Feb 13, 2020

Axios AM

🌹 Good Thursday morning. It's Valentine's Eve.

1 big thing: Why Trump is beatable
President Trump leaves the Oval Office for Marine One on Jan. 28. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

There is a growing sense among top Republicans and Democrats that President Trump is stronger than ever and very hard to beat this fall. But, several data points suggest otherwise.

  • Why it matters: Amid record-high stock markets and record-low joblessness, Trump trails almost every 2020 Democrat nationally, and is in a statistical tie in swing-state polls.
  • Yes, he has a big early edge in raising money and gaming Facebook to target voters. But Michael Bloomberg is willing to spend $2 billion (some say twice that) to easily level things — and will spend big even if he's not the nominee.

The data points:

  • Trump won in 2016 by 80,000 votes, thanks in part to low Democratic turnout. There is scant evidence he has broadened his base, even as he solidifies it.
  • Trump ties or trails every leading Democrat in virtually every national poll, including a Fox News poll out Jan. 26.
  • In most swing-state polls, Trump is within the margin of error — and often well below 50% — despite a booming economy.  In many cases, he trails most of the top-tier candidates. 
  • Bloomberg has more money than Trump ever did, and unlike the president, plans to spend it, either on himself or the party’s nominee. Republicans would have no answer financially if he dumps several billion into ads and manpower.
  • There's a significant gap between the optimism about the economy (60%+) and Trump himself, an unusual decoupling for an incumbent. This data point worries top Republicans a lot. 

Between the lines: Don’t forget 2018. Democrats enjoyed record turnout and won back the House.

  • After lackluster voter participation in Iowa, Democrats broke the New Hampshire turnout record set in 2008. (But it's worth noting that turnout was on par with recent cycles where only one party had a competitive primary, per the N.Y. Times.)

The bottom line: Trump is no doubt strong and getting stronger, despite impeachment. But Democrats are so traumatized by Trump’s 2016 win that they're overlooking real signs of his vulnerability. 

  • Even Bernie Sanders, whose socialism establishment Democrats fear could tank their chances, looks strong against Trump in relevant polls.

Rashaan Ayesh contributed reporting.

2. Establishment's Sanders angst grows
New Hampshire results (98%). Graphic: AP

In a mirror image of the queasiness among establishment Republicans as Donald Trump gained momentum in 2016, Democratic insiders see an increasing possibility that Bernie Sanders — a democratic socialist who tied Pete Buttigieg in Iowa and edged him in New Hampshire — will be their nominee.

  • There are two groups of Democratic worry, Axios' Margaret Talev reports: those who think he'll be the nominee and can't get elected (and would risk taking the House with him), and those who think he'll be the nominee and can get elected — and would sink the economy and blow up health care.
  • One top Obama veteran was among the Democratic insiders who took comfort in Sanders' narrow New Hampshire win, saying that it showed Sanders has a ceiling, and that it's lower than many thought.

Sanders' robust start is triggering alarm among congressional Democrats, with many warning that a ticket headed by a self-declared democratic socialist could devastate chances of winning the Senate and holding the House, AP reports:

  • In anxious huddles around the Capitol, apprehensive Democrats shared their worries that Sanders' socialist label and unyielding embrace of controversial proposals like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal would repel voters in the affluent, moderate districts that flipped House control in 2018.
  • Democrats' jitters have Republicans rubbing their hands in delight.
3. Streaming TV explodes
Expand chart
Reproduced from Nielsen Total Audience Report, Feb. 2020

Streaming accounts for nearly 20% of TV consumption for most Americans, almost doubling since 2018, Axios' Sara Fischer writes from a new Nielsen report.

  • Why it matters: The data shows how quickly consumers are flocking to streaming as a replacement or complement to traditional TV.
  • The report finds that Netflix accounts for a whopping 31% of streaming time — the largest share of any service — followed by YouTube (21%), Hulu (12%) and Amazon Prime (8%).

Between the lines: Nearly half of U.S. viewers subscribe to three or more steaming services — a number likely to increase as options grow.

  • While one study has suggested that the average American is willing to pay around $42 monthly for streaming services, Nielsen found most consumers (93%) are willing to increase the amount of streaming services they pay for —
    or at the very least, to keep the ones they currently have.

