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November 13, 2018

☕️ Good Tuesday morning. "President Trump has told advisers he has decided to remove Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen," the WashPost reports.

  • "The president has grumbled for months about what he views as Nielsen’s lackluster performance on immigration enforcement and is believed to be looking for a replacement who will implement his policy ideas with more alacrity." 

1 big thing: The Trump-GOP doomsday scenario

Illustration of MAGA hat hung up on coat rack

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

In private conversations after the midterms, many top Republicans and Democrats said that President Trump seemed to be heading into his 2020 re-election race in a relatively strong position. 

  • They couldn't be more wrong. 
  • In fact, all the big trends are working against Trump and the GOP, based on factors that are hiding in plain sight. 
  • Despite the conventional wisdom, many people around Trump and in GOP leadership share this dim view.

Here are three factors that should worry Trump and the GOP:

  1. The midterm results were actually a terrible leading indicator for him. Turns out that without Hillary atop the ticket, Midwest states like Wisconsin are tough for Trump, and Southern states with rising Hispanic populations are slowly growing more Democratic. Long term, the GOP should be freaking out about this.
  2. Trump and the GOP face two years of public investigations, coming from three different and dangerous directions: Robert Mueller, the state of New York and Congress. Two years of probing hell await
  3. The prolonged recovery is on borrowed time, and a recession could well hit at the worst possible time for Trump — in the thick of the presidential race. Live by the markets, die by the markets. 

Axios CEO Jim VandeHei and I go deeper on each of those: 

The midterms: 

  • Trump has locked his party into a white-man strategy — using the pre-midterm rallies to amp up fears of immigrants and change. The strategy held the Senate for the GOP, since this year's battlegrounds were largely rural.
  • But white men are shrinking, and will continue to, as a proportion of the electorate.
  • Think of it this way: There's not a single demographic trend in America that benefits Republicans.
  • We can see this in the tighter-than-expected results in Arizona, Florida, Georgia and Texas — all ominous signs for Trump's 2020 map. All have rising Latino populations, and are getting more Democrat-friendly. 
  • Trump could easily lose Pennsylvania in 2020. He could easily lose Wisconsin. He could lose Michigan. It's clear now that Trump's wins in those vital states were based largely on Hillary Clinton voters staying away — Trump got fewer votes in Wisconsin than Mitt Romney had four years before. Absent one or both of those states, Trump's path becomes tenuous, at best. 
  • Ohio held strong for Republicans in the midterms but that's offset by Virginia — Remember when the Old Dominion was the new Ohio" — which went from red to purple and is now undeniably blue. 

The investigations:

  • Trump — who in January will face House Democrats with subpoena power, in addition to the multiple federal prosecutors targeting him — heads into this treacherous stretch with a thin staff and unconventional legal team. 
  • The Wall Street Journal reported that federal prosecutors in Manhattan had prepared an 80-page indictment of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, before they accepted his guilty plea. That's a vivid but tiny indicator of how many legal fronts the president's orbit could face as cases wrap up.
  • And that's just the New York branch of the investigation. Sources who deal regularly with special counsel Robert Mueller tell us he clearly is sitting on a massive trove of testimony and evidence, much of it potentially problematic for Trump. 
  • As "Axios on HBO" scooped over the weekend, House Democrats are preparing to launch investigations on dozens of topics, potentially swamping a White House with rafts of vulnerabilities that have received scant scrutiny while Republicans controlled the Capitol. 

The economy: 

  • When growth slows and the jobs picture darkens, Trump and the financial establishment will be left with few short-term tools for juicing the economy.
  • The tax cuts have put the deficit on course for $1 trillion a year. 

Be smart: The gravest threat to the GOP has been — and remains — demographics. Every election, like clockwork, white dominance in voting shrinks by a few percentage points.

  • Demographics don’t lie: The population of Hispanics and to a lesser extent Asians is rising, slowly but undeniably changing the politics of Texas, Georgia, Arizona, Colorado and other states.

Ask yourself this: Did Trump and the 2018 elections help or hurt Republicans with minorities?

  • Then ask yourself this: Knowing more women vote in presidential elections then men, did Trump and the 2018 elections help or hurt Republicans with women?

