April 24, 2020 193 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. We were so moved, reader, by your public demonstrations of driving trucks around and brandishing assault weapons outside Surge HQ that we’ve caved: The Surge ranking of coronavirus governors is officially reopened for business.

We’ve rarely, if ever, gotten more feedback than from our first coronavirus governors ranking in March. Never did we imagine there’d be circumstances in which people are sending livid emails about how we weren’t nice enough to their governor. You know Americans are getting cabin fever when state administrators are the hottest trend.

Not every governor is beloved, though, and we’ve tossed in a couple of muppets for fun. To those who are going to be mad at their governor not making this list—looking at you, Phil Murphy’s “P-Hive”—it’s nothing personal. It’s just that we have a whole other coast to prioritize this time.

Gavin Newsom.
Gavin Newsom Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

Rank 1

Last Week Up from last week #3

1. Gavin Newsom

There’s a WEST Coast?

After our last edition, numerous readers accused the Surge of an “East Coast bias.” The criticisms prompted the Surge to do a little research. According to Wikipedia, there is a “West” “Coast” of the United States abutting an entirely separate ocean. This land of enchantment exists three hours in the past. Much of it is dominated by California, and the inhabitants of this fiefdom are subject to the rule of a head of hair named Gavin Newsom. Despite California’s large population and numerous urban centers, Newsom’s aggressive, early approach to combating the coronavirus has kept the state’s cases relatively contained, with its cases-per-million ratio lower than that of other, remote frontier lands like South Dakota and Idaho. Newsom’s success in flattening the curve has allowed his state to donate much-needed medical supplies to those harder-hit areas in the East, too. Such a neat story! Thanks for the suggestion, readers. There is much that we in America can learn from this exotic principality.

Rank 2

Last Week

2. Jay Inslee


They’ve got a Washington state out there too! And holy moly, were you all mad when its governor, Jay Inslee, didn’t make this list last time. The reasoning was simple, though: Inslee is post-ranking. Mere rankings can’t capture the essence of Jay Inslee. Washington state suffered the first real outbreak of coronavirus in the country, and Inslee’s then-innovative clampdown—remember, this was still when Donald Trump was treating the coronavirus as a lil’ seasonal flu that Democrats were overhyping—was successful in stamping out the rapid spread. The state isn’t in the clear, yet, but Inslee, being ahead of the curve, will have an opportunity to show other hard-hit states whether he can manage a successful reopening, too. He’s a good governor! The Inslee Bros tried to tell us this when he was running for president, but we were all “wah wah we want someone more faaaaaamous.” For shame.

Rank 3

Last Week Up from last week #5

3. Larry Hogan

It’s not just Maryland he’s looking after.

OK, back to the real world. The Maryland Republican governor, who also took an early, aggressive, approach to stifling the virus’s spread, isn’t just moving up the Surge rankings because he’s preparing to loosen his golf policy. He’s also a critical leader on the national front as Congress pivots to its next relief package, which will center on aid to broke state and local governments. Hogan is the chairman of the National Governors Association, and this week he sent a letter to congressional leaders requesting an additional $500 billion in aid to states and territories—as well as an allowance that the money can be used directly to replace lost revenue, something that wasn’t allowed in the $150 billion tranche that state and local governments secured in the CARES Act. Resistance to additional aid is developing among some Republicans in Washington, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell this week muttering opposition to “blue state bailouts.” In this fight, at least, it could prove useful to have a Republican as one of the most prominent blue-state governors.

Rank 4

Last Week Down from last week #1

4. Andrew Cuomo

A modest reappraisal.

Was the Surge too generous in awarding the top slot to the New York governor in our last ranking, succumbing too easily to cable news swooning and gubernatorial spin when the reality of his record was more mixed? Having never conceded to an error, we’re not about to start now. Cuomo was slow to shut down New York in the early phases, a hesitancy that made the problem worse. And for all of the useful, comprehensible moments in his nationally televised daily press conferences, there’s the occasional cringe moment too. But his state has, finally, started seeing improvements in the trajectory of the spread, and New Yorkers overwhelmingly approve of the job he’s been doing. He’s seized the national Democratic bully pulpit. On the whole, he’s using it for good.

Rank 5

Last Week

5. Gretchen Whitmer


So you’re saying you want to become an A-list Fox News villain? Here’s your guide. First you’ll want to be a Democrat, and then you’ll want to be a woman. You’re 90 percent of the way there. Next, become governor of a swing state. Light the fuse, finally, by placing restrictions on access to the Home Depot gardening section. KABOOM! Whitmer, after instituting some of the strictest guidelines in the country to stop the coronavirus spread, became the face that launched 1,000 late-model Ford F-150s to circle around state capitols in protest. Though a majority of Michiganders still approve of Whitmer’s handling of the crisis, the numbers have become more polarized along party lines—and she did say on Thursday that she would be reassessing restrictions in the coming days. Does becoming a Fox News villain help or hurt her chances of becoming Joe Biden’s running mate? It’s kind of a coin flip.

Rank 6

Last Week

6. Ron DeSantis

Tired: Rudderless Ron. Wired: Revenge Ron.

Florida’s new daily coronavirus cases are on the downswing, and its governor, whom you jerks all made fun of, is ready not just to declare total victory but to smite all of his enemies. There are a lot of them. DeSantis was one of the most criticized governors in the country for his hesitancy to introduce a stay-at-home order, and only did so after seeing Donald Trump pretending to emote gravitas in a press conference. Nobody gave poor Ron a break. So in his own press conference this week, after successfully declaring that Florida had flattened the curve, he went after the “politically motivated” attacks from enemies, including those in the media with “clear agendas” to take him out. The nerds’ academic models, he said, were wrong: “We did not go the way of Italy, we did not go the way of New York City.” He took a shot, too, at his gubernatorial predecessor, Sen. Rick Scott, for the “jalopy” of an unemployment insurance system he inherited, a stringent and poorly administered one that’s made it difficult for the unemployed to claim their benefits. Any other haters want to take on Ron DeSantis? You can find him at the beach.

Rank 7

Last Week

7. Brian Kemp

Pray that this guy has a clue.

Here’s a quick look at how mercurial GOP politics work in 2020: Donald Trump is in one mood and suggests that states lift emergency restrictions. The Trumpist governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, tries to show off to Daddy and decides that he’s going to begin reopening his state prematurely. Then Trump is in another mood and says that Kemp is absolutely wrong to reopen his state so soon. A Georgia Senate candidate, Rep. Doug Collins, who desperately wants Trump to like him, picks up on that cue and starts trashing Kemp, too, even though he probably doesn’t disagree with Kemp’s decision whatsoever, and who knows if Trump really does. In any case! It would be easy to call Kemp a dum-dum who has no idea what he’s doing. Maybe he is. But if his mind can’t be changed, and he reopens hair salons, movie theaters, bowling alleys, and every other filthy business in which hands are used to touch things in the next few days, we can only hope he’s smarter than he seems.