Oct 10, 2018

Axios AM

☕️ Good Wednesday morning from L.A. 27 days until midterms.

Breaking ... President Trump has a rare op-ed in USA Today, with his midterm closing argument: "The new Democrats are radical socialists who want to model America’s economy after Venezuela. If Democrats win control of Congress this November, we will come dangerously closer to socialism in America."

1 big thing ... How Trump hires

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

UN Ambassador Nikki Haley doesn't seem like a natural fit for President Trump's administration: As the first female and first minority governor of South Carolina, she had nearly opposite views on trade, immigration and globalism.

But Jonathan Swan has a fascinating breakdown of how Trump hires people.

  • And it's clear why Haley became such a high-profile member of his Cabinet — with him praising her yesterday, during her Oval Office departure announcement, for making it "a very glamorous position."

The key is that Trump sees hiring as casting:

  • The president is largely untethered from ideology or policy considerations.
  • A former senior administration official said Trump "likes picks who will ultimately be well-received on the outside."
  • He constantly polls people around him, crowd-sourcing from a wide range of people who "may or may not have any expertise, knowledge, or insight into that particular position," said a source close to Trump.
  • He runs on pure gut instinct — how he feels when he's in a room with somebody, whether he judges them to be loyal.
  • "He likes people that don’t need him," said a second source close to Trump. "And he likes killers. ... He thought [former lawyer Michael Cohen had been] successful on his own. ... He likes to have leverage over people" — but not if he thinks they're taking advantage of him or getting rich off of him.
  • People in the "they don't need him" category: former economic adviser Gary Cohn, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross (initially), and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (initially).

His personal chemistry with the potential pick trumps everything else:

  • "The perfect example is [Rex] Tillerson," said a source who discussed Tillerson with Trump back when he first picked him (and before he hated him). "Trump had talked to other people about perhaps being Secretary of State. Tillerson walks in the room, Trump feels a certain way about him in the span of about 15 minutes, and next thing you know that's his Secretary of State."

Being "straight out of Central Casting," as Trump often says, is an advantage:

  • A classic example is Ric Grenell, Trump's ambassador to Germany — who was mentioned yesterday for Haley's job, but Trump said he wants to keep him where he is.
  • "One of the things [Trump] loves about [Grenell] is the guy's overseas stirring stuff up, and he's on TV, and [Trump] is like, 'Oh, there's my beautiful Grenell,'" said a source who has discussed Grenell with Trump. "There he is again. Great looking guy. He can't say two sentences about Grenell without saying how great of a looking guy he is."
  • The source recalled conversations they had with Trump amid the battle over Grenell's confirmation. "It would be," the source said, recounting Trump's comments, "'great looking guy.' He literally called him 'my beautiful Grenell,'" the source added. "He said it with, just, a great deal of pride. Like, 'Look at him go.' He loves it."

Be smart ... The former senior administration official said: "It is in conflicts and rivalries between his advisers that Trump feels (and is) most in control."

2. The favorite to replace Nikki Haley

Dina Powell speaks with Indian delegation in the Rose Garden in June. (Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Image)

Senior people in the White House have the impression that Dina Powell, former top official in the Bush and Trump administrations, can have the job as UN ambassador job if she wants it, Jonathan Swan reports.

  • Trump has been speaking glowingly about Powell, privately and publicly, and she has strong allies in Nikki Haley, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
  • In fact, Powell was Haley's number one recommendation to succeed her.

A source close to Trump said the president likes Powell because she checks the boxes of being "competent and qualified" and "Senate-confirmable because she runs in traditional Republican circles," but is also an immigrant and a woman. 

  • In this political environment, with women deserting the Republican Party, it wouldn't be politically helpful to replace one of the administration's most prominent women with a white man in the immediate aftermath of the Brett Kavanaugh fight, the source said.
  • (Though, Trump’s past selections make us doubt this would be anything close to a deal-breaker: He’s had no issue about appointing lots of white men.)

Powell, who was born in Egypt, returned to Goldman Sachs as a member of the management committee after serving as Trump's deputy national security adviser for strategy during most of his first year in office.

  • Under President George W. Bush, Powell was head of White House personnel, and later Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs.

There are countervailing forces against Powell, though they may not matter if Trump has decided he wants her:

  • Chief of Staff John Kelly and national security adviser John Bolton are not fans, and would rather Powell didn’t get the job, according to sources familiar with their thinking.
  • Also, a campaign to stop her has already emerged in some corners of conservative media. Breitbart is leading the charge to try to undermine her, and loves mentioning that she is a “globalist” and that her name is Dina Habib Powell.

Trump told reporters he has a list of possible successors, but Powell is clearly at the top of any list.

  • The most absurd reporting is that there's a grand White House chess board with all the moves preordained.

This includes the widespread speculation that this was all a ruse to get Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina in as attorney general — then Haley into his Senate seat.

  • A source close to Trump doubts Graham will replace Jeff Sessions as attorney general.
  • Yes, Trump quite likes him personally; they play golf together and have a good chemistry. And yes, Trump was thrilled at how hard Graham went defending Brett Kavanaugh.
  • But Trump sees Graham as somebody who'll be "hot and cold" — with him one day, and abandon him or criticize him next.
  • Trump wants a hardcore loyalist as his next A.G. — somebody more like a Roy Cohn-style personal attorney and pit-bull defender than an independent head of the Justice Department.

