The Surge

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

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Surge, a self-governing special independent newsletter. Don’t even think about challenging our autonomy, Slate. [*Gets fired*]

This week, we look at the aftershock of Donald Trump’s risky endorsement of J.D. Vance in the Ohio primary (a mean text was sent) and also at some of the latest moves Ron DeSantis is making as he preps a 2024 presidential bid. And by the way, which Democrats are running for president in 2024? And who’s having sex with whom in the Disney shows now?

Let’s begin with Kevin McCarthy getting humiliatingly busted telling a lie, though, as that combination of words is an automatic No. 1.

Kevin McCarthy's head is seen with his mouth open, against a background of red, white, blue, and purple shapes.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Rank 1

Last Week

1. Kevin McCarthy

Lordy, there are tapes.

When the New York Times reported this week that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said, in the days following the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, that he’d “had it” with Trump, McCarthy responded in typical fashion: with an outraged denial. The problem with this denial, though, was that the story’s authors had the audio to back it up. As of Friday afternoon, they had released two recorded clips of McCarthy on House Republican leadership phone calls, one of which proves that McCarthy considered asking Trump to resign, the other in which McCarthy says, indeed, that he’d “had it” with Trump. Will these documented verbal trespasses against Trump hurt McCarthy’s ability to win a speakership vote if Republicans retake Congress? Eh. If Republicans under McCarthy’s leadership take a comfortable majority of the chamber, which they’re in good shape to do, all else will be forgiven. And Trump, who recently endorsed onetime anti-Trumper J.D. Vance in the Ohio Senate race, is known to give a pass to those doubters who ultimately bend the knee—as McCarthy did a few weeks after the insurrection. The lesson here for public officials, though, is to think twice before denying something from reporters who are trying to sell a book.

Rank 2

Last Week Down from last week #1

2. Donald Trump

A new food fight within the party.

Speaking of J.D. Vance: Trump’s decision to endorse him did not, at all, put an end to the primary hijinks in the state of Ohio. The Club for Growth, a conservative PAC, had endorsed former Treasurer Josh Mandel in the race, and it continues to support him and spend on his behalf. This week, for example, the Club ran another ad that showed Vance criticizing Trump. (This was before Vance, too, bent the knee.) Trump did not take this well, having assumed the Club would come on board with Vance once Trump made his endorsement. As the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman reported, Trump had an assistant send a text to the Club’s president, David McIntosh. “Hi Mr. McIntosh,” the text began, per Haberman. “The President shares this message with you: Go f*^% yourself.” There are less than two weeks until the Ohio Senate primary. We must treasure these remaining moments.

Rank 3

Last Week

3. Ron DeSantis

The guardrails are off.

The Florida governor has never felt more powerful, and this week it showed. The Legislature, at DeSantis’ behest, passed a couple of … aggressive pieces of legislation this week. First, it passed a gerrymandered new congressional map that could net Republicans four additional House seats in the state, after DeSantis refused for months to go along with more modest map proposals. These new maps might be violations of both state and federal law—eh, details—but (a) it might be too late for the courts to strike them down at least for the 2022 cycle and (b) both the Florida Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court are run by conservatives who err on the side of letting Republicans do whatever they want. The legislature also passed a bill stripping Walt Disney World of what is effectively a self-governing authority, because DeSantis is mad Disney spoke out against the “Don’t Say Gay” law and paused its Florida political donations. We shall see if that’s ever implemented! But this is a politician who feels good about his reelection and is using the flexibility that affords him to make some bold moves ahead of a likely presidential run. Caution has been thrown to the wind.

Rank 4

Last Week

4. Joe Biden

So are you running again or … ?

We prattle on so much about which Republican is making moves to set up a 2024 run here or there that we sometimes forget that other Big Question: Is President Joe Biden, who turns 80 this year and looks and sounds like a guy who will turn 80 this year, going to run for a second term that would end in 2029? He certainly is trying to project that he will, as he doesn’t want to be viewed as a lame duck so early in his term. On that note, he reportedly told none other than Barack Obama recently that he’s going to run again, with the “biggest factor” being that he doesn’t think “there’s anyone in the Democratic Party who can beat Trump” aside from him. Indeed, there are many chumps on the Democratic bench. It is a problem. But none of this—not even hot goss from persons familiar with Barack Obama—should be taken as fact until the Biden paperwork is filed and he has an official campaign launch.

Rank 5

Last Week

5. Bernie Sanders

So are YOU running again or … ?

If Biden doesn’t run again, which other Democrats might jump into the mix? A name that’s rarely mentioned is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who’s placed in the last couple of Democratic presidential primaries but has been assumed to be too old to give it another run. (He’s one year older than Biden. Does he seem one year older than Joe Biden? Discuss.) But in a memo to Sanders allies that the Washington Post obtained this week, Sanders adviser and 2020 campaign manager Faiz Shakir wrote that “in the event of an open 2024 Democratic presidential primary, Sen. Sanders has not ruled out another run for president, so we advise that you answer any questions about 2024 with that in mind.” What could things look like if Biden opts not to run? Vice President Kamala Harris would probably run. Transportation Secretary “Mayor Pete” would probably run. Senators like Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, who couldn’t catch fire the first time, could run. And then Sanders could run. Then what would a Biden-less 2024 Democratic presidential primary look like? The 2020 Democratic presidential primary, but if Biden had never entered.

Rank 6

Last Week

6. Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle

A 35-year-old judge basically wiped out the last remaining mask mandates in the country. What have you bum thirtysomethings done with your lives?

’Twas less than two years ago that then–33-year-old attorney Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, who had no prior court experience and was rated “Not Qualified” by the American Bar Association, was confirmed by the Senate to SERVE AS A FEDERAL JUDGE FOR THE REST OF HER LIFE. And golly is she making the most of it from her perch in Tampa! This week she struck down, for the entire country, the federal mask mandate on airplanes and public transportation. It’s gone! She didn’t like the look of it and now—poof! The Biden administration, though, treated this as something as a blessing in disguise. It knows the populace is souring on mandates, but it didn’t want to be the one that lifted this final, major barrier. Now the mandate is gone, and Democrats in power can blame it all on a “Trump judge.” Everyone wins! Except immunocompromised people who don’t want to die. But everyone else!

Rank 7

Last Week

7. Ted Cruz

So what, again, is the problem here?

Really though, why is it that conservatives think Disney is a pedophile “groomer” company that puts out perv content, aside from the fact that the company spoke out against a controversial education bill? Was there a show we missed? It’s Mickey Mouse and Iron Man and whatever, yes? The last Disney movie we saw was Encanto. Girl tries to save her family from losing its magical powers. OK, good for her? So, what’s the problem? What is it? What we’re getting to is this: What is the basis of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz saying on his podcast that conservatives are worried Disney programming could show “Mickey and Pluto going at it” and “you could always shift to Cinemax if you want that.” There’s not a market for programming of Mickey Mouse having sex with his dog, Pluto, on either the Disney Channel or Cinemax. Which side of this cultural battle has the perverted mind here?