Slate’s guide to the presidential candidates everyone’s talking about this week.
Welcome to this week’s edition of the Surge, your weekly newsletter ranking presidential candidates according to how angry they get with old people whom they nickname “Fat” while making jokes about how they’re fat and old. (Huh. Our opening ranking-criteria joke actually checks out this week.)
Today we look at what’s still a fluid race with less than two months to go before voting begins. Pete Buttigieg talked to not just one black person this week, but several. Bernie Sanders is building strong support among Latino voters, Donald Trump is maintaining strong support among quislings whose careers he could destroy with a single tweet, and Cory Booker’s super PAC is running explosive ads about how he earned a graduate degree abroad prior to enrolling in law school. Elizabeth Warren is losing, and Kamala Harris has lost. So who’s winning?
1. Joe BidenWho else?
Though the race is still up for the taking and there’s no dominant front-runner, it’s worth taking stock in this first December edition of Which Candidate, Narrowly, You Would Want to Be. So at the risk of cannibalizing downstream entries, let’s run through it: Pete Buttigieg is in good shape in the Caucasian principalities of Iowa and New Hampshire but has earned, at best, indifference and, at worst, antipathy in the ensuing states. Bernie Sanders is within striking distance in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, but has been stuck the entire year in that limbo state of “striking distance.” Elizabeth Warren has been in free-fall for the past month. Maybe, then, you would want to be the candidate who’s not out of it in Iowa or New Hampshire, has held a consistently dominating lead in the early-state contest that feeds into Super Tuesday, just saw a tormentor drop out, and is starting to collect major party-elder endorsements. But go ahead, make fun of Joe Biden’s slogan.
2. Pete ButtigiegA swing through the South.
When Pete Buttigieg arrives in Iowa, throngs of hundreds of thousands erupt into choreographed dances on the tarmac before getting on their knees and offering him bushels of their finest corn and soybeans, chanting his name in the solemn tones reserved for a messiah. It must be a shock for him, then, when he goes to the South, as he did this week on a four-day swing through North Carolina, South Carolina, and Alabama, and most people simply don’t know who he is—or worse, they do. During this tour, Buttigieg opted for small meetings with groups of black voters instead of rallies, where in the past he’s run into such optics troubles as having only white people show up in nearly all-black cities. The visit, we suppose, was successful in the “his campaign was able to take pictures and videos of him talking to black people” sense. It wasn’t without some head-scratching lines, though, like: “I have to confess that I was slow to realize, I worked for years under the illusion that our schools in my city were integrated.” Ah, no worries, Mayor P—wait, really?
3. Bernie SandersKeep an eye on his Latino support.
Since the most overlooked early-state contest is the Nevada caucuses, and the most overlooked top-tier presidential candidate is Bernie Sanders, it makes sense that Bernie Sanders’ potential in Nevada is one of the most overlooked aspects of the race. It’s a caucus state, which helps well-organized campaigns, and it’s the first state to feature a significant Latino vote. Sanders is one of the strongest candidates among Latino voters, raising leaps and bounds more money from Latino donors than other candidates. The strength among these voters will help Sanders come Super Tuesday and delegate-rich contests in the Texas and California primaries, the latter of which he’s leading in the most recent poll.
4. Donald TrumpKeeping his party together.
Just another week of our very normal presidential times: President Donald Trump huffed his way out of a NATO summit early because a bunch of world leaders and a member of the British royal family were overheard making fun of him at a cocktail party, and, let’s see here, articles of impeachment against him are being drafted and should be approved by the end of the year? While he does not appreciate being impeached, he should be relieved that any chance of his party dumping him is now pretty much gone. There’s not a single Republican member in the House of Representatives willing to impeach him on the evidence thus presented, and Adam Schiff is satisfied enough with the evidence to have stopped freezing the Judiciary Committee out of the impeachment process.
5. Cory BookerGoing to need better material than “the other Rhodes scholar” here.
One of the only funny aspects of our broken campaign finance system is seeing what cues super PACs pick up from the campaigns they’re supporting but with whom they can’t coordinate. Consider Cory Booker, who, in the most recent debate, made a brief aside about how he, like Buttigieg, was a Rhodes scholar. United We Win, the new super PAC backing Booker and pledging to spend $1 million to help him, saw that and thought, That’s the ticket. Its first Iowa ad, thus, is all about how Booker is the “Rhodes scholar mayor” who “has what it takes to beat Donald Trump.” Yes, this is the big reveal from the super PAC that is desperately trying to get Booker into the December debate and prolong his campaign. They’re going to need something with a little more “pop” to break through. Perhaps the next ad’s narrator, tabbing through the headlines for a hook, can challenge Biden to a pushup contest?
6. Kamala HarrisAh! Well. Nevertheless.
In the last edition of the Surge, we ranked Harris No. 2 on our list. In a way, we were correct: At the end of this process, there will be only one nominee, and the second-place candidate will be out of the race. We did not think Harris would drop out quite this soon, however, and if any second-tier candidate was to make an unforeseen move down the stretch, Harris appeared to be in good position. What was “unforeseen” to us, though, was that Harris had roughly zero dollars to continue her campaign, and that she would decide to call it quits rather than go into debt. We had thought over the summer and fall that Harris might be running into a Marco Rubio problem: a candidate who’s great on paper and generally acceptable to most party factions but unable to develop a base of support. Instead, she had a Scott Walker problem: same thing, but doesn’t even last until the election year.
7. Elizabeth WarrenSoooooooooooooooooooooooooo what now?
There’s a reason we’re putting Warren beneath a candidate who just dropped out: At least Harris gets to have a fun vacation now. Let’s look at where Warren—who was nearly anointed the Democratic nominee a couple of months ago before getting bogged down in a single-payer swamp—has fallen. Her national polling average is now at 14 percent, down from an October peak of 27. She’s gone from 23 percent to 18 in Iowa and 27 to 14 in New Hampshire. Warren is not out of the race, but we still need to determine if she’s hit her bottom yet and, if she has, whether she’s put the health care debacle far enough behind her to resume a climb to the top.