Aug 1, 2017

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

Good Tuesday morning, and welcome to August. It's Day 194. Tom Brady is 40 on Thursday.

1 big thing: The chief's next tests

Booting Mooch was the easy part — hardly a fair fight for a four-star general.

Here are five factors that'll help determine how the history books (and imagine how many there'll be!) treat White House Chief of Staff John Kelly:

  1. Can he attract hefty new talent? (And how long can he keep the few gems that he has?) One of the corners this White House has painted itself into is the inability to get sane, successful, proficient Republicans to join the Trump show, either to fill vacant slots or as replacements in the coming wave of departures (which happens after Year 1, regardless of who is president).
  2. Can he engineer a big Hill win? Kelly is experienced in working the Senate from his days as the Marine Corps commandant's legislative assistant (2004-07), and he 's going to find extreme unhappiness with this White House's approach to policy, messaging, strategy and tactics.
  3. Can he shield POTUS from Mueller? We're going to have document and interview requests, perhaps pleas of the Fifth by people close to Trump. The special counsel has a rich new vein to exploit with today's WashPost front-pager (denied by Trump's legal team): "Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had 'primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children.'"
  4. Can he mobilize this thinly staffed, inexperienced administration for a genuine crisis? The fact that there hasn't been a transcendent national security event, at home or aboard, is a miracle that can't last. With the military provocation by North Korea and the diplomatic aggression by Russia, he may get his chance quickly.
  5. Can he restrain President Trump from petty tussles, pointless tweets and random self-indulgences? Kelly has certainly marked his territory. But Trump is the ultimate boss. And as we've been telling you for a year: If there's one guy who's not changing, it's the 70-year-old billionaire with his name on the building.

Be smart: People in the room tell me that Kelly's first test will be when something bad happens and POTUS wants to react, when he'd be better off holding his fire.

And Jonathan Swan adds: Kelly is an almost perfect lab test of whether a Trump White House can be functional. He has all the ingredients to succeed: He's been granted unprecedented authority (for Trump), he's revered by all internally and has no dog in the factional wars in the West Wing. If he fails, we'll know this White House is truly ungovernable.

Keeper quote ... An eternal Trump truth, tweeted post-Mooch by Maggie Haberman: "There are two types of non-family members in Trumpworld. Permanents & instruments. Sometimes instruments mistakenly think they're permanents."

2. Behind the curtain

Axios' Jonathan Swan sent me a late-night "Few things" email, based on his conversations today with White House sources and people close to the White House:

  1. There's no question about who is in charge. Kelly overrides all factions. Jared, Ivanka, Bannon are all making a show of deference.
  2. Big unknown on who will be comms director. Some names being discussed internally — Kellyanne Conway, Jason Miller, and several people in senior positions at major interest groups or P.R. firms. (From what I can gather, this is all early, informal, at the list-gathering stage. Kelly will have ultimate say.)
  3. Kelly's job is not to tame Trump or stop him from tweeting; nobody can do that. It's to manage the staff and get the staff working together and serving POTUS better, rather than looking out for their own interests and scurrying to their corners and guarding their own reputations every time the President does something outrageous.
  4. Mooch's friends and associates are dejected after tasting brief, seemingly unfettered, access to the presidency. Several mused to me variations of "if only he could've kept his mouth shut," "if only he could've dialed it back a few notches," "if only he didn't come in quite so hot." But none were particularly surprised. If Mooch did any of those things they suggested, he wouldn't be The Mooch.
3. 6 months of departures

Go deeper: Click here for an awesome Axios card deck on "The quickest exits from Trump's administration," by Stef Kight, who today (along with Catherine Sheffo) celebrates her Axios-versary — one year with Team Axios.

4. "We’re on the road to a new Cold War"

WashPost lead editorial: "Twenty-five years after the Cold War ended, relations [with Russia] are back in a deep freeze."

"Putin behaves as though he believes Russia is walking tall. Perhaps in his zero-sum world, he takes satisfaction in the chaos rippling through U.S. politics, but his tactics have backfired badly in both Ukraine and the United States. And Mr. Putin's choices have been costly for Russia, its economy and its people."

P.S. Jerry Seib column in Wall Street Journal, "Turmoil in Washington Masks Global Threats": "[T]here always is the suspicion that a president embattled at home is looking for a distraction abroad. Even if there's a real crisis, there would be charges the White House is pumping it up to divert attention. 'Wag the Dog' suspicions are never far beneath the surface."

