The Surge

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

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Surge, the most dramatic Beltway email product this side of the Washington Post editorial listserv.

This week, we recap the first in a series of hearings from the House Jan. 6 committee, in which the members will outline their findings on Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election and how much of a wuss Kevin McCarthy was as those efforts were happening. The hopes for gun legislation are still alive, but time’s running out. A forgotten character from the 2010 midterms has reemerged, and you won’t believe which Führer from Nazi Germany he’s describing as a “doer.”

Let’s start, though, with the main subject of this week’s big hearing.

Donald Trump grimacing
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Chet Strange/Getty Images.

Rank 1

1. Donald Trump

Thinking beyond the midterms.

Thursday night’s prime-time hearing from the House Jan. 6 committee served as a summation of what the committee has learned over the last year, and a teaser for what it’s going to share in the coming weeks. The thesis, primarily laid out by Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, was that Donald Trump was nothing short of a would-be autocrat who attempted a coup: He knew he lost the election, tried as hard as he could to retain power anyway, and tacitly (if not outrightly) condoned violent efforts to secure that goal. Politically, the conventional wisdom holds that these hearings won’t change already baked-in dynamics—inflation hitting yet another 40-year high, President Joe Biden’s approval rating hitting yet another all-time low—that favor Republicans in the midterms. Maybe so, though that’s a separate question from whether the Jan. 6 committee’s work is worth doing. Even if exquisitely detailed presentations of how terrible Trump was can’t save Democrats in 2022, it could help the country save itself from Trump in 2024. In a Republican presidential primary, even challengers to Trump too scared to call him out on the substance of his efforts to overturn the election will still have a strong argument that Trump’s efforts have made him unelectable. As the hearings go on, and the committee reaches its endgame, you’ll hear ambitious Republicans give TV interviews calling the hearings a waste of time. In private, those same Republicans will be getting closer and closer to launching their own presidential campaigns.

Rank 2

2. Kevin McCarthy

The Jan. 6 committee’s other top priority: catty asides about Kevin McCarthy.

Last spring, before the Jan. 6 committee had even been chartered, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy backed a successful effort to depose Liz Cheney, then the No. 3 House Republican, from his leadership team. It should come as no surprise, then, that this scion of the Cheney bloodline is intent on destroying McCarthy through whatever means necessary. So while the first priority of the committee is to prove a case against Trump, the second, it’s becoming clear, is to take digs at McCarthy at every opportunity. If there was a moment of wry levity in Thursday’s hearing, it was when Cheney noted that “leaders on Capitol Hill begged the president for help, including leader McCarthy, who was ‘scared.’ ” A wrenching video of the riots played by the committee included a clip of McCarthy’s staffers evacuating their offices. As these hearings play out, keep your ears peeled for moments when Cheney may quote depositions in which McCarthy is described as “a baby,” “a shrieky little scaredy-pants,” and “a poopyhead.”

Rank 3

3. Scott Perry

Another congressional subplot to watch.

What new detail most caught the attention of members at the hearing? “The fact that, as Ms. Cheney alleged, several members of Congress sought pardons from the president,” New Jersey Rep. Tom Malinowski told the Surge at the hearing. Indeed, Cheney mentioned that “multiple” Republican congressmen “sought presidential pardons for their roles in attempting to overturn the 2020 election.” The only one she named in her teaser, though, was Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Perry, the current chair of the House Freedom Caucus. Perry, as Politico recently reported, was the one with whom White House chief of staff Mark Meadows met in the White House before Meadows allegedly burned documents. Perry has refused to testify before the Jan. 6 committee. The committee appears eager to make him pay for that.

Rank 4

4. Carl Paladino

Back, crazier than ever, and endorsed by Elise Stefanik.

