Oct 16, 2018

Axios AM

☕️ Good Tuesday morning.

🔥 On Adweek's annual "Hot List" released yesterday, Axios is "Hottest in News."

1 big thing: Trump's "Pocahontas" power play

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

President Trump loves it when his opponents try to litigate his insults, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is trying to do with "Pocahontas," a staple riff at his rallies.

He’s never more comfortable than on this terrain, Jonathan Swan reports:

  • "Pocahontas" is one of Trump's all-time favorites, according to aides.
  • But he also is especially proud of "Da Nang Dick" Blumenthal, for the exaggerated military record of the Democratic senator from Connecticut.
  • Trump also regularly hits "Sleepy Joe" Biden these days.
  • In Trump’s mind, his 2016 nicknames weren’t a sideshow, but were one of the central reasons he crushed his primary opponents ("Little Marco" Rubio, "Low Energy Jeb" Bush, "Lyin' Ted" Cruz) and ultimately beat "Crooked Hillary."

Trump thinks names matter — in retail marketing and in politics:

  • The president spends inordinately more time thinking about how to brand and sell policies than he does studying the details of the policies themselves.
  • For example, one of the moments that most animated him during the tax reform debate was when he came up with the idea of calling the bill the “Cut, Cut, Cut Act.” He still rues that the “stiffs” in Congress insisted on calling it "the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017."

Trump's nicknames slyly capitalize on and exacerbate a real or perceived weakness:

  • A former aide said: "You hear them and laugh, and then they say: 'You know what? He’s kinda right!'"

Be smart ... Trump's "Pocahontas" nickname, as offensive as it may be, has been wickedly effective from his point of view:

  • It clearly got in Warren's head: The fact that she got a DNA test, let alone is doing a massive rollout of the results, shows how much it's on her mind.
  • It's both evocative and provocative: It now becomes a symbol of whether she's honest. Did she lie to advance her academic career?

P.S. Tweets by a couple of leading Dems:

  • Jim Messina, Obama's 2012 campaign manager: "Argue the substance all you want, but why 22 days before a crucial election where we MUST win house and senate to save America, why did @SenWarren have to do her announcement now? Why can’t Dems ever stay focused???"
  • David Axelrod, Obama's strategist, on a video Warren posted about her heritage and the DNA test: "Pretty extraordinary video to surface even before you enter the race. It says: 1) @SenWarren is 100% running. 2 ) She thinks this Pocahontas crap is a potential problem. 3) She wants to dispose of it now, lest she be Birtherized. The risk I’m sure she considered? This elevates it."
2. Saudis change story
Courtesy N.Y. Post

"Saudi Arabia was preparing an alternative explanation of the fate of a dissident journalist, ... saying he died ... in an interrogation gone wrong," per the N.Y. Times.

  • "[T]he theory was widely dismissed among [Jamal] Khashoggi’s friends, human rights advocates and some on Capitol Hill, who noted that Saudi officials had denied his death for two weeks — including assertions by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last week and the king himself."
  • Reality check: "The shifting story line defied earlier details that have emerged in the case ... Among other things, Turkish officials have said, an autopsy specialist carrying a bone saw was among 15 Saudi operatives who flew in and out of Istanbul the day Mr. Khashoggi disappeared."

"The Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Khalid bin Salman, left Washington last week, returned to Riyadh and will not be returning, a current and a former American official said ... Prince Khalid is the crown prince’s younger brother."

  • President Trump said Khashoggi may have been the victim of "rogue killers."
3. The cost of tax cuts

"The U.S. government ran its largest budget deficit in six years [since 2012] during the fiscal year that ended last month, an unusual development in a fast-growing economy," per The Wall Street Journal (subscription).

  • The increase was "driven in large part by a sharp decline in corporate tax revenues after the Trump tax cuts took effect," per the N.Y. Times.
  • Why it matters: The deficit "is now on pace to top $1 trillion a year before the next presidential election, according to forecasts from the Trump administration and outside analysts."
4. Pics du jour
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Above, President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump return to the White House last night after visiting hurricane-hit Florida and Georgia.

