Mar 1, 2017

Axios AM

1 big thing: The Trump card

In the first restrained — dare we say conventional — speech of his lifetime, Donald Trump delighted Republicans, disarmed critics (at least for a night) and left anyone who doesn't waste their day on Twitter with the impression of quick accomplishments and big, easily doable things ahead.

Bloomberg View calls it "Trump's teleprompter triumph."

  • The strategy: It was a savvy, unexpectedly deft clean-up of everything from the botched travel ban to his delays in confronting race- or religious-based violence. Most of the speech could have been delivered by Paul Ryan (who tweeted that it was "a home run"). It buys Trump a lot of wiggle room in the months ahead — and that was the strategic aim of the speech.
  • Why it matters: Wobbly Republicans, many of whom were and remain deeply suspicious of the president, now have something normal, possibly popular to grab hold of. Success - or the appearance of success - in politics washes away many sins.

With Trump officials basking in the reviews, the White House told reporters that the new executive order on migrant travel -- scheduled for release today -- was being delayed.

  • The reasoning: "We want the EO to have its own 'moment,'" a senior administration official told CNN's Jeremy Diamond. The official didn't say positive reviews were the only reason for delay — but didn't deny it was part of the calculus.
2. Rave reviews

The pundits rolled over for a big ole belly scratch: Flipping around the networks' postgame coverage, the praise was almost completely unleavened by reality checks about Trump's track record or the minefields awaiting his agenda. I suddenly realized the incredible honeymoon Trump could have had if had played his cards even slightly differently.

CNN's Van Jones, former green jobs adviser to President Obama, said of the sustained applause Trump led for Carryn Owens, widow of Ryan Owens, the SEAL lost in the Yemen raid: "That thing you just saw him do, if he finds a way to do that over and over again, he's going to be there for eight years. ... He did something tonight that you cannot take away from him: He became president of the United States."

Savannah Guthrie: "loose and conversational." ... Nicolle Wallace on NBC: "the best speech of his political career -- his short political career. ... It felt like an intervention had taken place."

ABC's George Stephanopoulos: "The president has broken the mold in so many ways [but this was] quite a traditional structure." .... CBS's John Dickerson: "using all the rhetorical and symbolic tools at his disposal."

The big question: Will the tone and the aura last? Even a full day? Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. What will Trump give up?

But don't forget: Trump has proven to be a recidivist in the past. One close Trump-watcher warned us that last night's Reaganesque statesman is the same man: "He is a performer and his director(s) told him he is playing a different character tonight. It worked."

3. Behind the curtain: Ivanka's hand

A senior administration official emails: "The speech was all [Stephen] Miller, but Ivanka worked hard on it with him on many of the parts, especially affirming that the president's desire to have an uplifting and aspirational speech was right. ...

"Notice the focus on women's health. It was Hope [Hicks]'s idea to add the upfront line about how 'we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms.'

"Ivanka was working with Miller in his office in the afternoon on the speech, including the paragraph on 'paid family leave ... women's health ... clean air and clean water.' ...

"A week ago, Ivanka and Dina Powell [senior counselor for economic initiatives] met with the president on those parts of the speech with Steve Miller and Hope, and talked about those issues and how they would resonate in an important way."

4. "Join me in dreaming big and bold and daring"

Trump's top moments:

  • "[I]n 2016, the earth shifted beneath our feet. ... Finally, the chorus became an earthquake."
  • "What we are witnessing today is the renewal of the American spirit. Our allies will find that America is once again ready to lead."
  • "Dying industries will come roaring back to life."'
  • "I am going to bring back millions of jobs."
  • "The time for small thinking is over. The time for trivial fights is behind us."
  • "We are blessed to be joined tonight by Carryn Owens, the widow of U.S. Navy special operator, Senior Chief William 'Ryan' Owens. Ryan died as he lived, a warrior and a hero, battling against terrorism and securing our nation. (APPLAUSE) I just spoke to our great General [Defense Secretary] Mattis just now who reconfirmed that, and I quote, 'Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemy.' Ryan's legacy is etched into eternity. Thank you. (APPLAUSE) And Ryan is looking down right now. You know that. And he's very happy, because I think he just broke a record. (APPLAUSE) For as the Bible teaches us, there is no greater act of love than to lay down one's life for one's friends. Ryan laid down his life for his friends, for his country and for our freedom. And we will never forget Ryan."
5. Our takeaways

Jonathan Swan's "12 things that mattered in Trump's speech":

  • Sought to tie the African-American experience to nationalism: "We've financed and built one global project after another, but ignored the fates of our children in the inner cities of Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit -- and so many other places throughout our land."
  • "Radical Islamic terrorism": Trump is still using the phrase, despite the reported disapproval of his new national security adviser.
  • Crucial language on infrastructure: "To launch our national rebuilding, I will be asking Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure of the United States, financed through both public and private capital, creating millions of new jobs." The key phrase — "that produces," coupled with the mention of private capital — means the Bernie Sanders dream of $1 trillion in new government spending remains a fantasy.

