Sep 30, 2018

Axios AM

Good Sunday morning.

☕️ Situational awareness: 17 of last week's 20 most read articles on concerned Judge Brett Kavanaugh. The top article was a scoop about a mysterious entry in his yearbook in which he describes himself as a "Renate Alumnius."

Breaking: After an earthquake in Indonesia which triggered a tsunami, more than 800 people have died and many remain missing, with a frantic search for possible survivors trapped in buildings. (BBC)

1 big thing ... Bipartisan obsession: The Trump Show

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A divided nation that usually shrugs at politics — and always shrugs at midterm elections — is suddenly united, passionately and addictively, in binge-watching the Greatest Show in American Politics:

  • Because of The Trump Show, we're more attuned to current events and know more about the news than ever.
  • Happy hour conversations include the 25th Amendment and the Emoluments Clause. News plays in sports bars. Pundits talk casually about FBI 302 forms.
  • And more women and minorities are getting involved in politics, setting up midterm elections likely will change the complexion of Washington.

The Trump Show has us watching more, running more, voting more:

  • Pew Research Center reported this week that voter enthusiasm is at its highest level during any midterm in more than two decades, based on the percentage of registered voters who say they're more enthusiastic than usual.
  • Midterm primary turnout surged for both parties.
  • Women broke records for the number who filed — and for the number who won primaries — for Senate, for U.S. House and for governor. And a record number of women won primaries for state legislature.
  • More than 20 million people watched Thursday's Kavanaugh hearing on TV, with millions more watching digitally — "an audience size similar to that for a playoff football game or the Academy Awards," AP notes. (5.7 million of those watched on Fox News, the most of any cable station or broadcast network.)
  • Cable news constantly shatters records. 12 million people collectively watched Fox News' Sean Hannity, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow or CNN's Chris Cuomo at 9 p.m. ET after the Kavanaugh hearing, enough to "put a dent in viewership for the fall premieres of broadcast network prime-time shows."

The N.Y. Times' Amy Chozick writes in today's Sunday Review section ("Why Trump Will Win a Second Term") that "TV executives say the only way for the Trump show to get canceled is for ratings to fall off":

TV history shows that the most successful series — “American Idol,” “Lost,” “The West Wing” and, yes, “The Apprentice” — don’t see sharp declines in viewership or talk of cancellation until around Season 6. 
By that logic, Mr. Trump would win re-election in 2020 unless, as many liberal viewers are probably hoping, impeachment and scandal end his presidency prematurely. (In what would no doubt be “The most dramatic finale of a presidency ever!”)

Be smart: Whether it's resistance or defiance, American public life is the most animated it has been in our lifetimes.

2. The surprise love affair of 2018
Trump reacts to the playing of West Virginia's state song as he takes the stage. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

President Trump, rhapsodizes about North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un last night at a rally in Wheeling, W.Va.:

I like him. He likes me. ... And then we fell in love. OK? No, really! He wrote me beautiful letters. And they're great letters. We fell in love. Now they'll say [imitates anchorman]: "Donald Trump said they fell in love. How horrible how horrible is that? So unpresidential!"

That echoed a Trump soliloquy during his epic press conference at the U.N.:

We have a very good relationship. He likes me. I like him. We get along. He wrote me two of the most beautiful letters. When I showed one of the letters — just one — to [Japanese] Prime Minister Abe, he said, 'This is actually a groundbreaking letter. This is an incredible — this is a historic letter." And it is a historic letter. It’s a beautiful — it’s a beautiful piece of art. 

Be smart: Kim runs a murderous, autocratic regime that has not only called for America’s destruction, but built nuclear-armed missiles to actually do it.

  • Oh, before the love letters, Kim warned: "I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire."
3. Women ascendant at U.N.

"In a pivotal week for women in the United States, the U.N. put forth its own clarion set of female voices at its annual meeting of nations," AP's Angela Charlton writes from New York:

  • "At the U.N. General Assembly, the first since the #metoo movement took root in Fall 2017, ... some of the most powerful words have come from the mouths of female leaders, a group whose numbers, influence and ambitions for the planet are on the rise."
  • "Female leaders presented roadmaps for peace in central Africa and the Balkans, challenged governments to fight anti-Semitism, exposed the dangers of trade barriers and resisted — or espoused — nationalist rhetoric."
  • Serbia's prime minister, Ana Brnabić, called for a "world which is freer, fairer, and which is also, if I am to be honest, more fun."

"The number of women presidents and prime ministers among the U.N.'s 193 member states doubled — to 19 — from 2005 to 2016."

Bonus: Pic du jour
Frederick J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

One pooch catches a wave and the other takes a leap during the 10th annual Surf City Surf Dog contest in Huntington Beach, Calif., yesterday.

4. The decade's most important economic event

And we didn't even notice, the N.Y. Times' great Neil Irwin writes in "The Invisible Recession of 2016":

  • In a mini-recession in the U.S. in 2015 and 2016, there "was a sharp slowdown in business investment, caused by an interrelated weakening in emerging markets, a drop in the price of oil and other commodities, and a run-up in the value of the dollar."
  • "The end of the mini-recession in the spring of 2016 created a capital spending rebound that began in mid-2016, and it has contributed to speedier growth since. Oil prices have reached four-year highs, a major factor in a surge in business investment this year."

Why it matters: "It helps explain some of the economic discontent evident in manufacturing-heavy areas during the 2016 elections."

  • "The episode is stark evidence of the risk the Trump administration faces in threatening economic damage to negotiate leverage with other nations on trade and security. What happens overseas can return to American shores faster and more powerfully than once seemed possible."

Worthy of your time.

5. Musk makes a deal

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Elon Musk reached a settlement with federal regulators and will remain as Tesla CEO but step down as chairman, Axios' Dan Primack and Ben Geman report:

  • Settlement details: Within 45 days, Musk must step down as chairman for a period of three years. He also must pay a $20 million penalty, and comply with new company procedures for any future communications related to Tesla, including via his Twitter account.
  • Tesla was not a defendant but also must pay a $20 million penalty, and add two new independent directors. Those details are included in a separate settlement from the one that applies to Musk.
  • This is a settlement with no admission to the charges or any wrongdoing.

The bottom line: This is a smart decision for both Musk and Tesla. A drawn-out court case would have clouded both of their futures for months to come.

6. 1 fun thing

On the "Saturday Night Live" cold open, Matt Damon as Brett Kavanaugh calls himself "a keg is half full kind of guy," and apologizes for sassing Sen. Amy Klobuchar in an earlier answer: "I think I blacked out for a second."

  • Yelling: "I'm going to start at an 11. I'm gonna take it to about a 15 real quick."
  • "I wrote [my speech] myself last night, while screaming into an empty bag of Doritos."
  • He gets teary as he shows off "these beautiful, creepy calendars. ... You want a real investigation? Then just look at my calendars."

"Kavanaugh" says he won't quit: "I don't know the meaning of the word 'stop'!"

  • Asked about his fitness for the Supreme Court, he says: "I went to Yale!"
  • His high school buddies get new nicknames, including "Handsy Hank" — which "the liberal media is going to find some way to spin."
  • YouTube.
"Senator Dianne Feinstein" (NBC)
"Senator Lindsey Graham" (NBC)