Nov 20, 2020

Axios AM

🎂 Happy Friday! President-elect Biden turns 78 today.

  • Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,177 words ... 4½ minutes.
1 big thing: Blunt 2020 lessons for media, America

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

All of us — and the media, in particular — need some clear-eyed, humble self-reflection as the dust settles on the 2020 election results. 

  • Here are a few preliminary Axios learnings, narrated by CEO Jim VandeHei:

The media remains fairly clueless about the America that exists outside of the big cities, where most political writers and editors live. The coverage missed badly the surge in Trump voters in places obvious (rural America) and less obvious (Hispanic-heavy border towns in Texas). 

  • Let’s be honest: Many of us under-appreciated the appeal of President Trump’s anti-socialism message and the backlash against the defund-the-police rhetoric on the left.

The media (and many Democrats) are fairly clueless about the needs, wants and trends of Hispanic voters. Top Latinos warned about overlooking and misreading the fastest-growing population in America — but most didn’t listen. Hispanics will shape huge chunks of America’s political future, so a course correction is in order. 

The polls too often sucked. Stop justifying or spinning the reality that public and private polls blew it in too many places, from Wisconsin to individual House races. Yes, some were better than others, but many were off by a very distorting margin. 

The media filter bubble is getting worse, not better. Look at what’s unfolding in real-time: Trump supporters feel like Fox News isn’t pro-Trump enough, while reporters and columnists bolted the N.Y. Times, Vox Media and others because they were not "woke" enough. This is an urgent sign that we are collectively losing the battle for truth and open debate. 

  • This could still get much worse if Trump supporters choose not just networks but social platforms like Parler and Rumble for consuming and sharing their reality, and liberals simply do the same in more traditional places.

Twitter is a mass-reality-distortion field for liberals and reporters.  The group-think and liberal high-fiving was as bad as ever and continues to be a massive trap and distraction for journalists. 

Facebook is a mass-reality-distortion field for conservatives. Look at the content pages that get the most daily interaction (shares, likes, etc.) and it's all right-wing catnip.  It’s not all fake or conspiratorial, but a lot of it sure is. This is a huge problem.

The bottom line: We're losing the war for truth. There's no bigger crisis for media, politics and society than the growing number of people who don't believe facts and verifiable figures. If we don't collectively solve this, we are all screwed. 

  • Two-thirds of Republicans doubt the election was free and fair, despite the fact that election officials in every state see no evidence of widespread fraud.

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  • Go deeper: Jim's VandeHei's safe, sane ways to navigate the post-election period.
2. Trump on an island

Photo illustration: AĂŻda Amer/Axios. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Most of President Trump's closest advisers have completely distanced themselves from his legal effort and are avoiding his lawyers to avoid being swept into their courtroom dramas, Axios' Alayna Treene and Jonathan Swan report.

  • Why it matters: Some of the president's advisers act like they think he can still overturn the election results — because they remain on the payroll and don't have another choice. But talk to them privately, and many say Rudy Giuliani and his team are on a dead-end path.

The true believers are Giuliani and his sidekicks — Jenna Ellis and Sidney Powell — and not many others. Even Jared and Ivanka think this is going nowhere, people who've spoken to them told Axios.

  • Some administration officials say it’s borderline impossible to have a serious policy conversation these days without Trump turning it into a rant about the false Dominion voting machine conspiracy theories.
  • Most hardcore Trump sources have psychologically bailed, and are just waiting out the storm.

Top Trump campaign officials tell Axios the legal team's biggest problem is that it doesn't have a clear strategy.

  • The near-universal opinion: In his efforts to "help," Giuliani could not have done more harm to Trump.

One person who recently met with Trump at the White House said the president is still fired up about the possibility of fraud, and is hanging onto any sliver of hope he could win.

  • "He was in a very good mood — laughing, joking," the source said. "He still thinks he has a shot, while also recognizing it's a long shot."