5. Trump in his own words

From Trump remarks to the pool, at yesterday's Cabinet meeting: "We have some interesting situations that we'll handle: North Korea, Middle East, lots of problems that we inherited from previous administrations. But we'll take care of them. We'll take care of them very well. ...

"We'll handle North Korea. We're going to be able to handle them. It will be handled. We handle everything."

6. Big in the West Wing

Wall Street Journal op-ed by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, "Free Trade is a Two-Way Street: China, the EU and other trading partners put up formidable barriers to imports from America" (subscription):

  • "Defending U.S. workers and businesses against this onslaught should not be mislabeled as protectionism. Insisting on fair trade is the best way to ensure the long-term strength of the international trading system."
  • "The Trump administration believes in free and fair trade and will use every available tool to counter the protectionism of those who pledge allegiance to free trade while violating its core principles."
  • Quick analysis for Axios AM by Jonathan Swan: "This is a noteworthy piece, I think. Seems timed to pre-spin some controversial Ross-Bannon-Navarro trade actions. The last couple of paragraphs [above] tell me they're anticipating aggressive pushback from the WTO. Looks like we're in retaliatory tariff land!"
Bonus: Tweet du jour
7. Top talker

Sen. Jeff Flake, a conservative Republican from Arizona, goes after Trump in a book out today from Random House, "Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle," per this writeup from the Arizona Republic:

  • "In a section under the rubric 'What Would Goldwater Do?' Flake catalogs a litany of Trumpian sins against conservative thought and action, from protectionism, to ducking entitlement reform, to praising dictators."
  • "Flake describes the 2016 presidential campaign as a 'sugar high of populism, nativism, and demagoguery.'"
  • "Conservatives ... practiced a politics that was 'a race to the bottom to see who can be meaner and madder and crazier.'"

N.Y. Times review by Jennifer Senior: "Flake has gone 'Bulworth' on us."

8. The talk of tech

"How to Prepare Preschoolers for an Automated Economy" ... N.Y. Times Quote of the Day ... Marina Umaschi Bers, a professor of computer science and child development at Tufts University who directs a research group that is working in part on how to prepare children for an increasingly automated economy:

  • "Technology can be a vehicle to help people create and collaborate better, but at the end of the day, people need to learn to work with people."

"S&P 500 to exclude Snap after voting rights debate," by Reuters' Trevor Hunnicutt: "The S&P 500 will start excluding companies that issue multiple classes of shares, ... a move that effectively bars Snap after its decision to offer stock with no voting rights."

  • "Existing components of the S&P index with several share classes — such as Google parent Alphabet and Berkshire Hathaway — will not be affected."
9. The talk of Hollywood

"USC study finds movies are still dominated by men, on- and off-screen," by L.A. Times' Sonaiya Kelley:

  • "At USC's Viterbi School of Engineering Signal Analysis and Interpretation Lab (SAIL), ... a team of researchers used automated software to analyze the sophistication of language and character interaction in nearly 1,000 scripts, poring over 53,000 dialogues between 7,000 characters."
  • "What they found was ... 4,900 male characters to 2,000 female characters ... [M]en participated in 37,000 [of the dialogues], the women got only 15,000."
  • "Women fared better as producers — only three times as many men as women — and were the majority of the casting directors by almost 2-1. That the majority of casting directors were female seemed to have no effect on the gender makeup of characters."
  • "[T]he female characters tended to be about five years younger than their male counterparts and not central to the plot."
  • Why it matters: "Stereotypes — of gender, age and race — abounded when films addressed topics including emotional arousal (excitement), valence (positive and negative emotion), sex, achievement, religion, death and swearing."
10. 1 fun thing

L.A. Times top of front page, "L.A. officials agree to host 2028 Olympics: In a financial arrangement 'too good to pass up,' the city brings the Summer Games back to Southern California for the third time," by David Wharton: "The arrangement ... lets Paris go first with the 2024 Games.""L.A. will [save] billions ... by using existing venues such as Staples Center, Pauley Pavilion and the Coliseum.Trump statement: "For the first time in a generation, the Olympics are coming back to the United States ... And I am proud to support LA 2028."

Mike Allen