Below, Danica Cherico and Shawn Gehlert use a generator to power a lamp as they sit outside their apartments in Panama City, Fla.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
5. Wave watch: House, Senate split

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Here's why the "blue wave" is likely to give Dems control of the House, but much less likely to flip the Senate, Axios' Alexi McCammond writes:

  • The competition for the House is playing out in the suburbs where Democratic candidates are making inroads around the country, while the Senate map is defined by rural red states where Democrats are most on the defensive.

Nate Silver writes on FiveThirtyEight that competitive House races are "almost evenly divided" among the Northeast, Midwest, South and West, while any Senate tipping point would likely be in the South.

  • And though "the Northeast is fairly important to the House map ... there’s almost nothing interesting happening in the Northeast on the Senate side."
  • The House districts with the closest races are also more educated than the rest of the country. Only 13% of the congressional districts most crucial to deciding the Senate have comparably high education levels.

Why it matters: The impact of this split could be felt long after 2018, with Trump-aligned Republicans replacing moderate Democratic senators and outspokenly progressive first-time Democrats winning House seats.

  • "We are on the verge of having two national ideological parties separated by geography," said Michael Steel, a GOP strategist who's worked with Jeb Bush, John Boehner and Paul Ryan.
6. First look: National midterm ad

Future45, a Republican super PAC which in 2016 was backed by the Ricketts and Adelson families, today will begin spending nearly $10 million on an ad designed to nationalize midterm House and Senate races.

  • The ad, "A Democrat," will play heavily on broadcast TV (ABC, NBC and CBS), including college sports and prime-time programming, and on MSNBC, CNN, Fox News and other cable networks.
  • The ad shows House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi with a gavel, and invokes a flurry of issues: socialism, tax increases, impeachment, abolishing ICE, "undefended open borders," "government-run health care," etc.

Brian Baker, president of Future45, told me: “In a few weeks, we face a choice between results or resistance, between jobs or mobs. Future45 will make the case that we either can continue growing and securing our country or head towards chaos, gridlock and impeachment.”

  • The super PAC, which spent $25 million in 2016, wouldn't name its donors, but will disclose them later as required by the FEC.
  • See the ad.
7. Stat du jour

More than 29 million Hispanics will be eligible to vote in midterms — 12.8% of eligible voters, both all-time highs, per Pew Research Center. (USA Today)

8. Local Airbnb fights

"The explosive growth of short-term rentals nationwide has pushed local governments to rein in the practice, with help from the hotel industry, which wants to stifle a formidable competitor," the WashPost's Bob McCartney reports.

  • "The expansion [has] aroused fear in the lodging industry, whose firms and unions have financed and promoted tight regulation of what they call 'illegal hotels.'"

In D.C., "the tug of war is expected to reach a climax [today] with a second D.C. Council vote expected to ... ban short-term rentals of a second home — a measure that has proved to be the single most divisive provision in debates nationwide."

  • "Airbnb sent council members a memo [yesterday] warning it may try to put the issue directly to voters with a ballot initiative in 2020 if the current version passes."

The big picture: "[L]ast New Year’s Eve, more than 3 million guests were staying in Airbnb rooms, or more than the total number staying in hotels owned by Marriott and Hilton combined."

9. Paul Allen: "Idea man" during Microsoft’s rise
Pictures of Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates (left) and Paul Allen, from the early '70s, are on display at the Microsoft Visitor Center in Redmond, Wash. (Ron Wurzer/Getty Images)

"Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft and a prominent leader of both business and philanthropy in the Seattle area, ... died ... at age 65 from complications of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, just two weeks after announcing he had restarted treatment," per the Seattle Times.

  • "Allen co-founded Redmond tech giant Microsoft with childhood friend Bill Gates in 1975."
  • Gates said in a statement: "Personal computing would not have existed without him."
  • "A billionaire worth more than $20 billion, according to Forbes, he ... took the Giving Pledge — a commitment to give away the majority of his wealth — in 2010, the year it was created by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett."
Seattle Times
10. 1 fee thing

Waitlist fees for daycare are becoming a thing, driven by insatiable demand for high-quality preschools in America’s most expensive cities, AP reports:

  • "Those who can afford care costing an average of about $2,000 a month per child rarely quibble over a $100 fee here and there."
  • "Many eventually get their kids into a child care program, while others make do by patching up nanny hours, hiring live-in au pairs and relying on family members."
  • Why it matters: "[T]he situation illustrates just how much power U.S. child care centers currently wield."