March 06, 2020 242 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 very special edition of the Surge, in which we rank presidential candidates according to, well, whoever’s still running, and then we try to fill the space.


The conceit of this newsletter—that there were too many people running for president to keep track of—has at last caught up with us. Five Democratic candidates dropped out in the five days after Tom Steyer twerked with Juvenile. This week’s newsletter, then, is an opportunity not just to look at the state of the race but to say goodbye to our friends, the failed candidates. (This is so sad. Can they get back in?? We didn’t mean it when we constantly, angrily, and over the course of a year told them all to drop out for being losers! PLEASE.)


This newsletter won’t be going anywhere, and you should still urge (threaten) your friends to sign up. We totally knew this day would come, prepared for it, and have a great plan* in store for you starting next Friday.


For now, though, let’s consider the surge-iest of them all.


*If you have literally any idea what the hell we should rank next week, please let us know at jim.newell@slate.com.

Joe Biden points toward his right.
Joe Biden. Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

Rank 1

Last Week Up from last week #2

1. Joe Biden

Oh!

A couple of weeks ago, we wrote a comeback narrative for Biden that sounded ludicrous. It involved Biden coming in second or third in Nevada, getting a modest win out of South Carolina, and using that to keep “within reach of Sanders’ pledged delegate plurality” and become “the favorite for a second- or third-ballot nomination” at the Democratic National Convention. This was ludicrous: It dramatically underrated the comeback. Looking at Biden’s Super Tuesday success, the rate at which loyal party voters (and ex-candidates) are coalescing behind him, and the shape of contests to come, Biden is now the clear favorite for a first-ballot nomination at the convention. Just like that. This whole time, this newsletter was a prophecy for how the contest would pivot to its end. All the jibber-jabber about “lanes” and “tactics” and “ground game” and “going on the air,” and the dang answer was right there in the title: The race would come down to one big surge. Indiana Jones would’ve solved this riddle in 30 seconds, last June. Alas, Indiana Jones is dead(?).

Rank 2

Last Week Down from last week #1

2. Bernie Sanders

Oh …

At the risk of things getting ugly, let’s talk downward surging. Svurging. Bernie Sanders had the nomination in his clutches after the Nevada caucuses. He now finds himself defending against various potential knockout blows over the next 11 days. The biggest prize in next week’s contests is in Michigan, where Biden was leading even before the boosts he’ll get from Super Tuesday and Michael Bloomberg’s decision to get out of the race. Sanders needs to find a way to win Michigan as a statement victory, and he knows it. From a delegate perspective, though, the biggest race of the night might be Mississippi. Biden, on the strength of his overwhelming support from Southern black voters, won neighboring Alabama on Tuesday in a landslide that will net him 30+ delegates over Sanders. The same will likely be true of Mississippi. Compounding these problems, the following week, Sanders needs to compete in Florida, where a recent poll showed Biden leading him by Alabama-like margins—and where 219 delegates are at stake. So what’s the optimist’s case for Sanders, at this point? It basically comes down to a shrug and a half-hearted “weird shit could happen.”

Rank 3

Last Week Up from last week #4

3. Donald Trump

He might not get Bernie Sanders, but at least he’ll get a coronavirus pandemic.

Trump’s cheeky call for Republicans to vote for Sanders in the South Carolina primary didn’t come to fruition, and things are not looking great for his hope that he’ll get to run against Sanders. Not the end of the world for him; he can always pivot to fomenting anger in Sanders supporters and pushing his congressional allies to accelerate investigations into the Bidens. What might be the end of the world, though, is the coronavirus outbreak, which is spreading across the country and has led the governor of California to declare a state of emergency. The Dow goes down 1,000 points some days and up 1,000 points some days, but more often, it goes down. It’s understandable if this situation is leaving you a little gloomy—or worse, sick, because you have the coronavirus. But try not to worry, because our president has a “hunch” that it’s not so bad.

Rank 4

Last Week Up from last week #6

4. Elizabeth Warren

You are not entitled to her endorsement.

Despite the bluff her campaign was playing ahead of Super Tuesday by insisting that she was going all the way to the convention, Warren dropped out on Thursday following a miserable Tuesday performance, preceded by a miserable string of early-state performances. Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Warren said that she hadn’t made up her mind on who she would endorse, a blow to Sanders supporters who want to consolidate the left as much as Biden has consolidated the center left. There may be a few things running through Warren’s mind here. First, it’s not clear that Warren’s supporters would flock en masse to Sanders, and Warren has to consider that. Second, Sanders doesn’t look like a great bet right now, even if she did magically hand all of her supporters to him. Third, many Sanders supporters have treated her and her staff like shit for months. Fourth, a Warren endorsement of Biden would be so valuable in his party-unifying efforts that she would have serious policy leverage there. Endorsements have to be earned. At least Sanders, himself, seems to understand this.

Rank 5

Last Week
Unranked

5. Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar

We’ve got a lot of losers to talk about so yeah, we’re lumping them together, deal with it.

At the risk of physical injury from Amy Klobuchar, we are making her share an entry with Pete Buttigieg, whom she made a point of outlasting in the presidential race by about 12 hours. Klobuchar also earned extra credit over Buttigieg by endorsing Joe Biden first, and then hours later, delivering him a state primary (Minnesota) that he had no business winning. Buttigieg was not without his brown-noser points, though. His decision to drop out on Sunday, despite co-winning the Iowa caucuses and coming a strong second in New Hampshire, started the trend of selfless sacrifice on behalf of the Biden campaign. What we’re saying is: You may think that the Klobuchar-Buttigieg rivalry, easily the best of the primary, is over. But only one person at a time gets to sit next to Joe Biden on his chartered flights, and covering the fight over that seat is the Surge’s chief objective over the next eight months.

Rank 6

Last Week
Unranked

6. Tom Steyer, Michael Bloomberg

Finally, some data on the great election-buying experiments.

Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg love data the way Donald Trump loves his dog-eared copy of the 1986 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, and they’ve produced some valuable data for campaigns going forward. What, exactly, do self-funding resources several orders of magnitude greater than that of any other candidates get you in a Democratic primary? Can gourmet food spreads at events really convert into victories? What the lavish spending got Steyer in South Carolina—where he spent tens of millions of dollars on advertisements—was 11 percent of the vote. In Super Tuesday states, where Michael Bloomberg spent hundreds of millions of dollars on advertisements, he’ll get about the same percentage of delegates, at best, once everything’s counted. So, what are the “learnings” here? Money alone is great for buying name recognition, and even soft polling leads when the actual candidates are struggling. But on Election Day, the softness of those numbers shows. Also, for the record, even though these guys tied for No. 6 on this list, Tom Steyer is better and more fun than Michael Bloomberg, probably because he has fewer billions of dollars.

Rank 7

Last Week
Unranked

7. Tulsi Gabbard

The final Surge.

Fools! While you were focused on your shiny objects in Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, the seeds of revolution were being planted in American Samoa. In its Tuesday caucuses, 29 percent went for Gabbard, second only to Bloomberg’s 50 percent. With Bloomberg out of the race, the islands belong to Tulsi. They are hers; she rules them. From this beachhead the swarm moves eastward, to Hawaii, before breaching the coast of mainland America in the dead of night. Your “Oregon” will do as an unsuspecting landing spot. From there they grow, they expand, through the forests, the mountains, the plains, until the foot soldiers arrive in Milwaukee for the Democratic National Convention, where their fair leader will be crowned Hero of the Democrats. And, silly you: You thought your nominee would be Biden. But Biden is just a pawn of the regime-change war state. He is but a husk, a decoy you worship before the final revelation of Gabbard Nation.