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3. Biden Day 1: Misinformation flood

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Election and coronavirus misinformation are bound to go into overdrive as President-elect Biden starts enacting his agenda, Axios tech editor Kyle Daly writes.

  • Why it matters: Public trust in science has been badly undermined by politicization. A new president — or even measures to harden online platforms against new misinformation — can't instantly restore that trust.

A big problem Biden will face will be disinformation that discourages people from getting a coronavirus vaccine once one arrives.

  • Alex Stamos — head of the Stanford Internet Observatory and former Facebook security chief — told Axios vaccine distribution should be designated as critical infrastructure. That would authorize government cyber operators to monitor disinformation and work to stamp it out.

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4. Final 2020 map: Biden wins Georgia — by 12,000 votes out of 5 million
Expand chart
Data: AP. Map: Naema Ahmed, Andrew Witherspoon, Danielle Alberti/Axios

More than two weeks after Election Day, The Associated Press declared President-elect Biden the winner in Georgia, with a 0.3% lead. AP's explainer:

  • AP won't call a race that's subject to recount. AP called the race after state election officials said a hand-tallied audit of ballots confirmed Biden leads President Trump by 12,284 votes out of nearly 5 million counted.

The big picture: Georgia voters hadn't swung for a Democratic presidential candidate since Bill Clinton in 1992. Trump beat Hillary Clinton there by five points.

5. America's teachers are running on empty

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

School districts nationwide are facing a worsening teacher shortage because of the coronavirus, further complicating the tough decisions about whether to have in-person classes, Axios' Marisa Fernandez reports.

  • Why it matters: When teachers test positive, fall ill or are self-isolating from potential exposure, many districts don't have enough substitutes.

The risk of infection has also triggered some early retirements and sick-outs.

6. Samantha Power: "Biden's chance"
President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris met online yesterday in Wilmington with the National Governors Association executive committee. Photo: Tom Brenner/Reuters

Samantha Power — Harvard Kennedy School professor and U.S. ambassador to the UN under President Obama — writes in the January issue of Foreign Affairs that President-elect Biden should "pursue foreign policy initiatives that can quickly highlight the return of American expertise and competence":

Three areas ripe for such leadership are: ... spearheading global COVID-19 vaccine distribution, ramping up educational opportunities in the United States for foreign students, and waging a high-profile fight against corruption at home and abroad.

Keep reading.

7. Data du jour: Early warning
Data: Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey. Chart: Axios Visuals

Hat tip: Courtenay Brown and Axios Markets.

8. Mnuchin acts to hobble Fed (and Biden)

Happier days: Fed Chair Jerome Powell and Treasury Steven Mnuchin greet each other after House testimony on June 30. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was one of the heroes of the coronavirus crisis, working with Fed Chair Jay Powell to give the central bank the ammunition to fight the virus-provoked recession. Now, he's trying to take that ammunition away, Axios chief financial correspondent Felix Salmon writes.

  • Mnuchin said yesterday he won't extend several emergency loan programs that were part of the massive CARES Act virus rescue package.
  • Treasury is attempting to force those programs to expire at the end of the year, just weeks before President-elect Biden takes office.

Why it matters: If Mnuchin were successful, he'd effectively disarm the Fed, creating a lot more economic downside for Biden.

  • The new administration wouldn't be able to resuscitate the facilities without new congressional authorization, which'll be much harder to get than it was in April.

🥊 The Fed, which had taken pains to appear on the same page as Treasury, put out a stunning statement saying it "would prefer that the full suite of emergency facilities established during the coronavirus pandemic continue to serve their important role as a backstop for our still-strained and vulnerable economy."

Keep reading for "how it works."

9. 🗞️ Time capsule: Today's lead stories
The Washington Post
The New York Times
10. 1 smile to go
Photo: TPG/Getty Images)

Spotted at the giant panda protection and research center in Aba, Sichuan, China.

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