Feb 12, 2020

Axios AM

☕ Happy Wednesday! Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,192 words ... 4½ minutes.

Situational awareness: The World Health Organization officially named the outbreak that has killed 1,115: COVID-19 — "corona" + "virus" + "disease," and emerged in 2019. (BBC)

1 big thing: Bernie wins, Pete chases, Amy rises, Elizabeth fades, Joe flops
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Data: Real Clear Politics average. Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire primary but had two moderates — Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, who vaulted to #3 — close on his heels.

  • Joe Biden, after looking like the front-runner through 2019, finished a distant fifth — after Elizabeth Warren, who also had been strong out of the gate.

Why it matters: Klobuchar's surprising showing, along with the close margin between Sanders and Buttigieg, shows there's a sizable moderate bloc for Sanders to overcome, Axios' Margaret Talev and Alexi McCammond write from Manchester.

  • But moderates are split, while the progressive wing of the party is starting to consolidate behind Sanders — and seems to be walking away from Warren.
  • And the big wakeup: Biden — the candidate President Trump had feared most, in an obsession that helped lead to impeachment — utterly collapsed.

The big picture: The fact that Sanders and Buttigieg finished in the top two in both New Hampshire and Iowa — coupled with Mike Bloomberg's rise in national polls — suggests that people are still hungry for an outsider, like they were in 2016.

Between the lines: The three moderate candidates combined — Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Biden — got more than half the New Hampshire vote, while the two progressives — Sanders and Warren — got far less, Cook Political Report's Dave Wasserman pointed out.

  • However, exit polls suggested that 40% of Hispanics voted for Sanders, according to ABC News — suggesting potential strength among minority voters, whose support any Democratic nominee will need.

A sign of the tension between the two wings: Sanders' supporters at his Manchester headquarters booed Buttigieg during his victory speech — chanting "Bernie beats Trump!" and "Wall Street Pete."

Screenshot via CNN
2. Super Tuesday math: Bernie's edge
Bernie Sanders takes the stage last night. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Some top Democrats tell me that if the split 2020 field persists through Super Tuesday, Bernie Sanders could build an insurmountable delegate lead while the moderates eat each other up.

  • Why it matters: With California's massive delegate trove as part of Super Tuesday on March 3, whoever winds up as the survivor against Sanders could be in a deep delegate hole by the time the field thins.

A Democratic campaign shared these scenarios to argue Sanders could walk away from Super Tuesday in control:

  • Scenario #1​: Bernie's Super Tuesday vote share is five points ahead of the second candidate (say, 30% to 25%). Bernie would net 96 delegates more than the next-highest-performing candidate. At that point, it would be possible but difficult to overtake Sanders: To become the nominee, that survivor would need to beat Bernie by an average of 53% to 47% in in remaining contests.
  • Scenario #2:​ Bernie's Super Tuesday vote share is 10​ points ahead of the second candidate (say, 30% to 20%). Bernie would net 198 delegates more than the next-highest-performing candidate. Overtaking Sanders would be unlikely: The field would need to clear, the and survivor would need to win each remaining contest on average 55% to 45% over Bernie.
  • Scenario #3​: Bernie's Super Tuesday vote share is by 15 points ahead of the second candidate (say, 35% to 20%). Bernie would net 328 delegates more than the next-highest-performing candidate. The race would be all but over.

A veteran Democratic operative told me: "Obama showed in '08 and Clinton showed in '16 [that] once you get a lead in the Democratic primary, it is very hard to lose it. Because we don’t have winner-take-all states, the front-runner is always accumulating delegates."

  • "Trump would not have been the nominee in '16 had the non-Trumpers consolidated. They never did and he got the nomination. We are looking at the same scenario."
3. Exclusive: How the FBI combats China's political meddling

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

In May 2019, the FBI quietly formed a new task force aimed at countering China's political influence in the United States.

  • In an exclusive interview with Axios' Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, an FBI official reveals for the first time the bureau's approach to countering China's interference in local and state politics.
  • Why it matters: "This is ultimately a potential systemic challenge to the world order that we've had for the past several decades," the FBI official tells Axios of China's efforts.

There's a growing body of evidence that China devotes massive resources to influencing the political environments of foreign countries, including the U.S.

  • Unlike Russia, the Chinese Communist Party focuses on cultivating long-term relationships and using economic levers to coerce people into compliance, rather than targeting a specific election event.

China's influence playbook centers around economic leverage stemming from its growing wealth.

  • Over the weekend, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that China is targeting U.S. local and state officials.
  • "For a long time we focused on the federal level," the FBI official said. "But we really have come to understand that the Chinese are playing a long game with the political influence in this country. ... So we have spent a lot more time and energy trying to understand the state and local people-to-people influences going on."

The bottom line: China is increasing its efforts to hold sway over cash-strapped local and state governments.

4. Prosecutors quit Roger Stone case after Justice intervenes
Roger Stone arrives at court on Nov. 12. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

The four lawyers who prosecuted Roger Stone quit the case — and one quit his job — after the Justice Department overruled them and said it would lower the amount of prison time it would seek for President Trump’s longtime ally.

  • Why it matters: Trump had blasted the original recommendation of 7-9 years as "very horrible and unfair." The Justice Department traditionally operates independently of the White House. (AP)

🐦 The Justice Department tells Axios the decision to overturn the recommendation was made "hours before" Trump's critical tweet.

5. Pic du jour
Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Shot: At a signing ceremony in the Oval Office yesterday, President Trump held up a paper with the names of tech giants arranged to spell out MAGA — as in "Make America Great Again."

Chaser: The Federal Trade Commission announced it is investigating acquisitions made by Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Alphabet/Google from 2010 on. (Go deeper.)

6. White supremacist propaganda rising

Incidents of white supremacist propaganda distributed across the U.S. jumped more than 120% from 2018 to 2019, the Anti-Defamation League found:

Graphic: AP
7. 📊 61% say they're better off than 3 years ago

Why it matters: That's "a higher percentage than in prior election years when an incumbent president was running," per Gallup — bullish for President Trump.

Graphic: Gallup
8. Fox News has best ratings since inauguration
Screenshot via Fox News

The week of President Trump's impeachment acquittal was Fox News' best in the ratings since the weeks he was elected and inaugurated, AP reports.

  • Of the 40 most-watched programs on basic cable last week, 39 were on Fox News. The exception was one episode of Rachel Maddow's show on MSNBC.
  • Sean Hannity (9 p.m. ET) averaged 4.9 million viewers, Tucker Carlson (8 p.m.) averaged 4.7 million and Laura Ingraham (10 p.m.) had 4.1 million.
9. First look: New book by Richard Haass
Cover: Penguin Press

Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass has a new book coming May 12, "The World: A Brief Introduction." From the preface:

Global literacy is essential, because we live in a time in which what goes on outside a country matters a great deal. Borders are not impermeable. The United States is bordered by two oceans, but oceans are not moats. For better and for worse, the so‑called Vegas rule — what happens there stays there — does not apply in today’s global world.

Go deeper.

10. 1 food thing

Photo: Dixie D. Vereen for The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Tingly Sweet Potato and Kelp Bowl, available at Sweetgreen beginning March 26, will be seaweed's biggest national splash since the 2000s. (WashPost)

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