📱 Sign up for Sara Fischer's weekly newsletter, Axios Media Trends.

4. Pic du jour
Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Trump had an armada of "Keep America Great" campaign hats at his side as he met in the Oval Office yesterday with Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno, along with First Lady Melania Trump.

5. Marie Yovanovitch: State Dept. is "in trouble"
Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Marie Yovanovitch, pushed out as President Trump's ambassador to Ukraine, got thunderous applause yesterday when she accepted the Trainor Award for Excellence in the Conduct of Diplomacy at Georgetown University.

In her first public remarks since her impeachment testimony in November, Yovanovitch said: "Right now, the State Department is in trouble ... Senior leaders lack policy vision, moral clarity and leadership," per the N.Y. Times.

  • "Yovanovitch lamented a general 'hollowing out' of the department in which she spent her career. She lamented damaging budget cuts to other agencies and international organizations ... 'It’s not about a handout for foreign friends; it’s about enlightened self-interest.'"

🥊 Yovanovitch pointed to one bright note: "With all the focus on Ukraine, it has meant that there is continued bipartisan support for a strong Ukraine policy."

6. 🔎 "Intelligence coup of the century"
This H-460 encryption device, built in 1967, had inner workings designed entirely by the National Security Agency. Photo: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

For decades during the Cold War, Crypto AG — which supplied encryption devices to governments around the world — was secretly owned by the CIA in a highly classified partnership with West German intelligence, the Washington Post's Greg Miller reports in this true-life spy tale.

  • "These spy agencies rigged the company’s devices so they could easily break the codes that countries used to send encrypted messages."
  • "Do I have any qualms? Zero," said Bobby Ray Inman, who served as director of the NSA and deputy director of the CIA in the late 1970s and early 1980s. "It was a very valuable source of communications on significantly large parts of the world important to U.S. policymakers."

Why it matters: "Its reach and duration help to explain how the United States developed an insatiable appetite for global surveillance that was exposed in 2013 by Edward Snowden."

  • "[T]he company was dismembered in 2018."

Keep reading.

7. Mike's meme machine
via Instagram

"Mike Bloomberg has contracted some of the biggest meme-makers on the internet to post sponsored content on Instagram promoting his presidential campaign," the N.Y. Times' Taylor Lorenz reports.

  • "The Bloomberg campaign is working with Meme 2020, a new company formed by some of the people behind extremely influential accounts."
  • "The accounts all posted Bloomberg campaign ads in the form of fake direct messages from the candidate."

Passes Trump in Facebook spend ... Bloomberg spent an average of more than $1 million a day on Facebook over the past two weeks, per NBC's David Ingram.

  • "That's five times more than Trump spent during the same period — and more than three times what Trump spent per day during his victorious fall 2016 campaign."
  • "On a single day, Jan. 30, Bloomberg bought $1.7 million worth of Facebook ads."
8. Oil giant lays out net-zero ambition

"BP has pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 or sooner, as new chief executive Bernard Looney warned that the oil company must 'reinvent' itself as the world shifts to cleaner energy," the Financial Times reports on its front page (subscription).

  • Why it matters: "The commitment is the most ambitious yet from one of the oil and gas industry's biggest companies, which face a backlash as climate change moves up the agenda of shareholders and governments."
9. 🎥 First look: New gerrymandering doc
Photo: Magnolia Pictures

"Slay the Dragon," which traces the real world impact of partisan gerrymandering for everyday Americans, will hit theaters in New York City, D.C. and L.A. on March 13.

  • The film follows activists working to end the practice, including Katie Fahey, who led an anti-gerrymandering ballot measure campaign in Michigan, and a team of lawyers who brought a case to the Supreme Court.
  • Former Attorney General Eric Holder said the film's message "could not be more timely or more profound": "[W]e must end the era of politicians choosing their voters and give power back to the people, where it belongs."

Watch the trailer.

10. 1 pad thing

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos purchased the 9-acre Warner Estate in Beverly Hills from David Geffen for $165 million, a residential record for the Los Angeles area, report the Wall Street Journal's Katy McLaughlin and Katherine Clarke.

  • A Bezos umbrella company "also paid $90 million for a plot of undeveloped Los Angeles land ... 'as an investment'" from the estate of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

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