June 11, 2018

Good Monday morning ...

1 big thing: Trump’s history book summit

President Trump meets with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong today. (Evan Vucci/AP)

As the curtain goes up on what may be the summit of our lifetime (9 tonight ET, 9 a.m. Tuesday local), a dispatch from Singapore for Axios AM readers by Frank Lavin, former ambassador to Singapore under George W. Bush, former National Security Council summit organizer, and now an e-commerce CEO based there:

"When there's confusion or turmoil," Frank writes, "it's to Trump's advantage because his self-confidence is imperturbable." But here are the X factors:

  • "Level of ambition: Trump typically likes the grand gesture, but the moment calls for calibrated steps."
  • "Focus: Trump is the ultimate loner, but the negotiations call for him to pay attention to details and forge a consensus."
  • "Relationships: Trump wants the U.S. to drive policy, but an agreement that does not have buy-in from South Korea and Japan will be undercut from the start. Even China should be courted."
  • "Curveball: Don't be surprised if there's a public gesture such as a two-person walk (a neat trick with no interpreters). Don't surprised if there's a joint meal and public toasts. Don't even be surprised if Dennis Rodman gets in the photo."

Just give me the ball ... Your summit cheat sheet, reminding you of Axios' months of exclusive reporting on how Trump thinks about Kim Jong-un. These insights cascade from the hyper-connected Jonathan Swan (If you don’t get his Sunday Sneak Peek, you're missing a treat. Sign up here):

  • Trump views the North Korean crisis as his “great man” of history moment. He came into office thinking he could be the historic deal maker to bring peace to the Middle East. Now Trump wants to sign his name even larger into the history books, and he views North Korea as his moment.
  • This is the single key to understanding this summit ... A source who has discussed North Korea with Trump: "He thinks, 'Just get me in the room with the guy and I’ll figure it out.'"
  • Trump “definitely thinks it’s a duel of personalities,” says another source familiar with his thinking about North Korea.
  • Trump mostly projects strength behind the scenes. But there’s also been at least one quiet moment when a source saw Trump reflect on how he doesn’t know what Kim is capable of.
  • A little wild unpredictability goes a long way, Jim VandeHei writes: "Even Democrats begrudgingly tell us North Korea would not be returning hostages and talking denuclearization absent Trump’s mad-man routine. The stilted, scripted, sclerotic ways of tradition are not always terribly effective tactics."
  • Lest we get swept up in the theater, a senior GOP foreign policy official wrote us in March: "Kim Jong-un remains a murderous dictator ruling over brutal regime with death camps. Not someone who's looking  for peace."

Be smart: In their final conversation, President Obama warned Donald Trump his presidency would be defined by North Korea. Now, Trump himself sees a peace deal as his “great man” historic moment in power. 

Go deeper ... "The intelligence file on Kim Jong-un": What Trump's briefers know ... "Scoop: Trump’s deal-of-the-decade North Korea plan": burger diplomacy, a symphony swap and a possible embassy.

Courtesy N.Y. Post

2. Setting the bar

Members of the Secret Service counter-sniper team wait outside the lobby of the Shangri-La Hotel, where Trump is staying. (Yong Teck Lim/AP)

David Sanger of the New York Times, on-set in Singapore with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, on "This Week":

  • "[H]aving complained that the Iran deal was a terrible deal, he has to do better than what Barack Obama got ... And what did he get? He got 97 percent of the nuclear fuel out of  the country and got less than a bomb's worth of material and equipment still spinning. If the president doesn't get at least that, he hasn't met his own test, and that's going to be ... very hard."
  • Stephanopoulos: "It seems almost inconceivable to me that ... you get anything close to the Iran deal, at least anytime soon."

3. “The Pardon Game": Celebrity Edition

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

So much of the Trump presidency feels like reality TV. But the pardon
process is turning into a let’s-make-a-deal game show:

  • Trump, the host, has asked friends, staff, celebrities and even NFL
    kneelers for ideas on who to pardon.
  • Should Martha Stewart get one? How about Muhammad Ali? Blago? Trump himself? Anyone?
  • (Programming note: This is not just abnormal, it’s never happened in
    American history. Back to the show ... )

Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt this weekend decided to play along, and floated the notion of a pardon for former CIA director and retired four-star general David Petraeus, sentenced to probation in a leak investigation. I asked Hewitt about his logic, and he replied:

  • "If he pardons General Petraeus, it would be consistent with his campaign rhetoric about the general’s offense vis-a-vis Secretary Clinton, and would also clear the way for the general to return" to service in the administration, perhaps as Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • As to how these forays play on the right, Hewitt said that the Federalist Papers had an "expansive view of pardons, as a sort of early Republic 'messaging' system about not allowing formalism to become too severe."

In recent episodes of "The Pardon Game":

  • Trump posed with Kim Kardashian in the Oval Office as she lobbied for a commutation he later granted.
  • A White House official told the WashPost last week that Trump is “obsessed” with pardons — the president’s new “favorite thing” to talk about. Trump has been quizzing his staff about candidates for clemency, and sources said he may sign a dozen or more pardons in the next two months.
  • Trump said he's thinking "very seriously" about pardoning the late boxing legend Muhammad Ali, convicted of refusing to be drafted during the Vietnam War.
  • Trump tweeted: "As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?

Be smart: The political celebrities — Paul Manafort, Mike Flynn, etc. — made famous by the Robert Mueller probe are certainly watching how easy it is to win "The Pardon Game."

