Oct 04, 2019 396 days to Nov 03, 2020
The Surge

Slate’s guide to the presidential candidates everyone’s talking about this week.

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Surge, our newsletter ranking 2020 presidential candidates via a formula that was finalized only after extensive negotiations with copyright attorneys representing the Canadian rock band Nickelback.

Your regular host, Jim Newell, is off this week. But I’m here to look at Donald Trump’s still-impending impeachment, Bernie Sanders’ heart scare, and Kamala Harris’ fight with the guy in charge of Twitter. Might there also be some content in “Big John’s Corner,” our premium members-only section for John Delaney news and notes? No, because no one would pay for that. The John Delaney stuff is just in the regular list.

Mike Pence
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images.

Rank 1

Last Week

1. Mike Pence

Worth starting to think about.

On Thursday, a USA Today–Ipsos poll became the latest to find that Americans support the launch of an impeachment investigation into Donald Trump. (The poll found that 45 percent approve of the investigation and 38 percent do not, and in a nice “Americans don’t understand civics” touch, it also found that the public supports Trump’s removal from office—which would require a Senate conviction after a House investigation and vote—by an even larger margin: 44 percent to 35 percent.) Also on Thursday, Trump supplemented his private request that Ukraine investigate Joe Biden with a public request that China investigate Joe Biden, his reasoning likely being that the same right-swing smear author who claims Biden did something corrupt in Ukraine also claims Biden did something corrupt in China. Now, there has been some speculation in the press that committing abuses of power openly like this might be less damaging than doing so in a clandestine way that eventuates “bombshell” reporting, hyped-up congressional hearings, and breathless document releases. But the Surge is going to go with Occam’s razor on this one and say that it’s bad for politicians to do things that voters have just identified as inappropriate in a series of polls. Which means that we’re about due for an Axios story citing anonymous “rumblings” in the “Pence camp” about the possibility of the former Indiana governor taking his boss’s spot on the ticket.

Rank 2

Last Week Up from last week #4

2. Bernie Sanders

A cardiac incident for the 78-year-old candidate.

In most weeks, it would be top national news that a major presidential candidate suffered what his campaign described as “blockage” in one artery, requiring the placement of two stents. (A doctor writing in Slate says that, based on the publicly available information, Sanders’ incident was “very likely a heart attack.”) But this week, it was something the Surge, our brain fully stuffed with images of Rudy Giuliani screaming on CNN that he is going to sue the statues in the Capitol Rotunda for libel, actually forgot about until a colleague mentioned it Thursday morning. Sanders’ wife, Jane, said in a statement that the candidate expects to be discharged by the end of the weekend, and his campaign says he will participate in the Oct. 15 Democratic debate. The Vermont senator seems to possess more vigor, piss, and vinegar than most people of any age, but as far as immediately returning to the trail after being hospitalized for a serious heart problem … well, we’ll see.

Rank 3

Last Week

3. Joe Biden

Mutually assured destruction?

Unfortunately for a certain Joseph B. from Scranton, Pennsylvania, the impeachment poll cited above also found that 42 percent of Americans say there are “valid reasons to look at the behavior of Joe and Hunter Biden in Ukraine,” versus 21 percent who disagree. This is unfair to Joe because, regardless of what you might think about the propriety of Hunter Biden getting paid a ludicrous sum to sit on the board of a random natural gas company, the ex-veep’s work on the Obama administration’s behalf in Ukraine—done with broad international and domestic support—was intended to make corruption prosecutions more common in the country, not to suppress them. But no one ever said that politics is fair, and the increasingly unreliable low-information voter heuristic that assumes both parties are equally unscrupulous is currently working against the Democratic co-front-runner.

Rank 4

Last Week Down from last week #1

4. Elizabeth Warren

Yes, that said co-front-runner.

In two national polls released this week, Warren led the Democratic field—in one by 3 points and another by 6. This is, uh, good for her, and it’s also good that the person closest to her in those polls who hasn’t yet been able to make it through an entire debate without badly flubbing an answer will be attempting to do so at the next one, while also bearing the additional burden of targeted questions about his son and impeachment.

Rank 5

Last Week

5. Kamala Harris

Twitter? Really?

Pulling a big stunt in the hope it pops your stalled campaign into the headlines is a time-honored tactic, and that seems to be what Harris was doing when she wrote a letter to the CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, to ask him to suspend Trump’s account. You can kind of see why she might have thought this was a good idea: It involved the assertive prosecutorial posture that has characterized Harris’ strongest recent political moments. But Dorsey has been asked to suspend Trump approximately one bajillion times, and he always says no, which makes sense, because Trump draws even more bajillions of users to the company’s service on a daily basis, and also banning him is a giant political act that a tech CEO who needs lots and lots of users maybe would not want to make. So what Harris’ letter actually did was emphasize how much less clout she has than the president and the doofy CEO of Twitter. Or, put another way: When someone asked Warren if Trump should be banned from Twitter, her reflexive reaction was to laugh and immediately move on to the next question. That is not the level of attention you want your rivals to be giving to your big moves, campaignwise.

Rank 6

Last Week

6. Pete Buttigieg

Sass levels rising.

This space noted last week that Mayor Pete has started preparing for a potential Biden collapse by overtly positioning himself as the genial, centrist alternative to Elizabeth Warren. This week he made the overtness extra-overt, telling reporters that Warren is “more interested in the fighting part” of politics than in “outcomes,” which is what he cares about. Relatedly, an anonymous staffer for a rival campaign told the Daily Beast that “Pete’s calculation is always ‘How can I offend the fewest voters?’ so it’s not surprising to see him attack candidates who dare to have an original idea.” Everyone’s getting testy!

Rank 7

Last Week

7. John Delaney

’Tis better to have campaigned for nearly three years and still finished last than to have never campaigned at all?

John Delaney has been campaigning in Iowa since the summer of 2017 and is currently averaging 0.7 percent in primary polls, which puts him in a tie for 12th place. Last Friday, he replaced his Iowa state campaign director. “Shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic,” you might be thinking. But that would be insulting to the Titanic, which successfully sailed on top of the ocean for four days before sinking. This is like shuffling the deck chairs on a dilapidated canoe that was preassembled under the iceberg. In other words, ridiculous enough to make the Surge.