May 7, 2019

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

Happy Tuesday!

Breaking: Two Reuters journalists, jailed in Myanmar after they were convicted of breaking the Official Secrets Act, walked free today after 500+ days behind bars.

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1 big thing: Smoke-filled rooms burn down

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Traditional kingmakers like political insiders and the parties' national committees have lost their edge for 2020 as buzzy, insurgent campaigns rack up cash and drive coverage, Axios' Shane Savitsky writes.

  • Why it matters: The smoke-filled room has burned to the ground, and voters have more power.
  • For Democrats, that means making sense of a massive field of 20+ candidates.
  • For Republicans, that means bending to the trend's king: President Trump.

The closest thing to a Democratic kingmaker is President Obama, who hasn't endorsed.

  • And the Republican establishment has been remade in Trump's image. The traditionalists who could conceivably challenge him are neutered.

We're seeing it in 2020 policy ideas that scare the establishment:

  • The Green New Deal blew up the climate discussion. Sen. Bernie Sanders' Medicare for All remains a darling of the left's activist base. And Sen. Elizabeth Warren has churned out proposals for massive wealth taxes that would fund free college and student debt forgiveness.
  • The RNC's 2012 post-mortem said the party "must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform" to appeal to Hispanic voters as America's demographics continue to shift. So, how's that going?

We're seeing it in the way that establishment big spenders are often ignoring the larger will of their electorate, choosing to tend to their preferred issues:

  • California billionaire Tom Steyer has poured tens of millions into an impeachment campaign instead of backing a candidate.

We're seeing it in the democratization of media:

  • Beto O'Rourke turned skateboarding Instagram streams into $80 million for last year's Texas Senate race. Pete Buttigieg — a gay, millennial veteran — uses a full-court press on media to help lap better-known competitors.
  • Trump started it all by generating billions of dollars in free media.

The bottom line: Making noise is the key to amassing power in today's politics.

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2. Extinctions put humans at grave risk
Fish swim next to a threatened habitat, a coral reef in Venezuela's Los Roques archipelago. Photo: Fernando Llano/AP

A landmark UN report on biodiversity concludes that more "plants and animals are threatened with extinction now than any other period in human history," the WashPost's Darryl Fears writes.

  • Why it matters: "Nature’s current rate of decline is unparalleled, and the accelerating rate of extinctions 'means grave impacts on people around the world are now likely,'" according to the report.

Robert Watson, a British chemist who chaired the panel, said the decline in biodiversity is eroding "the foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide."

  • Go deeper with Axios Science Editor Andrew Freedman.
3. Mapping online neighborhoods
Expand chart
Data:; Table: Axios Visuals

Politics is the #1 show on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit, but gets smothered on visual-heavy platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, Axios' Sara Fischer and Neal Rothschild write.

  • On Twitter, text strings optimize quick bursts on evolving storylines.
  • On Instagram, the camera is central, showcasing desirable lifestyles.

Why it matters: Media companies are increasingly incentivized to produce quality content that fits a specific platform, rather than gaming algorithms.

4. Pic du jour
Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

"At times choked up ... as President Trump listed many of the milestones of his career, Tiger Woods received the Presidential Medal of Freedom ... in a ceremony at the Rose Garden," per USA Today.

  • On a beautiful spring evening, "Woods reached another peak in a comeback for the ages. He is the first active athlete among the 33 from the sports world to earn the medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor."
5. Using diversity to lure business
Port of Miami. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Florida is harnessing its increasingly diverse population to offset the perception that it's the land of retirees and vacationers, Axios' Kim Hart writes from Tampa:

  • The Sunshine State wants to change its "God's waiting room" reputation by rebranding itself as a place where under-represented groups — people of color, immigrants and women — can thrive economically.

In Miami, more than half of the population was born elsewhere:

  • Women lead some of the most important venture funds and startups.
  • The city's tagline: "An ecosystem built by immigrants, led by women."