  • Unrelated side note: Trump spent the weekend belittling Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as “Justin,” like he’s the teen star of a new soap opera. 

4. Life lesson: The 90% rule

Courtesy The New Yorker

With Father's Day coming next Sunday, Christoph Niemann, a dad of three sons, drew “Father’s Day Off,” and explained the inspiration:

  • "So much of parenting is different from what I might have imagined before having kids. One of the few things that does feel like a picture book is when I fix something or assemble a piece of furniture and have a child as an assistant. Especially with our youngest one, who’s an eager craftsman."
  • "Our kids are so incredibly different, and even though they’re close in age (ten, thirteen, and sixteen) they’re in such different places in their heads."
  • "[T]he big secret is spending time with them. I read somewhere that — when you’re lucky enough to engage them in a conversation — they should be talking ninety per cent of the time. This is very challenging."

5. U.S. relations with allies fall to new low

"The west was in disarray after Donald Trump left the [Canada] summit early, instructed his officials to tear up the bland G7 statement, threatened to impose more tariffs and called the Canadian prime minister 'very dishonest and weak,'" per the Financial Times (subscription).

  • "Germany and France presented a united front. Berlin’s economy minister said 'the west does not break up so easily' while an Elysée aide said global co-operation 'cannot depend on bouts of anger or words.'"

The long view about the "new world order," from FT global business columnist Rana Foroohar (subscription):

  • "The truth is that this US president is the symptom, not the cause of the problem. While his policy lurches capture headlines, the real story is that the multilateral trading system has been under pressure for some time from deep structural changes in the global economy, namely the rise of China, the shift to a digital economy, and the economic and political disruption those two changes have wrought."

6. Trump's Middle East: "The Enemy of My Enemy"

The New Yorker

"Donald Trump’s New World Order: How the President, Israel, and the Gulf states plan to fight Iran — and leave the Palestinians and the Obama years behind," by The New Yorker's Adam Entous:

  • Jared Kushner "jokingly told Trump that he believed [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu was one of the only politicians who could have challenged him in a race for the Republican Party’s nomination; Netanyahu was that popular with evangelical Christians."
  • "Trump was initially hesitant [to meet Netanyahu]. 'These are two pure alpha males,' a former Trump adviser told me. 'Trump has a powerful personality and a massive physical presence. And Bibi has a commanding presence coupled with immense intellectual firepower that lets him drive the narrative.'"
  • "The adviser said he thought that Trump might have felt intimidated about meeting with Netanyahu, adding, 'He didn’t know if Bibi respected him.' In the end, Trump agreed, and Netanyahu used his time with Trump to create a bond with him and to press his strategic agenda."
  • Why it matters: "The Palestinians seem to be the likely losers in the new New Middle East. As a senior Arab official said of the strategic alliance, 'With or without a peace plan, it’s happening.' A senior Trump adviser said, 'Iran is the reason why this is all happening.'"
  • Worthy of your time.

7. An instant classic

"Meet the guys who tape Trump's papers back together: The president's unofficial 'filing system' involves tearing up documents into pieces, even when they're supposed to be preserved," by Politico's Annie Karni:

  • "White House aides realized early on that they were unable to stop Trump from ripping up paper after he was done with it and throwing it in the trash or on the floor."
  • "One person familiar with how Trump operates in the Oval Office said he would rip up 'anything that happened to be on his desk that he was done with.' Some aides advised him to stop, but the habit proved difficult to break."
  • "Staffers had the fragments of paper collected from the Oval Office as well as the private residence and send it over to records management across the street from the White House ... to reassemble."
  • A fun read.

8. Trump wants energy security to be about electricity, not just oil

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

For decades, America’s national security has been tied to oil. President Trump is now linking it to electricity as he tries to bolster economically struggling coal and nuclear power plants, Amy Harder writes in her weekly "Harder Line" column:

  • Why it matters: America’s presidents have often been able to do largely what they want on policy if they cite national security concerns. (Trump is trying to do that with his protectionist trade agenda, too). Even if these electricity claims are tenuous — and many experts say they are — Trump might well succeed.
  • Keep reading.

9. Beyond the bubbles: The real America

"Rural America has become cavity country: Dentists and patients both struggle to get by," Anne Kim of the Progressive Policy Institute writes for WashPost Outlook:

  • "About 43 percent of rural Americans lack access to dental care, according to the National Rural Health Association."
  • Why it matters: "Poor oral health has an impact beyond mere toothache. A landmark 2000 report by the U.S. Surgeon General found that oral health is intimately linked to people’s overall physical health and is often associated with serious systemic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, as well as the likelihood of complications in pregnancy."
  • "Nevertheless, some 74 million Americans had no dental coverage in 2016, according to the National Association of Dental Plans, putting the dentally uninsured rate at nearly four times the rate for the medically uninsured."

10. 1 Vice thing

"A Company Built on a Bluff: For almost 25 years, Shane Smith’s plan for Vice was that, by the time the suckers caught on, he’d never be stuck owning the company he co-founded," by Reeves Wiedeman in New York magazine:

  • "Smith, who had expected to sell the company in 2016, entered this year with no obvious buyers in sight, and future investment rounds more difficult to come by; even some of its advocates were unwilling to bet Vice was worth what it had been just a year prior."

Why it matters: The piece captures the modern story of wild investor cash, thrown at a wild entrepreneur, who threw crumbs to thousands of young, wild staffers, to create wild content — and the appearance (often a mirage) of wild growth.

Thanks for starting this epic week with us. Summit coverage all day and night on Axios.com.