November 04, 2018

📺 "Axios on HBO" debuts tonight at 6:30 pm ET/PT. Cameos by President Trump, Don Jr., Kimberly Guilfoyle, Gary Cohn, Kevin McCarthy, Steny Hoyer and more.

  • Plus an exclusive poll with SurveyMonkey showing how seven women match up against Trump for 2020. Spoiler alert: Get ready for Oprah buzz ...

1 big thing: The GOP’s bad barbed wire bet of 2018

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

At a rally in Montana yesterday, President Trump said when he turned to the fear-the-caravans part of his speech: "We have our military, now, on the border. [Cheers.] And I noticed all that beautiful barbed wire going up today. ... Barbed wire, used properly, can be a beautiful sight."

  • Trump repeated his ode to barbed wire during a rally in the Florida Panhandle last night: "[Di]d you watch tonight? I sent the United States military to our borders. And I looked at those young, great people and I looked at those generals giving the orders, and I looked at the way they worked and I watched that barbed wire being put down. Barbed wire!"

This is a fitting coda to a barbed strategy of choice, not circumstance. 

  • Imagine if Trump had done the unthinkable: chucked the fear and loathing bit and crusaded across the country thundering about promises made, promises kept and an American economy on fire. 

Imagine if his speeches echoed the top of this column by the N.Y. Times' Bret Stephens:

  • "The night Donald Trump was elected was supposed to be, for most liberals and a few conservatives, the beginning of the end of the world. The economy would surely implode. The U.S. would probably blunder into a catastrophic war. The new American president would be blackmailed into conducting foreign policy as Putin’s poodle."
  • "None of that has happened — not yet, at any rate. On Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported the fastest rate of annual wage hikes in almost a decade, depriving Democrats of one of their few strong arguments about the true state of the economy. Unemployment is at its lowest rate since Vince Lombardi coached his last game in December 1969. The North American Free Trade Agreement has been saved with minor modifications and a new name."
  • "Oh, and: The Islamic State is largely defeated. Tehran has not restarted its nuclear programs despite America’s withdrawal from the Iran deal. U.S. sanctions on Russia are still in place. Democrats badly damaged their chances of taking the Senate with their over-reaching and polarizing crusade to stop Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court."

Instead, it’s caravans ("Four others ... are forming," he warned yesterday), enemies of the people, Pocahontas, fake news, plagues and diseases.

  • And it's contagious: GOP officials and candidates around the country "have concluded that their best shot at victory is embracing the Trump political playbook of demonization" — including the caravans, now playing in an attack ad near you, the N.Y. Times' Jeremy Peters reports.

This might work to save the Senate, but surely will cost the GOP House seats and probably the whole House. 

  • Why it matters: Trump has created a political variant of Newton’s Third Law of Motion (commotion, in this case): For every incendiary action that stirs die-hard Trumpers, there is an equal opposite reaction among Trump-haters. GOP officials tell us the negative reaction is the far worse variable here. 
  • And, here’s the dirty little secret among Republicans: All they really needed was the Kavanaugh fireworks to electrify their base, and exploit one of the most favorable Senate maps imaginable.

Truth is, bragging about accomplishments and the economy could have helped grow the Senate and keep the House. It might have helped the elections from turning into the boys against the girls. 

  • To the dismay of many Republicans too fearful to challenge Trump, they will never know.

2. 🚀 Trump, Musk and the space force

One of President Trump's most reliable applause lines at his rallies is his plan to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces.

He now has a big new backer. Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, endorsed the idea during a "Recode Decode" podcast with Kara Swisher. When Swisher asked about the Trump Space Force, Musk said:

  • "Well, this may be a little controversial, but I actually like the idea. I think it’s cool. You know, like, when the Air Force was formed, there was a lot of like pooh-poohing."

"[I]t’s basically defense in space," Musk continued. "And then I think also it could be pretty helpful for maybe expanding our civilization ... expanding things beyond Earth."

  • "I think we could just have a base on the moon, for example. A base on Mars. Be great to expand on the idea of a Space Force."
  • "[F]or explorers ... anyone who has an exploratory spirit — and I think that especially applies to a country like the United States, where ... it’s kind of the distillation of the spirit of human exploration — I think the idea of being out there among the stars and among the planets is very exciting."
  • "I do think it will become obvious over time that a Space Force is a sensible thing to do."