2. 🌊 Slow-building blue wave

Senator-elect Kyrsten Sinema (D) declares victory over Rep. Martha McSally (R) in Scottsdale yesterday. (Rick Scuteri/AP)

A week after the voting, Democrats are riding higher than they thought on election night, AP's Steve Peoples writes:

  • "Democrats ... have now picked up at least 32 seats in the House — and lead in four more — in addition to flipping seven governorships and eight state legislative chambers."
  • Democrats "are on track to lose two seats in the Senate ... Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema [who will be the nation's first openly bisexual senator] won Arizona's Senate race [yesterday], beating Republican Rep. Martha McSally to take the seat held by retiring GOP Sen. Jeff Flake."

Why it matters: "The overall results in the first nationwide election of the Trump presidency represent the Democratic Party's best midterm performance since Watergate."

  • "Over the last week we've moved from relief at winning the House to rejoicing at a genuine wave of diverse, progressive and inspiring Democrats winning office," said Ben Wikler, Washington director of the liberal group MoveOn.

"Democrats needed to gain 23 seats to seize the House majority. ... [T]hey could win close to 40."

  • Democrats could win as many as 19 House races in districts carried by Trump two years ago.
  • Ten House races remain too close for AP to call.

Democrats "flipped governorships in seven states: Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada, Kansas, New Mexico and Maine."

  • "Republicans now control 25 governorships nationwide compared to 23 for Democrats. High-profile contests in Florida and Georgia remain outstanding, though Republicans hold narrow leads in both states."

Democrats "flipped state legislative chambers in eight states this midterm season, including Washington state's Senate in 2017."

  • The others: state Senates in Maine, Colorado, New York, New Hampshire and Connecticut, in addition to the state Houses of Representatives in New Hampshire and Minnesota.
  • "With hundreds of races still too close to call, Democrats have won at least 370 new state legislative seats nationwide."

Keeper quote ... CNN's Don Lemon last night: "This has been a great wave to surf because it's so slow."

3. Virginia, New York win Amazon derby

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

New York City (Long Island City, Queens) and Northern Virginia (Crystal City in Arlington County) will be the homes for Amazon's second and third headquarters, The Wall Street Journal reports (subscription):

  • Why it matters: Amazon's imminent announcement, expected as soon as today, ends "a yearlong public contest that started with 238 candidates and ended with a surprise split of its so-called HQ2."
  • Both locations are "directly across from the major city centers. The company plans to evenly split the offices with as many as 25,000 employees."

The N.Y. Times' Karen Weise points out that Amazon "already has more employees in those two areas than anywhere else outside of Seattle, its home base, and the Bay Area."

  • "The need to hire tens of thousands of high-tech workers has been the driving force behind the search, leading many to expect it to land in a major East Coast metropolitan area."

4. Dead in cars and homes: California fire toll at 42

Homeowners look on as the Peak Fire burns yesterday in the hills behind their homes in Simi Valley, Calif. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

"The death toll from the Camp fire in Paradise [in Northern California] jumped to 42, ... making it the deadliest fire in California history ... as teams continued to search the burned-out remains of thousands of lost homes," per the L.A. Times.

In Southern California, a "couple whose charred bodies were found in a vehicle in Malibu on Friday probably died trying to escape the flames."

  • It looks like they may have inadvertently turned up the driveway of a Mulholland Highway estate whose residents had escaped and left the electronic gate open.
  • A Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department official said: "This driveway looks like a small road. It’s not like a normal driveway, and the whole landscape around there is burned to a crisp."
  • "[T]he remnants of two cars were visible about a third of a mile up a long, curving driveway."
Courtesy N.Y. Post

5. Media deals become Trump political targets

Illustration of a red and green satellite dish on either end of the White House roof.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Mergers are central to media companies' strategies for competing with tech giants like Google and Netflix. But the merger review process has suddenly become a political football between President Trump and congressional Democrats, Axios' Sara Fischer and David McCabe write.

  • Why it matters: Trump continues to comment on antitrust matters related to media companies he doesn't like, and experts worry the resulting political fray could hinder the Justice Department's ability to independently evaluate deals.
  • Media companies, looking to merge amid an already difficult economic climate, will now have to consider this reality.

The bigger picture: These issues become even more convoluted as the Justice . Department faces a leadership crisis of its own.

  • The resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions has some policymakers concerned that his acting replacement Matthew Whitaker, a Trump loyalist, will push the president's agenda — renewing fears that the DOJ's antitrust division isn't independent from the White House.
  • House Democrats plan to take on these issues when they get their chairmanships in January. Incoming House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said on "Axios on HBO" that he'll hold hearings to explore whether Trump abused White House power by targeting The Washington Post and CNN through Amazon and the AT&T merger, respectively.

