The Surge

Slate’s guide to the most important figures in politics this week.

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Surge. Did you hear that Marjorie Taylor Greene said “gazpacho police” this week? You did!? Well, that’s out of the way then.

This week, Democratic leaders across the country followed the poll num—er, followed the science and determined that COVID was over, and it was time for American society to return to normal. We will also check in on this week’s star Old Crank in Congress. And why don’t any top-notch Republicans want to join the Senate?

But first, let’s electrify you with an update on the celebrity every man, woman, and child across the country knows as “Mr. Entertainment.”

Mike Pence.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

Rank 1

Last Week

1. Mike Pence

He stood up for himself. Something must be off …

Last week, we wrote about how former President Donald Trump had evolved into openly saying that his doormat, former Vice President Mike Pence, should have “overturned the election” in Trump’s favor. Presumably Trump felt that Pence would just take this degrading abuse, since that is how Pence has rolled for the past six years. Remember that time that Trump egged on a mob that broke into the Capitol and chanted, “Hang Mike Pence”? If there was ever a time to 25th-Amendment Trump’s ass, that was it. But Pence just took it, and since leaving office, he’s kept pretty quiet. That changed last week. In a speech to the Federalist Society, Pence said that “President Trump is wrong,” and that he, Mike Pence, “had no right to overturn the election.” That may be the bare minimum of a “rebuke” to Trump, but you’ve got to start somewhere. But that he even bothered to start somewhere, when there was no indication otherwise that preserving his dignity meant much to him, is another small indicator that Trump’s grip over the party is weakening.

Rank 2

Last Week

2. Democratic governors

It appears there has been a bad poll.

Within about a week, Democratic leaders across the country have gone from casting anyone opposing continued mask mandates as knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing, anti-science lunatics to racing to see who can ditch their mask mandate the quickest. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday that he will put an end to his state’s mask mandate, and in short succession, Dems in Oregon, Delaware, Connecticut, New York, California, Illinois, and elsewhere followed. These leaders’ rhetoric has shifted, too, with a noticeable pickup in messaging about how it’s time to move on from nonpharmaceutical interventions against the pandemic and return to “normalcy.” Now, the timing does make sense, given the decline in new omicron cases. That the switch flipped so abruptly, though, reads like the Democratic Party High Command received the mother of all sucky polls about how frustrated voters have become with restrictions. (By the way: If you are in Democratic Party High Command—and we know you are!—please send the mother of all sucky polls to the Surge.)

Rank 3

Last Week Down from last week #1

3. Donald Trump

Only the most beautiful “top secret” documents are at Mar-a-Lago.

Once again, we have to question whether Trump’s well-voiced concerns about Hillary Clinton’s record-retention practices during the 2016 election were on the level. This week, news came out that the National Archives had to go down to Mar-a-Lago to retrieve 15 boxes worth of junk Trump took with him—including his treasured “love letters” with Kim Jong-un and the map from Sharpiegate. So at least the story let us relive those cherished moments from the Trump administration. But things took a more serious turn later in the week, when the Washington Post reported that some of the retrieved items were classified, “including documents at the ‘top secret’ level.” The Justice Department is reviewing whether this amounts to a criminal violation. What do you guys think? We think Trump is going to jail, forever. Wait—no. We think Trump gets away with this and faces no consequences for his actions. He won’t even have to pay a single White House plumbing bill.

Rank 4

Last Week

4. Hal Rogers

This Week in Old Congressional Cranks.

For this week’s segment on Old Congressional Cranks, we turn to Kentucky Rep. Hal Rogers. Rogers is one of those members who, well, why is he still in Congress? He is 84 years old and was first elected in 1981. He reached the apex of his career—chairing the powerful House Appropriations Committee—in 2011, and was term-limited out of that post in 2017. Five years later, he is still around. Why? To what end? But we digress. This week, Rogers got on the train to vote when Ohio Rep. Joyce Beatty, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, asked him to put on a mask. He didn’t do that, but he did poke her (??) and tell her to “kiss my ass.” Rogers would later apologize to Beatty in person and say in a statement: “My words were not acceptable.” Thus concludes This Week in Old Congressional Cranks.

Rank 5

Last Week

5. Stacey Abrams

If the dang kids are wearing masks, put on a mask!

Another theory for why Democratic governors started ditching mask mandates lickety-split this week: It was the only way to stop them all from getting in trouble. The first rule for politicians who support public health mandates is to abide by those mandates themselves. California Gov. Gavin Newsom had to go through a whole recall election because he went to a fancy dinner at the height of COVID. Boris Johnson might lose his job running the United Kingdom because he hosted “bollocks quizzy parties” during the COVID lockdown. So it was not a great look when a couple of Democrats—Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and Michigan Rep. Elissa Slotkin—had their photos taken while they were maskless in a sea of mask wearers. Abrams’ photo was especially clumsy, as she was maskless in a sea of masked children. Abrams has since apologized. But now Democrats are done with masks—masks? Who? Us?—and don’t need to worry about this anymore.

Rank 6

Last Week

6. Larry Hogan

Another failed Republican Senate recruit..

Another one of Mitch McConnell’s major recruiting pushes hit a wall this week, as Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced he wouldn’t challenge Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen for the Senate in 2022. Although the circumstances were different—even for a popular Republican governor, a state as blue as Maryland would be a long shot in a federal race—the announcement was reminiscent of New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu’s refusal to do the same. This is all a little hinky. Joe Biden’s approval ratings are as ugly as they get, and if things stay this way, Republicans should be able to take back the House and Senate in a cinch. Even in this environment, though, they can’t field top recruits in Maryland, New Hampshire, Colorado, or Arizona. What is the problem? Is there something lacking in the appeal of a job where you vote “no” on assistant secretaries of agriculture a few days a week and then peace out on a congressional fact-finding trip to beautiful … let’s see here … Eastern Europe. Is McConnell not selling the free catered lunch perk hard enough?

Rank 7

Last Week

7. Nancy Mace

The perils of trying to straddle the fence with Trump.

The freshman South Carolina congresswoman has been all over the map in her first year in Congress. One day she’s blaming Trump for Jan. 6; the next she’s not voting to impeach him over it. She’s getting in fights with Marjorie Taylor Greene for being an embarrassment to the GOP one day, and then another day making fun of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for being scared on Jan. 6. She wants to have her dignity and eat it too. The problem with Trump is that straddling isn’t good enough, and he will force the choice between apostasy and submission. And this week, despite Mace’s history of working for Trump’s first campaign and supporting him most of the time, Trump endorsed Mace’s primary opponent, Katie Arrington. Mace’s “remarks and attitude have been devastating for her community,” Trump said in the endorsement statement, “and not at all representative of the Republican Party to which she has been very disloyal.” Mace could’ve taken this opportunity to lean further into apostasy. Instead, she shot a video outside Trump Tower in New York City talking about how great Trump is. Maybe Trump’s grip over the party is weakening. But it’s not weak.