Dec 13, 2019 326 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, your weekly newsletter ranking the presidential candidates according to recommendations from the 22-year-old McKinsey consultants we’ve brought in to look at our books. The ranking you see below, along with our side hustle to fix the price of bread in Canada, is projected to earn Surge Enterprises billions in additional profits.

In the meantime: Today we look at distinct challenges facing a number of candidates. Should Joe Biden tell the public that he is old, or just keep that as the absolute secret that it currently is? If Bernie starts winning everything, how will the Democratic establishment counter? How does Michael Bloomberg get humans to like him? (With more money???) Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren, meanwhile, are having their version of a fight (a mutual agreement to be transparent about minor parts of their biographies), and Andrew Yang will bring some much-needed racial diversity to next week’s debate. The guy being impeached, meanwhile, is having one of his most productive weeks of the year.

Donald Trump
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images.

Rank 1

Last Week Up from last week #4

1. Donald Trump

Impeachment with a side of wins.

One hour after a press conference with a few committee chairmen unveiling two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appeared at another press conference, flanked by a much larger group of Democrats, to announce a deal with the White House on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Passage of the USMCA will be the president’s biggest legislative victory since the 2017 tax bill. It will be bipartisan, and it will be the fulfillment of one of the president’s signature campaign promises. There will be a big ol’ signing ceremony with big ol’ AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka. It wasn’t the president’s only legislative win of the week, either: A deal that Democrats and Republicans struck on this year’s National Defense Authorization Act will create the president’s long-desired Space Force too. So. Does getting impeached suck? Almost certainly. But impeachment isn’t hurting Trump’s approval rating, he’s getting things done, Republicans aren’t breaking from him—they’re not even bending—and soon they’ll be running the show, on their terms, in the Senate trial. It’s only appropriate that in our broken times, the week in which impeachment articles were approved in committee was one of the president’s best weeks of the year.

Rank 2

Last Week Down from last week #1

2. Joe Biden

“Signaling” the obvious.

Politico reported this week that the former vice president has been “signaling” to aides and allies that he “will almost certainly not run for a second term” should he win a first one. Well, yes, that’s been adequately “signaled” to anyone who’s Googled his age or watched him participate in the second half of any debate. The politics of admitting the obvious, though, are treacherous. Were he to commit himself to one term, he’d instantly become a weak, lame-duck president. But even conceding that he might be too old for a second term will raise doubts in voters’ minds about whether he is too old for a first term. “[Candidate] should make a one-term pledge” is a quadrennial pundit fantasy, and like most pundit fantasies, there are great reasons for why it never happens. Which is why Biden’s deputy campaign manager tried her best to shoot it down.

Rank 3

Last Week

3. Bernie Sanders

How this could get “fun.”

There aren’t a lot of hard Bernie Sanders news developments this week, so let’s just drop him in the three-spot and airily speculate about him. There is a not-absurd chance that Sanders could go three for three in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada. According to the latest polling averages, he’s second in Iowa, first in New Hampshire, and effectively tied for second in Nevada. Were any other candidate to win all three early states, the party would begin circling the wagons behind its presumed nominee. Something tells us that would not be the case for Sanders, and that the Democratic establishment, including Barack Obama, would launch an all-out effort to stop him. From a purely experimental point of view, this—you know, watching the Democratic Party implode in real time—would be a fascinating thing to witness. Donald Trump would probably enjoy it too.

Rank 4

Last Week Down from last week #2

4. Pete Buttigieg

It is he, he is the evil corporate monster.

Jiminy Christmas, is there anything more twee and Democrat-y than a “fight” between Saint Pete Buttigieg and Saint Elizabeth Warren over transparency that ends with each side immediately acquiescing to the other’s demands? In a speech last week, Warren called on Buttigieg to open his fundraisers to the press, shed some light on his big-dollar donors, and reveal the clients he worked for at McKinsey. How would “Tricksy Pete” get out of this one? His ingenious strategy was to, uh, agree to do all three immediately …

Rank 5

Last Week Up from last week #7

5. Elizabeth Warren

Nay—it is she, she is the evil corporate monster.

… Meanwhile, to counter, Buttigieg demanded that Warren be more transparent about the corporate legal work she’s done over her career. How would “Tricksy Liz” get out of this one? By, uh, releasing a detailed accounting of her corporate legal work on her website immediately. And so the big fight over transparency ended as soon as it started, with nary a side even once accusing the other’s father of assassinating JFK or saying that his or her spouse was hotter. Now that this is settled, which grisly dispute should we expect next? Buttigieg demanding a thorough accounting of Warren’s overdue library book fees while Warren asks for the precise dollar amount that Buttigieg raised for the Salvation Army?

Rank 6

Last Week

6. Michael Bloomberg

About that “electability” argument.

In the few weeks since he’s announced his presidential bid, the megabillionaire former New York City mayor has spent about $100 million to bring his national polling average to 5.5 percent. That’s $18.2 million per percentage point. And honestly, 5.5 percent isn’t a bad average for a few weeks! It’s much better than, say, Amy Klobuchar (2.5) and Cory Booker (1.8), who have been schlepping around Iowa for months. It’s just a question of how much Bloomberg can grow. In a Monmouth poll this week, he earned the lowest net-favorability score of any candidate, with 26 percent viewing him favorably and 54 percent unfavorably. This is the problem with pitching yourself as the “electable centrist”: Republicans hate you because you’re not a Republican, and Democrats don’t like you because you’re not really a Democrat, either. It’s hard to be electable without a constituency. But still, we’d like to see where another $100 million gets Bloomberg and how quickly the returns diminish. It won’t get him into the next debates, though, as his self-financing strategy leaves him 199,999 unique donors short of the 200,000 that he needs.

Rank 7

Last Week

7. Andrew Yang

Lives to debate another day.

It would be surprising enough if we went back in time a year and said that only one candidate of color, in the most diverse presidential primary field in history, would make it to the debate stage in the December before the election year. It would be even more surprising, though, to have said that that one candidate would be Andrew Yang. Yang, the entrepreneur who was considered a minor candidate this time last year, just qualified for the Dec. 19 debate this week, one of only seven to make the cut and the only nonwhite candidate to participate, as Kamala Harris dropped out of the race while Cory Booker, Tulsi Gabbard, and Julián Castro didn’t meet requirements. It’s never a bad time to remind ourselves: Surge, never make predictions! (Andrew Yang will be the nominee.)