Be smart about the debate over antitrust: "The changes that take place here are going to be measured in years, not in months," said Andrew Schwartzman of the Communications and Technology Law Clinic at Georgetown Law.

6. Republicans try to discredit Florida recount

Employees at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office sort ballots yesterday in Lauderhill, Fla. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

"The concerted effort by Republicans in Washington and Florida to discredit the state’s recount as illegitimate and potentially rife with fraud reflects a cold political calculation: Treat the recount as the next phase of a campaign to secure the party’s majority and agenda in the Senate," the N.Y. Times' Jeremy Peters and Maggie Haberman report:

  • "Everyone from donors to rank-and-file lawmakers is determined to keep Democrats from notching another victory."
  • "The Republicans’ posture on the recount — especially the party’s claims of fraud and cover-up and President Trump’s latest assertion on Monday of forgery, all presented without evidence — has been deeply divisive and even drew a stern rebuke Monday from the chief state judge in Broward County, Fla., Jack Tuter."

What's really happening here: "The Republicans’ strategy in Florida reflects their experience in the 2000 presidential recount in the state."

  • "Party strategists and lawyers say they prevailed largely because they approached it as they did the race itself, with legal, political and public relations components that allowed them to outmaneuver the Democrats."
  • "This time around, though, Democrats are holding little back."

7. Midterm voting was highest in 114 years

Data: Pew Research Center via Bruce Mehlman. 2018 midterm turnout as of Nov. 11 via United States Elections Project; Note: One Swiss canton has compulsory voting; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: Pew Research Center via Bruce Mehlman. 2018 midterm turnout as of Nov. 11 via United States Elections Project; Note: One Swiss canton has compulsory voting; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Last week's election participation by eligible voters was 49.2%, according to the latest available figures — the highest for a midterm election in 104 years (since 50.4% in 1914), according to figures analyzed by lobbyist Bruce Mehlman.

  • Mehlman says the last time turnout approached this level was the Gilded Age — another time when "rising income inequality, insufficient economic competition, accelerating new technologies, rapid demographic changes, and new geopolitics left voters hunger for change." The other time midterm turnout was near this high?  The fraught 1960’s (1966, 48.7%).
  • See Bruce's full deck.

8. "Tell your boss"

"Shortly after the journalist Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated last month, a member of the kill team instructed a superior over the phone to 'tell your boss,' believed to be Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, that the operatives had carried out their mission, according to ... a recording of Mr. Khashoggi’s killing collected by Turkish intelligence," the N.Y. Times reports:

  • "The recording, shared last month with the C.I.A. director, Gina Haspel, is seen by intelligence officials as some of the strongest evidence linking Prince Mohammed to the killing of Mr. Khashoggi."

Why it matters: "Some Trump advisers have argued that they would need indisputable evidence of Prince Mohammed’s involvement in Mr. Khashoggi’s killing before they would punish him or the kingdom more harshly."

  • "The administration, according to current and former officials, is hoping that making some modest moves on sanctions and curtailing support for the Saudi war effort in Yemen will satisfy critics, including those on Capitol Hill."

9. Stan Lee: "The legend who created legends"

Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Stan Lee — who died yesterday at age 95 and was instrumental in creating Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Hulk, Black Panther, the X-Men, Thor and more — "was the most famous individual in the history of comic books — a testament to his talent as a writer and editor, his longevity and his skills at self-promotion," writes Knowledge@Wharton's Kendall Whitehouse:

  • "His writing and editorial approach to the superhero genre created a universe of enduring fictional characters, elevated comic books from children’s entertainment to adult fare, and helped to establish Marvel Comics as a publishing powerhouse."

Go deeper: The Marvel maestro's wit and wisecracks.

Vintage Spider Marvel comic books (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

10. 1 parent thing

A new thing: Take Your Parents to Work Day ... "Eager to see what their adult offspring do all day, moms and dads embrace office visits," according to a Wall Street Journal A-hed by Te-Ping Chen:

  • "All across the country, parents are turning up at offices to see what their adult offspring do all day, often as part of 'Bring Your Parents to Work Day' events."

"Companies see it as a way to please young employees who are close to their moms and dads."

  • "Watching people talk on the phone and tap out emails might not sound exciting, but it’s a delight to this crowd."

Companies set up photo booths, put out buffets and even wine, and offer talks by leaders.