about the press conference were quickly tempered. Trump’s cleanup and turnaround yesterday ("I said the word 'would' instead of 'wouldn't'") had one audience: Capitol Hill.

  • Senior staff saw a real risk of backlash — worse than after Charlottesville — if the brewing rebellion wasn’t nipped in the bud quickly, per sources close to White House.

Be smart: Most Republican members of Congress don't need to do anything so radical as actually believe Trump is sincere about correcting himself, Jonathan Swan points out:

  • They need a fig leaf so they can justify quickly returning to support their president, who is vastly more popular with Republican voters than any of them are.

P.S. Two tweets illuminate this phenomenon:

  • Mike Murphy, GOP strategist: "I’m furious R’s are cowardly about Trump. But here is what they say in private: 1.) Trump is a disgrace. 2.) I give fiery press conf tmmrw saying that. 3.) Nothing changes, Trump remains nuts and remains POTUS. 4.) A nut beats me in next primary. So how does my pol suicide help?"
  • Dave Wasserman of Cook Political Report: "Most Republican members are willing to admit POTUS doesn't operate in reality, but know they're doomed in their next primary if they say so publicly. As long as that's true, we're headed for a world w/ zero accountability."

The last word: Trump chimed in with a tweet at 5:53 this morning.

  • "So many people at the higher ends of intelligence loved my press conference performance in Helsinki. Putin and I discussed many important subjects at our earlier meeting. We got along well which truly bothered many haters who wanted to see a boxing match. Big results will come!"

Go deeper: Axios' Alexi McCammond found most GOP Senate candidates are sticking with Trump.

Courtesy N.Y. Post
2. Obama denounces "politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment"
Photo: Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama "mounted a passionate defense of democracy and warned against the rise of 'strongman politics,' in a speech in South Africa a day after his successor, Donald Trump, was heavily criticized for a humiliating news conference with Vladimir Putin," CNN reports:

  • "In an address ... in honor of the late Nelson Mandela ahead of the 100th anniversary of his birth, Obama criticized populist movements toward authoritarianism around the world and ridiculed the 'utter loss of shame among political leaders' who lie."
  • He told the crowd of 15,000 in Johannesburg: "The politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment began to appear. And that kind of politics is now on the move. It's on the move at a pace that would have seemed unimaginable just a few years ago."
  • "I am not being alarmist, I'm simply stating the facts. Look around — strongman politics are ascendant, suddenly, whereby elections and some pretense of democracy are maintained, the form of it, where those in powers seek to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning."

Read the full speech.

3. For teens, link between copious screen time, ADHD

"Los Angeles high school students reveal a link between copious amounts of screen time and ADHD," reports the Los Angeles Times' Melissa Healy:

  • "In a group of more than 2,500 Los Angeles-area high school students who showed no evidence of attention challenges at the outset, ... those who engaged in more digital media activities over a two-year period reported a rising number of symptoms linked to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder."
  • "The association between digital media use and ADHD symptoms in teens was modest. But it was clear enough that it could not be dismissed as a statistical fluke."
  • "The results do not show that prolific use of digital media causes ADHD symptoms, much less that it results in a level of impairment that would warrant an ADHD diagnosis or pharmaceutical treatment."
  • Why it matters: "[A]t a time when 95% of adolescents own or have access to a smartphone and 45% said they are online 'almost constantly,' the new study raises some stark concerns about the future of paying attention."
Bonus ... Tweet du jour: "History has its eyes on us"
4. Massive Twitter purge

"Twitter suspended at least 58 million user accounts in the final three months of 2017," AP's Barbara Ortutay and Ken Sweet report:

  • "The new figure sheds light on Twitter's attempt to improve [what it calls] 'information quality.'"
  • Why it matters: Fake accounts, disinformation and bots were "rampant on Twitter and other social-media networks during the 2016 campaign."
  • "Twitter said in April it had 336 million monthly active users [up 3 percent from a year earlier] ... accounts that have logged in at least once during the previous 30 days." Most of those suspended weren't monthly active users.

The N.Y. Times said celebrities took a massive hit in the cleanup: Katy Perry lost 3 million followers ... Ellen DeGeneres and Rihanna each dropped 2 million ... Oprah fell 1.4 million ... Shaq and Ashton Kutcher each lost 1 million.

  • President Trump "lost about 340,000 followers, ... knocked down to 53 million from 53.4 million."
  • President Obama "took a much bigger hit, losing three million followers in about one day. (He started with many more, dropping to 101 million ... from 104 million the day before.)"
5. Retailers are getting into the media and advertising businesses

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Mass market retailers and grocers are developing their own content and advertising businesses to compete with legacy media, per Axios media trends reporter Sara Fischer:

  • Why it matters: Ad-serving and video creation has become so democratized that any company with an audience is now able to steal advertising dollars or content budgets away from traditional media companies.

The latest: Walmart is considering launching an ad-supported subscription streaming video service that would target Middle America and undercut rivals Netflix and Amazon Prime Video on price, according to The Information.

  • Amazon is making huge media investments. It's competing not just against streaming giants like Netflix, but challenging Hollywood studios for box office dominance — gobbling video distribution deals from cable companies, and launching social media and messaging networks.

The big picture: A focus on digital media is a reflection of some of the many ways retailers are transforming their brick and mortar mega-stores to be more digitally-accessible and profitable.

6. 1 plane thing

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Last week, Axios AM scooped that President Trump wants to update the paint job on the next Air Force One, ditching the iconic robin's-egg blue (which he privately calls a "Jackie Kennedy color") for a bolder, "more American" look.

The president confirmed that during his interview in Scotland with "CBS Evening News" anchor Jeff Glor:

  • "Boeing gave us a good deal. And we were able to take that. But I said: 'I wonder if we should use the same baby-blue colors?' And we're not. You know what colors we're using? Take a guess."
  • "Red, white and blue. Air Force One is going to be incredible. It's gonna be the top of the line, the top in the world. And it's gonna be red, white and blue, which I think is appropriate."

Thanks for reading. We'll have updates all day on Axios.com.