July 01, 2023

🎆 Happy Saturday, and welcome to July! Smart Brevity™ count: 1,461 words ... 5½ mins. Edited by TuAnh Dam.

🇺🇦 Situational awareness: "During a secret visit to Ukraine by CIA Director William J. Burns earlier this month, Ukrainian officials revealed an ambitious strategy to retake Russian-occupied territory and open cease-fire negotiations with Moscow by the end of the year," The Washington Post reports.

1 big thing: Trump's basement campaign

Data: Axios research. Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios
Data: Axios research. Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Former President Trump isn't campaigning at the pace he did in previous cycles, preferring to spend most days at his Mar-a-Lago and Bedminster clubs rather than gripping-and-grinning in Iowa and other early primary states, Axios' Alex Thompson and Sophia Cai report.

  • Why it matters: With Trump doubling up on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in GOP primary polls, and legal peril mounting, his homebody schedule is a striking change from his more frenetic, rally-packed past.

What's happening: For next year's general election, Trump's team sees his vigor at 77 as a clear contrast with President Biden at 80.

  • But in the GOP primary race, Trump — who enjoys a big lead over rivals doing far more campaign events — has held only one of his signature rallies this year, with his second coming today in South Carolina.
  • The 44-year-old DeSantis has tried to draw attention to his busy campaign schedule as an implicit contrast to both Biden and Trump.

🧮 By the numbers: Since announcing his campaign on Nov. 15 last year, Trump has held fewer than 30 in-person campaign events, an Axios tally found.

  • Trump was the first to enter the race, but has only held four events in Iowa, five in New Hampshire, two in South Carolina, and zero in Nevada.
  • Since February when Trump’s rivals began entering the race through June 29, DeSantis has held 55 events, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley held 59, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina held 36, and Vivek Ramaswamy held 102.

Top Trump campaign officials have said part of the reason he isn't holding many rallies is because they're expensive.

  • "People are always: 'What about the rallies? Why don't you want to do rallies?'" senior Trump campaign aide Chris LaCivita told the conservative podcast Ruthless in late June. "First of all, rallies are half a million bucks a pop."

Trump communications director Steven Cheung said Trump has "done large events/rallies and more intimate, messaging events. He's done interviews with national, state, local, and weekly outlets," along with radio, podcasts, and town halls on CNN and Fox News.

  • "He’s held a bunch of off-the-record meetings with reporters and writers. He’s filmed over 100 policy and messaging videos," Cheung added.

🥊 Reality check: Trump's polling lead has increased even as other candidates upped their campaign travel.

2. 📈 Consumers, markets get more optimistic

Data: University of Michigan. Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: University of Michigan. Chart: Axios Visuals

There are signs June was a turning point in Americans' largely gloomy views of the economic situation.

New consumer sentiment data out yesterday from the University of Michigan shows Americans are getting more optimistic, and helps fill in the details about why, Axios' Neil Irwin writes.

  • A key driver is receding inflation worries. Consumer expectations for inflation over the next year dropped remarkably abruptly to 3.3% in June, from 4.2% in May and 5.3% this time a year ago.

🥊 Reality check: The improvement was sharpest among Democrats. Republicans are still quite pessimistic.

Year-to-date change in the S&P 500
Data: FactSet. Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

Stocks are up 16% at the midway point of 2023, which some argue is the early stage of a new bull market.

  • The rally is powered by relief that inflation has eased without a recession — plus a dash of AI hype for a bit of speculative spice, Axios Markets' Matt Phillips writes.

3. ⚖️ Biden tries again on student loans

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The White House announced new student-loan relief within hours of the Supreme Court striking down its ambitious plan to forgive student debt, Axios' Caitlin Owens reports.

  • Why it matters: Federal student loan payments are coming due in September for the first time since the pandemic began. Millions of Americans will struggle to make the payments.

President Biden said he's also working up even more ambitious steps that are grounded in a different law than he used for his earlier program, which the justices called an overreach.

  • "This new path is legally sound," Biden said in the Roosevelt Room. "It's going to take longer, but we’re getting at it right away."

What's happening: The loan forgiveness program that the Supreme Court struck down yesterday would have wiped out up to $10,000 for borrowers under a certain income cap — and up to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients.