P.S. When Swisher asked about the power that’s held by Facebook and Google and others, Musk said tech could use more regulation:

  • "It probably makes sense — if something is responsible for a public good, and could potentially negatively affect elections or something like that — that there probably should be some regulatory oversight to ensure that we’re not negatively affecting the democratic process. That the quality of news is good and not unduly influenced. These seem like sensible things."

3. Rise of white nationalism in America

Courtesy The New York Times

On the cover of next week's New York Times Magazine ... "U.S. Law Enforcement Failed to See the Threat of White Nationalism. Now They Don’t Know How to Stop It," by Janet Reitman, who is working on a book about the rise of the far right in post-9/11 America:

  • "For two decades, domestic counterterrorism strategy has ignored the rising danger of far-right extremism. In the atmosphere of willful indifference, a virulent movement has grown and metastasized."
  • "Law enforcement’s inability to reckon with the far right is a problem that goes back generations in this country, and the roots of this current crisis can be traced back more than a decade."

"At the end of June, the Department of Homeland Security withheld grant money from several previously approved applicants whose focus was on studying extremists’ online networks and helping both white supremacists and Muslim extremists leave their movements. ... Some researchers withdrew from plans to brief lawmakers on far-right extremism."

Why it matters: "The genius of the new far right, if we could call it 'genius,' has been their steadfast determination to blend into the larger fabric of society to such an extent that perhaps the only way you might see them as a problem is if you actually want to see them at all."

Worthy of your time.

4. Pics du jour

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Above: In Missouri, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Josh Hawley takes a selfie outside his campaign bus during a stop at the Jefferson County GOP office in Imperial, Missouri.

Below: His opponent, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D), arrives on her campaign bus at a Democratic office in Fulton, Mo.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

5. U.S. consulting firms keep lucrative Saudi contracts

While Jamal Khashoggi’s death "prompted investors from around the globe to distance themselves from the Saudi government, Booz Allen ... McKinsey & Company and Boston Consulting Group have stayed close after playing critical roles in Prince Mohammed’s drive to consolidate power," the N.Y. Times' Michael Forsythe, Mark Mazzetti, Ben Hubbard and Walt Bogdanich report:

  • "His dependence on consultants is so great that some of the companies have people embedded at the royal court to respond quickly to requests, according to three consultants who have done work for the kingdom."

"Many of the consultants, who spend five days a week in Riyadh before flying elsewhere to see their families on weekends, were annoyed last year when the government kicked them out of their preferred hotel, the Ritz-Carlton, to use it as a temporary lockup for those accused of corruption."

  • "But not long after the government released those held, the consultants moved back in."

Worthy of your time.

6. How CNN's Dana Bash gets ready for Election Night

CNN's Dash Bash moderates a town hall with Texas Senate Democratic candidate Beto O'Rourke. (Edward M. Pio-Roda, CNN)

Since Tuesday is political journalism's Game Day, we talked with three of the cable stars of Election Night about how they prep. Our first conversation is with CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash, who'll track the Senate drama:

  • Bash's travels this cycle included her 49th state, North Dakota, where she sat on a big tractor (elusive #50: Montana): "When you see it and you touch it and you smell it, it gives invaluable understanding of what's going on out there."
  • "Most recently, I was in Missouri. And what really struck me was the potency of this immigration message that the president and the Republicans like Josh Hawley are pushing. I was spending the day with [Sen.] Claire McCaskill and she did press conferences after every event. The very first press conference [in Springfield], she was taking questions and nobody asked her about the caravan. And she so wanted to talk about it. She said: 'Nobody's going to ask me about this? I just want to say that ... there's no daylight between myself and the President on border security.' Unsolicited — wanted to get that message out there. And that was a lightbulb."

Her forecast: "I am so out of the prediction business. I'm just along for the ride. ... [M]y sense is probably we'll have a good idea of where the Senate is going to go earlier than the House, because a lot of the House races are West Coast and could take a little longer."

  • Her Game Day tradition: "I don't even know how it started, but I bring in fresh-cut mango for Eric Sherling [CNN's Senior Vice President of Washington and Special Events Programming]. I think I did it once and we had a really good debate or town hall. And so, kind of like a good, superstitious baseball player or fighter pilot, I figured, I don't want to rock this boat. So I'm just going to keep bringing mango in."

Tomorrow: Fox News' Bret Baier ... Tuesday: MSNBC's Steve Kornacki.