March 13, 2020 235 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, in which we rank … drumroll please … NEWS STORIES according to how they affect the 2020 election.

Here’s the deal: After last week’s edition, when we said goodbye to our candidate friends, we solicited your feedback for stuff to rank this week now that everyone’s dropped out. We received plenty of feedback, and most of it was quite thoughtful—only one, really, was a vaguely menacing threat (shout out to Chuck). Many of you wanted potential running-mate rankings, while others suggested ranking gimmicky candidates, gaffes, candidates’ likelihood to get the coronavirus, and potential first spouses.

We may do some of those in the future, but this week we’re trying NEWS STORIES, of which there are many to choose from. These are the stories—or storylines, if you will—that are having the most impact on the election this week. Maybe we keep this theme next week, maybe we don’t. Maybe there won’t be a next week? Because …

Donald Trump, with folded hands
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images.

Rank 1

Last Week

1. Trump’s coronavirus response

It’s bad.

President Donald Trump delivered an Oval Office address to reassure the nation on Wednesday night—and you will not believe what happened next. An instant into Trump’s breathy, slurring, monotonous recitation of words that he’s never thought of in his life, like copayments and anti-viral therapies, market futures were in free fall. Part of that is because Trump, inexplicably, said he was instituting a BAN ON TRADE FROM EUROPE, one of numerous errors he made in his speech. (It turns out he’s instituting a ban on travel from Europe, and not even a total ban.) The president’s posture, aside from saying wrong things on television that instantly fuck up the world, is to downplay the risk spread by the virus. He hasn’t declared an emergency because he is reportedly concerned that it “could hamper his narrative that the coronavirus is similar to the seasonal flu and could further agitate Wall Street.” The narrative’s hampered, guy!! Will his reelection effort be too?

Rank 2

Last Week

2. The economy

It’s worse!

It is not just the stock market, which sucks, or the layoffs, which are beginning. There are the obvious problems for airlines, hotel chains, short-term rentals, ports, and anything else travel-related. But this week the country is starting to shut down. People are staying home and not spending. Supply chains are disrupted. Congress is racing to put together an emergency aid package—the first of what will need to be many—that can quickly pass both chambers and earn the president’s approval. But congressional Republicans aren’t quite sure how much of this “money” the many people who will not be able to do their jobs indefinitely really need—and besides, they’ll spend it all on abortions, anyway. It was only a couple of weeks ago that despite Donald Trump being Donald Trump, he looked to be on a strong path toward reelection given the roaring success of the economy. He must be so mad, so at least there’s that.

Rank 3

Last Week

3. The Michigan Democratic primary

A dagger to Bernie Sanders.

Yes, this happened this week too. Bernie Sanders, faced only with triage options ahead of Tuesday’s primaries in Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Idaho, North Dakota, and Washington, put most of his chips in Michigan. It was the biggest prize of the night, and a place where he needed to demonstrate the strength of his populist, working-class message. But he got blown out—as he did in Missouri and Mississippi, while more narrowly losing Idaho and currently trailing in Washington. The Biden coalition of black voters, surging suburban voters, and (what remains of) white, rural Democrats is giving Sanders little room to breathe.

Rank 4

Last Week

4. The Florida primary

An even more dagger-y dagger to Bernie Sanders.

If you thought Michigan was a blow for Sanders, wait until you see what’s shaping up in Florida next week. The state awards 219 pledged delegates, nearly 100 more than Michigan did, and it’s one of Sanders’ absolute worst. He lost it by 30 percentage points to Clinton in 2016, and he is trailing Biden in the latest polling average by about 45. Florida’s primary electorate is older and more moderate, favoring Biden off the bat. Even worse, Sanders’ relative strength with Hispanic voters in previous states doesn’t translate to Florida, where Latino voters—and not just Cuban Americans—flinch at the “socialist” label. A University of North Florida poll released this week, for example, showed Sanders earning only 28 percent of Hispanic voters’ support to Biden’s 65 percent. There are a lot of reasons for the Sanders campaign to regret that week between the Nevada caucuses and the South Carolina primary, when he had the opportunity to reach out to moderate voters and call for unity and, instead, spent the week babbling about his admiration for Fidel Castro’s literacy programs. That error will look particularly acute this coming Tuesday night. Also: Illinois, Ohio, and Arizona vote on Tuesday too, and there’s no good reason to expect Sanders to win any of those states, either.

Rank 5

Last Week

5. The last primary debate

A dagger to … well, we’re not sure there will be daggers.

The Democratic Party and its media partners finally came to their senses. Due to the coronavirus, they’ve moved this Sunday’s debate—the last one currently scheduled, and likely the last one of the primary as the party closes ranks behind Joe Biden—from the corrupt swamp of Arizona to the true heartland of Real America: CNN’s television studio in D.C. The debate will be Sanders’ last opportunity to change the trajectory of the race, as they say, before the doomsday described in the entry above. He’s signaled this week that he will take a policy-focused approach rather than engaging in the dark arts of personal attacks. We hate to put it so crassly (no we don’t), but the coronavirus outbreak does provide an opening for Sanders: We’re watching the fundamental brokenness of the American public health system exposed right before our eyes. If there’s ever going to be mass, urgent appeal for scrapping the whole thing and starting from scratch, it’s now.

Rank 6

Last Week

6. The end of rallies

Remember when people campaigned for elections?

It started when the Sanders and Biden campaigns canceled their events in Ohio earlier this week. Then Trump canceled his scheduled rallies. Now it’s a complete mystery when we’ll see another campaign rally during this, the Most Important Election of Our Lifetimes, with state after state banning—or strongly urging against—public get-togethers. In the immediate term, this is yet another problem for Bernie Sanders, who risks disappearing from the news if he can’t hold mass rallies that garner local television coverage in the states where he needs to motivate voters. In the general election, we’re potentially looking at a situation in which the campaign is waged almost entirely over the airwaves and through “virtual rallies.” Another interesting hypothetical for the general election: All the voters will have the coronavirus?

Rank 7

Last Week

7. Rudy Gobert

This dumbass might have saved the world.

The Surge does not follow the NBA closely. (LeBron James—does he still play?) So we’d never heard of the Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert until Wednesday night, when he tested positive for the coronavirus, days after touching every reporter’s microphone in front of him as an uproarious joke about the ongoing pandemic. In the end, though, we might need to thank Rudy Gobert. His positive testing precipitated a suspension of the NBA season, with other professional sports leagues following suit over the next 24 hours. Maybe Americans weren’t taking social distancing techniques and personal hygiene protocol seriously when it was just the elitist liberal media hyperventilating about the coronavirus as part of its plot to take down our beloved Jobs President. But not even Trump supporters can deny that something’s wrong when there’s nothing to watch on ESPN.