Read the rest on our website, the Axios STREAM.

6. The substance

Jaret Seiberg of Cowen Washington Research Group alerts clients:

  • "[T]he GOP needs to repeal and replace Obamacare. It got significant time during the speech. ... Trump has made clear that this is the top priority. Other issues are on hold until there is Obamacare repeal."
  • "The President also emphasized that immigration is a close second to Obamacare repeal. Though we wished he called it a Huge Wall rather than a Great, Great Wall, ... Trump did not back off this pledge. Getting this done has to come before work on financial and housing reform."
  • "The President did not discuss Dodd-Frank or financial reform. This is a reminder to the market that there are many issues of more importance to the President than changing the bank rules. It is why we remain dubious that the GOP will repeal Dodd-Frank or provide the level of regulatory relief for banks that the market expects."
7. The wilderness

Steve Schmidt on MSNBC: "The Democratic Party is at its lowest point of power in this country since the 1920s. And the Democratic response was made by a 72-year-old, retired, two-term governor from Kentucky [Steve Beshear]. Not by Kamala Harris. Not by Kristen Gillibrand. Not by the Castro brothers. Not by anyone who has a future in the actual Democratic Party. Just amazing ineptitude. ... And on a personal, I do wish the hostages behind him well."

Rachel Maddow, to Schmidt: "There were a number of mannequins with him. ... The response is always trouble. It's always bad. I hear ya on this. I don't think this sinks to the level of Bobby Jindahl."

N.Y. Times Quotation of the Day ... Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.): "I don't think Republicans have decided what they're waiting for — the White House or Godot.".

8. A life lesson from Oprah that I'm going to take to heart

One of the best launches in TV last year was Bloomberg Media's "The David Rubenstein Show: Peer-to-Peer Conversations," starring the philanthropist and Carlyle Group co-founder and co-CEO, who had developed the unexpected sideline of conducting fascinating, funny onstage interviews with the intriguing and powerful.

Season 2 launches today with Rubenstein sitting down with Oprah Winfrey — cleverly enough, in front of a live audience. Per Bloomberg: "Future episodes capture him travelling the country to speak with Duke men's basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman, Former CIA Director David Petraeus, and Nike co-founder Phil Knight."

What Oprah told David:

  • "I've never been to a therapist, but I paid attention all those days on the show."
  • "At the end of the day, whether you are interviewing me or I get to interview you, whatever your profession is, wherever you are in your life, in your relationships, every person that you encounter, every experience, the person wants to know: Was that OK? Was that OK? And what I started to hear was that what people are really saying is: Did you hear me? Did you hear me? And did what I say mean anything to you?"
  • "I would say the word for me now is: I'm content. I'm not just relaxed, I am content. Because I know a lot of rich people who are not happy. But I am not one of them. (LAUGHTER) I am one of the happiest rich people you are ever going to see."

See the episode here beginning at 8:30 a.m., and on Bloomberg TV tonight at 9.

9. Obamas sign bumper book deal

Penguin Random House won the book industry's most coveted contract: a deal to produce the memoirs of former president Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, AFP reported:

  • "The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but bidding for the high-profile double book deal topped $60 million, a record sum for US presidential memoirs, according to the Financial Times." The figure was disputed by Obama sources, who would not give another one.
  • "The deal was negotiated by Washington super-lawyer Robert Barnett who represented former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton" and his partner Deneen Howell.
  • "Barack Obama is already the author of two memoirs and a children's book. He has frequently declared himself to have a 'writer's sensibility' and has said he does not want to write a conventional blow-by-blow account of his time in the White House."
  • "Michelle Obama's memoir is likely to be just as eagerly anticipated."
10. 1 fun thing

Josh Earnest, to Stephen Colbert on a special live, late-night edition of "The Last Show":

  • On his blue tie: "This is the last time I go shopping with Paul Ryan."
  • On Trump aides: "They wanted to demonstrate that President Trump could give a speech other than berating people at a campaign rally."
  • "In terms of lowering the bar, I'm not sure if you can lower the bar any farther than hoping people who are in your party who are in the audience like the speech you've just given."

YouTube here for Earnest on Spicer, fake news, Fox News and more.