Slate’s guide to the presidential candidates everyone’s talking about this week.
Welcome to this week’s edition of the Surge, our weekly ranking of 2020 presidential candidates according to how ~spooky~ their health care plans are, and how many ~ghosts~ are in their quarterly finance reporters, and what kind of ~tricks or treats~ are … oh, right, you’re reading this in November. Well, we wrote it on Halloween, so deal with it.
This week, we look at how Joe Biden is getting a bailout of money, which is useful in that it can be exchanged for goods or services. Also: Bernie’s inching up. Warren’s inching down? Pete Buttigieg is putting on a fancy weekend of parties for (donor) people, while Kamala Harris is doing the opposite of putting on a fancy weekend of parties for people (unemploying them). It was, overall, a fairly static week. And in static weeks, we turn our attention to the third tier, where one candidate is goin’ for it—but for what, exactly?
1. Tulsi GabbardSo what’s the plan here?
The Hawaii congresswoman has latched onto a strategy of alienating most Democratic Party voters in order to secure a foothold among those few she hasn’t alienated (as well as with any Republican voters who might want to monkey with the Democratic primary in states that allow crossover voting). She continued to milk her feud with Hillary Clinton—even as Clinton has long since forgotten she was in a feud with Tulsi Gabbard—writing an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal this week arguing that she could defeat both Trump and the “Clinton Doctrine.” Whatever bump in attention she’s gotten from attacking Clinton and from numerous Fox News appearances has produced a slew of decent polls that put her on the verge of qualifying for November’s presidential debate. One of those qualifying surveys, a CNN poll of New Hampshire—where the primaries are open to voters of both parties—showed Gabbard earning 5 percent. The cross tabs of that poll, though, showed that only 23 percent of the state’s Democrats viewed her favorably, compared with 59 percent of its Republicans who planned to vote in the Democratic primary.* Maybe Gabbard can ride New Hampshire polls to a few more debates, but pissing off Democratic voters is ultimately not a good long-term strategy to win the Democratic presidential nomination. It could be, though, that running for president as a Democrat isn’t really the goal, and making a third-party run that could throw Donald Trump the election is.
2. Joe BidenThe bailout is underway.
It is possible to interpret the news of a big-money super PAC forming to help the cash-poor Biden candidacy as a sign of the campaign’s weakness. (“Unite the Country” is the vacant moniker for this depository of million-dollar bills from corporate executives who don’t like socialized anything, but also don’t like Trump’s tweets.) Another take: Biden is still leading in national polling, hanging around in Iowa and New Hampshire and maintaining his South Carolina lead, and now he will have a super PAC that can run ads to help him try to hold onto those slight but meaningful advantages.
3. Bernie Sanders“Bernie’s Back” is maybe working?
The Surge has been impressed the past few weeks with Sen. Bernie Sanders’ return to the campaign since his heart attack in early October. But the Surge is impressed with a lot of things that the rest of the world treats with disdain, like candy corn or Cory Booker. Could the world be seeing eye to eye with the Surge, though, on Sanders’ return? Perhaps, at least, the voters of New Hampshire might be. The “Burlington Stent,” as he’s known now, led that same CNN poll of the Granite State that saw Republicans fawning over Tulsi Gabbard. Sanders has gotten decent results in a few national polls too. How long the Vermont senator’s post-coronary bump lasts, and how high it takes him, will likely depend on the fate of the next candidate in the rankings.
4. Elizabeth WarrenNow what?
Part of the reason Sanders has ticked up is that the Warren campaign, after months of steadily rising in the polls and receiving near-universal laudation for the brilliance of its every move, has finally stalled out—or even ticked down a notch. Does this mean that she must drop out immediately and apologize to the country? Yes. Or more likely, no. Because even with that stalling, Warren is in good shape—arguably the best shape of any candidate, given her strength in Iowa and her ability to draw from both the center and the left of the party. Her path just won’t be as smooth as it’s been over the past six months.
5. Donald TrumpKeeping Republicans in line, for now.
It is not a happy day for the president when 232 members of the House of Representatives vote to formalize the process of an impeachment inquiry against you, as they did on Thursday. It will not be a happy day for him when he is impeached, either. It is notable, however, that after weeks of witnesses giving damning depositions confirming the core of the story on which Democrats are basing their impeachment proceedings, not a single House Republican would vote even for this first, procedural step. If there’s any pressure on them to acknowledge the president’s misdeeds, they’re not showing real signs of feeling it. We’ll see how—or if—open hearings and the release of evidence affect that situation.
6. Pete ButtigiegA big weekend of events* in Iowa!
As we’ll detail in next week’s Surge, this weekend is a major one in Iowa. One of the top cattle calls on the schedule—the Iowa Democratic Party’s Liberty & Justice Celebration dinner, formerly known as the Jefferson-Jackson dinner but recently changed because of … slavery and racism—is taking place in Des Moines. Buttigieg, the rising threat in Iowa, has the most fun slate of events* planned. There will be group breakout sessions* and a big dinner* and a workshop on best practices**. They*** will receive “golden yellow, short-sleeved ‘Iowa for Pete’ t-shirts’ ” to “help our supporters stand out in the crowded stadium.” Should be a rousing weekend for them***!
***— the donors.
7. Kamala Harris😬
This was the week that onetime top-tier candidate Sen. Kamala Harris in multiple polls did worse than Tulsi Gabbard. That symbolic inversion of the polling curve was met with equally damaging real-world news: The Harris campaign, as Politico reported, is laying off dozens of aides from her Baltimore headquarters and redeploying others to Iowa. “The overhaul will touch nearly every facet of Harris’ operation,” Politico reported, “with layoffs or re-deployments coming at headquarters, as well as in New Hampshire, Nevada and her home state of California, a Super Tuesday prize that her advisers once viewed as a big asset.” Part of the explanation was that she needed to save money ahead of a seven-figure ad buy before the Iowa caucuses. We’re starting to wonder if she makes it that far.
One last thing: The Surge thinks that Surge readers in the New York area should watch the next Democratic debate with Slate! On Nov. 20, join Slate’s amazing roster of female journalists for a live and off-the-cuff deep dive into the state of the election, followed by the ultimate debate watch party. Christina Cauterucci, Julia Craven, Ashley Feinberg, Mary Harris, Virginia Heffernan, Dahlia Lithwick, and Nichole Perkins will explain the ups and downs of the primary and shed light on the candidates, their policies, and their media coverage. More information here.