Driving the news: The eighth "Rise of the Rest" bus tour, led by Revolution Chairman and CEO Steve Case, rolled through Florida and Puerto Rico last week, spotlighting startups and investments beyond traditional tech hubs.

  • Case told Axios that his mission is "ending the cycle of money flowing to the same kinds of people in the same kinds of places for the same kinds of ideas."

Florida, the third-largest state, got 1.3% of U.S. venture capital funding last year.

  • Just three states — California, New York and Massachusetts — attracted more than 75%.
  • Less than 10% of VC funding went to women, and less than 1% to African Americans.
6. New forces drive election spending
Expand chart
Adapted from Advertising Analytics. Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

80% of all spending on Senate races in 2018 went to the few races that Charlie Cook labeled a "toss-up," according to data provided to Axios' Sara Fischer by Advertising Analytics, a data firm specializing in media ad spending.

  • Why it matters: In addition to traditional gurus like Cook, new factors in the internet era — virality, digital fundraising operations and activist digital media outlets — are increasingly affecting how money moves in politics.

Cook, editor and publisher of The Cook Political Report, tells Axios: "Washington-based political newsletters have less influence on campaign fundraising than they did 20 years ago."

  • "More money is coming from the man or woman sitting at home on their laptop watching an MJ Hegar or Beto O'Rourke video that has gone viral, and then going on ActBlue and sending $10. ... That really mounts up."
7. Beyond the bubbles
Three high-school friends of Thomas Torres comfort each other. Photo: Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star via AP

In Arizona, a high school football player who has been in the U.S. since he was a toddler was in custody for possible deportation to his native Mexico, prompting a protest by classmates outside a sheriff's office, AP's Anita Snow reports:

  • Thomas Torres is scheduled to graduate May 22 from Desert View High School in Tucson.
  • Now, he is scheduled to appear in immigration court on that date.

Why it matters: Torres' detention is a stark example of the Trump administration's crackdown on illegal immigration.

  • Torres worked several jobs, including busing tables and yardwork.
  • Torres was taken into federal custody Thursday after a traffic stop.
  • He was unable to produce a driver's license.
8. Crumbling cookies

"Google is set to launch new tools to limit the use of tracking cookies," The Wall Street Journal's Patience Haggin and Rob Copeland report (subscription):

  • "After years of internal debate, Google [will] roll out a dashboard-like function in its Chrome browser that will give internet users more information about what cookies are tracking them and offer options to fend them off."
  • Why it matters: The move "could strengthen the search giant's advertising dominance and deal a blow to other digital-marketing companies."

"Google’s move, which could be unveiled at its developer conference in Mountain View, Calif., starting [today], is expected to be touted as part of the company’s commitment to privacy — a complicated sell."

9. Sneak peek: First George Will book in 5 years
Hachette Books

George F. Will will be out June 4 with "The Conservative Sensibility," his first book in five years, and first on politics in over a decade.

  • And it doesn't mention President Trump a single time.

The book captures more than 50 years of the longtime Washington Post columnist's thinking:

  • It's billed as a reflection on the conservative political tradition, and frames American politics as an "intellectual battle" between ideas espoused by James Madison and Woodrow Wilson.
  • Will joked that he once considered calling the book: "My Closing Argument."

One conversation-starter is "Chapter 9: Conservatism Without Theism."

  • Will describes himself as an "amiable atheist."


10. 1 fun thing

"OK" is now worth six points in Scrabble ... "The official international Scrabble dictionary has updated its list of approved words for the first time since 2015, opening up an additional 2,800 words," the N.Y. Times' Sarah Mervosh writes:

  • "The new words include an array of coinages that reflect modern life, like terms about gender identity, online slang and words related to political and cultural controversies."
  • New additions include "genderqueer," "sriracha," "bae," "dadbod" and "antivaxxer."

More new words.

Mike Allen

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