Slate’s guide to the most important figures in politics this week.
Welcome to this week’s edition of the Surge, one of several weekly political newsletters that has formed an exploratory committee to run in New York’s 10th Congressional District. (This is a joke about New York redistricting! Read entry No. 7.)
This was a lousier week than normal. And while we’re not going to allow ourselves to get optimistic that Congress could act following a school shooting, we will at least take a look at where things are.
The one good thing that happened, though, is that Donald Trump tried to kick a whole bunch of people who refused to overturn election results out of office, and face-planted. Let’s start with the most surprising one.
1. Brad RaffenspergerTrump’s worst defeat yet.
Donald Trump did not have the bad primary night Tuesday that was predicted. He had a worse one. In the race that garnered the most attention, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp bested Trump-backed challenger David Perdue, who ran on a platform of pretending to believe that the 2020 election was stolen. Kemp’s win was predicted, though the 52-point margin wasn’t. The most damaging defeat for Trump, though, was Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s outright win—no runoff—over his challenger, Rep. Jody Hice. Raffensperger had called out Trump’s “stolen election” bullshit head-on when Trump was trying to overturn it, and he seemed to be a dead man walking in his next primary. A sitting congressman, for example, doesn’t just jump into a secretary of state race if he thinks he might not win it. It’s too early to say that Trump’s grip over the GOP has gone limp. It could just be that he’d better think twice about organizing against entrenched state-government incumbents. But his Georgia wipeout will encourage more Republicans to at least test that strength, and the 2024 GOP presidential field may have just gotten a little larger.
2. Mike PenceBecoming a big boy.
Among those who are feeling invigorated and ready to strike following Trump’s recent lapses is Mike Pence, a doormat Donald Trump purchased in 2016 and flung into a dumpster in 2021. Pence began inching away from Trump earlier this year in a speech when he said Trump was “wrong” to claim the election could have been overturned. Baby steps. This week, he hitched his wagon to Brian Kemp and campaigned with the governor the day before the Georgia primary. In an interview with the New York Times, he suggested he was considering a 2024 presidential run regardless of whether Trump runs or not. Good for him! He’ll get dusted … like it will be super embarrassing … but at least he’s standing up for himself like a big boy! In other Pence news, Trump reportedly thought the “Hang Mike Pence!” chants on Jan. 6 were great.
3. Chris MurphyGiving it another try.
Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy has been the Senate Democrats’ point person on gun legislation over the last decade. He’s been mostly fruitless in devising something on gun control that can get 60 votes in the Senate, and he’s not too optimistic about getting something like a background checks bill now. But, as he explained in an impassioned floor speech shortly after news broke of the Robb Elementary massacre in Uvalde, Texas, it’s imperative they try to find a common denominator, whatever that may be, and now. He’s convinced Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to give him a couple of weeks to talk with Republicans to see if there’s a deal to be had before Schumer puts a couple of political messaging votes on the floor and calls it a day.
4. John CornynIs there anything Republicans could agree to?
We described Murphy as “mostly” fruitless in passing gun legislation because one of his gun safety bills did become law during the Trump administration: the Fix NICS Act, designed to shore up the national instant background check system. Murphy’s co-author on that bill was Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who was prompted to act following the 2018 Sutherland Springs church shooting, in which the shooter’s previous domestic violence conviction wasn’t entered into the NICS database. Murphy and Cornyn—who failed last year to reach a deal on any broader gun legislation—are taking the lead again as talks begin anew. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, told CNN Thursday that he’s deputized Cornyn to “come up with a bipartisan solution that's directly related to the facts of this awful massacre.” A broad bill to expand background checks or implement national red flag laws is probably too tall an order. Some tweak that offers grant money to states and localities to tighten up enforcement of gun laws already on the books? That may be the common denominator.
5. Henry CuellarLet’s see ol’ Cuelly get out of this situa—ah, OK, he did.
Progressives thought this would be the cycle that they ousted one of the most conservative Democrats in the House—Henry Cuellar, a veteran South Texas representative. Aside from his general record of impeding and talking trash about the Biden administration, there’s also a corruption element, as Cuellar had his house raided by the FBI in January as part of an investigation into Azerbaijani influence operations. In the March primary following that raid, Cuellar … still got more votes than his recurring progressive challenger, Jessica Cisneros. It wasn’t enough to win outright. So things looked different when, ahead of the May runoff, a SCOTUS draft opinion showing the court was preparing to overturn Roe v. Wade leaked. Surely that would finish off Cuellar, who generally opposes abortion and was the only Democrat to vote against the House’s bill to codify abortion rights into federal law. In Tuesday’s runoff, with (what appears to be) all votes counted, Cuellar … is still leading. It’s slim, and there will be recounts and challenges to come! But he’s still leading. We have the perfect compromise to finally put this national proxy battle between progressives and centrists to rest: What if whoever does win the primary when the dust settles goes ahead and loses the general election? Then everyone’s even.
6. Ted CruzLet’s cut the political theater and get serious: We have a door problem.
To a certain faction in American politics, there is absolutely nothing that can be done to prevent an out-and-out psychotic loon from being able to buy a couple of semi-automatic rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition just after his 18th birthday. There’s no tightening o’ the laws needed there. It is the precise vision of America that George Washington and God had when they were drawing up the whole thing. Where this country has truly gone astray, though, is in its door policy. You look at big buildings like schools, and there are simply doors everywhere. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has a solution. “Have one door into and out of the school,” he argued this week, and have “armed police officers at that door.” The door lobby will have a say about this, but—why not zero doors? Get the United States military to build retractable roofs on every school for aerial entrance and egress, and have students and teachers descend into class each day from the aircraft of their choice. Alternatively, the Pentagon could invest in a nationwide series of tunnels. Iron Dome–like air defense installations, meanwhile, could protect exposed areas such as athletic fields and corridors between buildings. This could all be done for a modest one-time cost of $14 trillion—maybe $12.75 trillion, if the loony left agrees to waive Davis-Bacon wage protections. It’s the only reasonable idea.
7. Mondaire JonesAll you can do is laugh.
When we wrote last week about House Democrats’ New York delegation, members of which were scrambling for a district after state courts tossed out their gerrymander, we noted how Rep. Mondaire Jones, currently representing much of Rockland and Westchester counties, was being pressured out of his district by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the DCCC chair who wanted a safer district to run in himself. The choices that we listed were (a) running against Maloney in a primary or (b) challenging progressive Rep. Jamaal Bowman in his district. The morning after we wrote that, Jones announced that he had picked … (c) the 10th District, covering lower Manhattan and a chunk of Brooklyn? And that means he's running against Bill de Blasio?? And maybe 80-year-old Elizabeth Holtzman, who represented Brooklyn in Congress in the 1970s??? Can we just do the midterms tomorrow and get it all over with????