🔮 What's next: The administration is looking to other avenues to give borrowers a break, though the effects will be noticeably smaller, at least for individual borrowers.

  • Biden announced a one-year on-ramp for loan repayments, during which borrowers who miss payments won't be reported to credit bureaus, placed in default, or referred to debt collection agencies.
  • The Education Department finalized a new income-driven loan repayment plan, which Biden called "the most generous repayment program ever."
Banner headlines in today's Washington Post, New York Times.

🔬 Zoom in: Under the new program, borrowers above a certain income threshold would be required to pay a smaller portion of their disposable income — 5 percent for undergraduates, instead of the current 10 percent — toward the loan.

  • They could ultimately see portions of their balances forgiven.

Go deeper: White House fact sheet on Biden's new plan ... Share this story.

4. Charted: How El Niño hurts coral reefs

Data: NOAA and GCRMN. Chart: Tory Lysik and Erin Davis/Axios Visuals
Data: NOAA and GCRMN. Chart: Tory Lysik and Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

Our weekly column from Axios Visuals:

The next El Niño will supercharge ocean temperatures, spelling trouble for coral reefs, a major component of the ocean's ecosystems, Axios visual journalists Tory Lysik and Erin Davis report.

  • Why it matters: Coral reefs provide shelter for over 25% of ocean animals, and are economically key to over half a billion people's livelihoods.

Share this visual.

5. 📱 World's first $3 trillion company

Apple market cap
Data: Factset. Chart: Axios Visuals

Apple closed the trading day yesterday with a $3 trillion market cap — becoming the first company to reach that milestone.

  • Why it matters: With the Nasdaq up some 30% this year — its best first half in 40 years — last year's pullback from tech is firmly in the rearview mirror, due partly to AI's boost, Axios' Hope King writes.

Context: In 2018, the iPhone maker became the first U.S. publicly traded company worth $1 trillion — a high-water mark that took more than four decades to achieve.

What's happening: Jonathan Curtis, director of portfolio management for Franklin Equity Group, told Bloomberg that Apple "is executing on a business strategy that works, its earnings plan is working, and its lock on the consumer is only getting stronger."

  • "The balance sheet is phenomenal, it pays a dividend it can continue to grow, it has an active repurchasing program, and a consumer staples-esque platform business — all powered by a device people look at four hours a day."

6. ⛰️ Aspen postcard: Gonzo dispatch from the near future

Morning yoga at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen, Colo., this week. Photo: John Frank/Axios

Imagine this: Democracy is decimated, eaten by locusts of misinformation created by artificial intelligence. Robots didn't simply take our jobs; they conquered our minds. And the wealthiest made money on it all.

  • Why it matters: Experts at this year's Aspen Ideas Festival saw that scenario not as apocalyptic fiction, but rather as a thoroughly possible — maybe even probable — future, Axios Denver's John Frank reports.

Dissolution of the American dream ... brain hacking ... geopolitical realignment ... plus "The Pope in the Puffer Jacket" (AI-generated deepfakes) melded this week into the fanciest doomsday prepper session on Earth.

  • The annual weeklong festival brings together some of the world's top minds to discuss the most intractable problems — the rich and famous, with disruptors trying to overthrow the rich and famous.

What they're saying: Artificial intelligence may allow us to talk to animals, but it will lead to a post-fact 2024 campaign.

  • We need to democratize wealth — or maybe economic inequality is "a myth."
  • Attendees carried designer bags with the slogan "Help feed the children of the world," and attended a discussion on nutrition inequality while sipping "ultra-premium, cold-pressed juice" flown in from L.A.

Between the lines: The event on a riverside mountain campus, where the buildings and even the urinals are sponsored by wealthy donors, features no shortage of star power.

  • Actress Emma Watson turned celebrated scholars into gapers as she visited the Zen Den showing live cameras of animals in the wild.

The festival features a track on happiness, where the speakers discussed how to channel ancient spirituality to overcome present-day perils.

  • You could even ride an exercise bike that spins a blender to make your own Danone smoothie — feeling like you’re saving the world and being healthy at the same time.

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Editor's note: This story has been corrected to delete an incorrect reference to Jeff Bezos appearing on the sidelines of the Aspen festival. Organizers say he did not.

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