People who know Haley don't see her running immediately for Senate. They say she may run for president at some point — perhaps 2024.

  • But, as she insisted yesterday, nothing in 2020.
  • Haley has indicated that she may want to work in the private sector for a spell and earn some more money.
3. 🌊 Wave watch: Inside the Democratic primary turnout surge
Expand chart
Data: Ballotpedia. Chart: Chris Canipe and Neal Rothschild/Axios

Democratic voter turnout in this year's House primaries increased in each of the Cook Political Report's 19 competitive, comparable House districts compared to 2014, and doubled in more than two thirds of them, an analysis by Axios' Neal Rothschild shows:

  • That's far better than Republican voter turnout, which increased in 14 of those districts but didn't double in any of them.

Why it matters: Poor turnout has been the scourge of Democrats' efforts to win congressional elections in the last decade. But this data suggests that a surge of anti-Trump enthusiasm could boost their turnout in November — and not just in already-blue areas, but in parts of the country that could deliver control of the House to Democrats.

4. Coming catastrophe

Michael roared down on the Florida Panhandle, strengthening into a Category 4 hurricane early today just before it was to crash against the region's white-sand beaches, fishing villages and coastal communities, AP reports:

  • "The unexpected brute ... sprang from a weekend tropical depression [and] grew swiftly, rising in days to a catastrophic storm."
  • "Around midday it was expected to become one of the Panhandle's worst hurricanes in memory."

"Florida officials said roughly 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast had been urged or ordered to evacuate. Evacuations spanned 22 counties from the Florida Panhandle into north central Florida."

5. Mike Bloomberg re-registers as a Dem

Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg wrote on Instagram (followed by Facebook and Twitter) that he's now officially a Democrat.

  • A close-up photo shows him signing the registration form yesterday in NYC.
  • Bloomberg, looking ahead to a possible 2020 presidential race as a Democrat, is heading toward spending $100 million on House Democratic races, and made a surprise contribution of $20 million to Senate Democrats.
6. Sketch du jour
Dana Verkouteren via AP

Above, Justices Sam Alito, Elena Kagan and Brett Kavanaugh listen to attorney Brenda Bryn at the Supreme Court yesterday.

Dana Verkouteren via AP
7. Chilling details on missing Saudi journalist

"Top Turkish security officials have concluded that the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on orders from the highest levels of the royal court, per the N.Y. Times:

  • "Turkey has now identified the roles that most or all of [the 15 members of the death team] held in the Saudi government or security services ... One was an autopsy expert, presumably there to help dismember the body."

"By the end of the day, [the] 15-member Saudi team had conducted its business and left the country, departing on planes bound for Cairo and Dubai," write Loveday Morris, Souad Mekhennet and Kareem Fehim for the WashPost.

8. Is Alexa dangerous?
Courtesy The Atlantic

"Alexa, Should We Trust You? ... The voice revolution has only just begun. Today, Alexa is a humble servant. Very soon, she could be much more — a teacher, a therapist, a confidant, an informant," Judith Shulevitz writes in The Atlantic's November cover story:

  • "By 2021, there will be almost as many personal-assistant bots on the planet as people."
  • "Amazon and Google are pushing these devices hard, discounting them so heavily during last year’s holiday season that industry observers suspect that the companies lost money on each unit sold."
  • "These and other tech corporations have grand ambitions. They want to colonize space. Not interplanetary space. Everyday space: home, office, car."

Why it matters: "The company that succeeds in cornering the smart-speaker market will lock appliance manufacturers, app designers, and consumers into its ecosystem of devices and services, just as Microsoft tethered the personal-computer industry to its operating system in the 1990s."

  • "Alexa alone already works with more than 20,000 smart-home devices representing more than 3,500 brands."
9. 👻 Snapchat tries scripted shows

Snapchat today "announced new scripted shows for its photo messaging app Snapchat which will launch this fall and struck partnerships with Hollywood production companies and writers in hopes of reversing its decline in users," per Reuters.

  • "The serialized shows will have new episodes daily, and include a documentary series called 'Growing Up is a Drag,' about the coming-of-age of teenage drag stars."
  • "Snap said the episodes will be fast-paced for mobile viewing and as short as five minutes long."
10. 1 Swift thing
Taylor Swift performs "I Did Something Bad" at the American Music Awards last evening at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. (Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

Taylor Swift continued to flaunt her new political persona at the American Music Awards, telling viewers to "get out and vote" in midterms, as she became the most decorated female artist in AMA history with 22 trophies overall, per the Hollywood Reporter.

  • Swift: "This award and every single award given out tonight were voted on by the people, and you know what else is voted on by the people ... the midterm elections on November 6."

"After the pop star endorsed two Democratic candidates — and urged her 112 million Instagram followers to vote in this year's midterm elections — Vote.org saw a massive spike in registrations."

  • 240,000 registered in the 48 hours after her Instagram post.
  • 190,178 registered in the entire month of September. (Hollywood Reporter)