Jul 5, 2020

Axios Sneak Peek

By Alayna Treene
Alayna Treene

Welcome to Sneak Peek, our weekly look ahead from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, plus our best scoops.

  • 💥 Happy Fourth!

Situational awareness: The Trump campaign "strongly" encourages face masks at Trump's just-announced outdoor rally in Portsmouth, New Hampshire — an attempted reset after his Tulsa rally fiasco.

Tonight's newsletter is 1,328 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Bolton's hidden aftershocks

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The news media has largely moved on, but foreign government officials remain fixated on John Bolton's memoir, "The Room Where It Happened."

Why it matters: Bolton's detailed inside-the-Oval revelations have raised the blood pressure of allies who were already stressed about President Trump's unreliability.

What we're seeing: Bolton's account of Trump's disdain toward South Korea — as a freeloader whom the U.S. has no business protecting — was "met with consternation in Seoul," writes the well-sourced Sue Mi Terry in Foreign Affairs.

  • "After all, it is one thing to suspect that the president of the United States doesn’t care about your country and is simply pursuing diplomacy to get his picture in the newspaper; it is quite another to have the suspicion confirmed by one of the president's most senior advisers," she wrote.

Between the lines: South Korea is far from the only country grappling with Bolton's revelations.

  • European officials, who have spent three and a half years fretting that Trump would withdraw the U.S. from NATO, are treated to a hair-raising account of just how close Trump came to announcing he would do just that.
  • The behind-the-scenes maneuverings from Trump's team to stop that from happening suggest it's still a real possibility.

Associates of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó were also unsettled by the book, according to a source in close touch with his team. And the inner circle of Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro was ebullient about the account, according to a source briefed on their thinking.

  • Though Trump's official position is that he backs Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela, Bolton reveals that Trump has called him weak. Bolton wrote that only a few months after Trump endorsed Guaidó, he had branded him "the Beto O'Rourke of Venezuela."
  • When I spoke to Trump a few weeks ago, he told me he could have gone either way on Bolton's advice to endorse Guaidó, that he was originally inclined not to, and thought that doing so was a fairly meaningless gesture.
  • Trump also told me he would be willing to meet with Maduro. The statement sent shockwaves through Guaidó's inner circle, and Trump walked it back the day after our story published.

The big picture: We may never see another book like Bolton's. It's hard to imagine a future author who has Bolton's access, his pedantry about note-taking, and his willingness to undermine the commander in chief he served.

  • The Russian bounty story will extend Bolton's relevance. Now he's a primary player in an unfolding crisis.
  • And if Trump wins a second term, Bolton's book will have an even longer shelf life. Bolton goes further than anyone has in describing the tactics that foreign leaders and Trump's own aides use to manipulate him.
2. Trump's Tucker mind-meld

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Roy Rochlin/Getty Images and Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

If you want to understand the rhetorical roots of Trump's Independence Day speech at Mount Rushmore, go back and watch Tucker Carlson's monologues for the past six weeks.

Between the lines: Trump — or rather his speechwriter Stephen Miller — framed the president's opposition to the Black Lives Matter protest movement using the same imagery Carlson has been laying out night after night on Fox.

Trump vs. Carlson: Below are grabs from Carlson monologues over the past month, followed by quotes from Trump's July 3 speech.

  • Carlson: "For more than a month, mobs of violent crazy people have roamed this country, terrorizing citizens and destroying things."
  • Trump: "Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our Founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities."
  • Carlson: "The education cartel, enforced on your children, enforces their demands."
  • Trump: "In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance."
  • Carlson: "Few people ever could have imagined that Teddy Roosevelt would be canceled. Roosevelt was the most popular president in American history."
  • Trump: "One of their political weapons is 'Cancel Culture.'" And in a separate part of the speech, "Theodore Roosevelt exemplified the unbridled confidence of our national culture and identity. ... The American people will never relinquish the bold, beautiful, and untamed spirit of Theodore Roosevelt."
  • Carlson: "For weeks we've asked, 'Who will stand up for this country?' And the answer we're learning is Americans. Americans will. It's up to them. Small groups of citizens are beginning to come forward to defend their laws, defend their history and their culture."
  • Trump: "They think the American people are weak and soft and submissive. But no, the American people are strong and proud, and they will not allow our country, and all of its values, history, and culture, to be taken from them."
  • Carlson: "The Cultural Revolution has come to the West."
  • Trump: "Make no mistake: This left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution."

I could go on, but you get the idea: The two are becoming indistinguishable.

Why it matters: Trump's Independence Day speech lays a marker for how he's going to campaign through to November, according to campaign advisers. Perhaps no TV host has ever had such an influential role — whether Trump's team admits it or not — in defining a president's re-election message.

  • Flashback: Trump has told people in recent days that he regrets following some of son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner's political advice — including supporting criminal justice reform — and will stick closer to his own instincts, three people with direct knowledge of the president's thinking tell Axios.

Carlson has become cable news' most-watched host ever, according to Nielsen data. He's also its most controversial. His show has lost numerous major advertisers in the wake of boycotts over his rhetoric about the Black Lives Matter movement.

  • "This may be a lot of things, this moment we are living through," Carlson said last month of the protests. "But it is definitely not about Black lives, and remember that when they come for you. And at this rate, they will."
  • At the time, Fox News clarified that Carlson's comments were referencing Democratic leaders.

The bottom line: If you want to know what Trump's going to say next, keep an eye on Carlson's monologues.

3. Quote du jour

"The commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Sunday declined to defend President Donald Trump's unfounded claim that 99% of coronavirus cases are 'totally harmless' and repeatedly refused to say whether Trump's remark is true or false," per CNN.

  • "I'm not going to get into who is right and who is wrong," Stephen Hahn, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, told CNN's Dana Bash on "State of the Union."
4. Susan Rice slams Trump on Russia as she vies for Biden VP slot

President Obama's former national security adviser Susan Rice came out hard on "Meet the Press" against Trump's response to the intelligence reports that Russia arranged bounties for the Taliban to kill American soldiers.

Driving the news: "Now we learn," Rice said, "that even when it comes to the blood of American service members, this president picks Putin over our troops."

  • "We have a president who is doing our arch adversary's bidding, it would seem, and he's surrounded by sycophants and weaklings who aren't doing their jobs."

Responding to Rice's comments, Yahoo's chief investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff tweeted this story with the comment, "Rice — who ordered WH aides to 'stand down' from preparing tough responses to Putin's attack on the 2016 election — may not be the best messenger on this issue."

5. Sneak Peek diary

Photo: Oliver Contreras/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

The House and Senate are on recess for two weeks.

President Trump's schedule, per a White House official:

  • Monday: Trump meets with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
  • Tuesday: Trump has lunch with Vice President Mike Pence, and the president and first lady will participate in a National Dialogue on Safely Reopening America’s Schools.
  • Wednesday: Trump participates in a bilateral meeting and working dinner with Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the president of the United Mexican States.
  • Thursday: Trump participates in a roundtable with Hispanic Leaders.
6. 1 film thing: Tapper hits the silver screen

I've seen worse reviews, per WaPo:

  • "'The Outpost,' adapted from CNN anchor Jake Tapper's book (subtitled 'An Untold Story of American Valor'), revisits that day [the Battle of Kamdesh] with harrowing verisimilitude, both as a riveting war picture and cautionary tale."
  • "Skillfully directed by Rod Lurie, this engrossing and deeply wrenching thriller dances the same fine line as most latter-day movies that want to honor service and sacrifice, without lapsing into empty triumphalism."
Alayna Treene