When Democrats are in the midst of a depressing election cycle that’s going to wipe them from power, they console themselves by focusing on one or two Republican lunatics who are going to lose. In 2010, it was western New York construction magnate Carl Paladino, a Tea Party candidate who won the chance to get steamrolled by Andrew Cuomo for New York governor. Paladino, a crank with zero filter, was busted for a series of racist, sexist, or pornographic emails he exchanged with buddies in the construction business. (Among the least controversial were “an e-mail depicting a horse having sex with a woman and another that included a pornographic video and the headline ‘Miss France 2008 F[***]ing.’ ”) Twelve years later, Andrew Cuomo is in exile, Democrats are in the midst of another depressing election cycle, and Carl Paladino is running for Congress in western New York. (The district’s incumbent, Rep. Chris Jacobs, announced he wouldn’t run for reelection after breaking with his party on banning assault weapons.) So what’s Paladino saying these days? Well, in 2021, he said he was impressed with how Adolf Hitler had “aroused the crowd” with his speeches. “I guess, I guess that’s the kind of leader we need today,” Paladino said of Hitler, leader of Nazi Germany. “We need somebody inspirational. We need somebody that is a doer.” Paladino has also shared interesting theories connecting school shootings, Jeffrey Epstein, vaccines, the assassination of John Lennon, and “the CIA’s MK Ultra mind control program.” New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, who replaced Liz Cheney as the No. 3 House Republican, endorsed Paladino last week.

Rank 5

5. John Cornyn

Republican resistance to gun legislation ticks up.

In last week’s edition, we wrote that if the lead negotiators trying to put together a gun legislation deal—Sens. John Cornyn and Chris Murphy—hadn’t shaken hands on a deal by the time you’re reading this week’s newsletter, the outlook wasn’t good. Well, there’s no handshake yet, as far as the Surge has seen, and the longer it takes to reach a deal, the more the resistance from conservatives opposed to such legislation will ripen as time passes since the Buffalo and Uvalde massacres. While some conservatives in the Senate are still staying publicly mum, the resistance is building behind closed doors. As one senator asked in Wednesday’s Senate GOP lunch, “Why the hell are we doing this?” House Republicans are already vocally opposed to the (admittedly much broader) gun bills House Democrats have put forth. It’s only a matter of time before an opportunistic conservative senator or two, with the backing of right-wing media personalities and outside groups, decides to make it their public mission to scuttle any deal from emerging. And that time will be here any day.

Rank 6

6. Brett Kavanaugh

Maybe House Dems should just pass the protection bill?

Earlier this week, a man bearing a great many weapons and combat gear traveled from California to Maryland with the intention of assassinating Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in his home because, among other things, he was upset about the leaked draft of a SCOTUS opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade. And yet, by the time House lawmakers had left this week, they had not passed a bipartisan bill offering extra protection for Supreme Court justices that swiftly passed the Senate last month. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that they’ll finally pass such a bill “at the beginning of next week.” Good! There’s not any discernible reason for Democrats to make a public show of hesitancy to pass an easy bill offering more security for SCOTUS justices after an assassin just pulled up outside one of their homes. We know that “don’t overcomplicate this” is maybe the most difficult lesson for Democrats to properly absorb but: Don’t overcomplicate this!

Rank 7

7. Jack Del Rio

He’ll be seeing stars on that one.

Things have gone badly awry if you’re a) the defensive coordinator for the NFL’s Washington Commanders and b) you have to tweet a screenshotted Notes app apology that begins, “I made comments earlier today in referencing the attack that took place on the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021.” What Del Rio asked was basically: Why wasn’t as much attention being devoted to property damage from the George Floyd protests in 2020 as there was to the “dust-up at the Capitol”? We can’t think of a better Football Guy turn of phrase than “dust-up” to describe a battle in the seat of government to prevent certification of an election. When a 5-foot-8 running back has had a 400-pound lineman fall butt-first onto his ankle, the running back is described as “slow getting up.” When a defensive back runs into an unsuspecting receiver at full speed, the receiver lying on the ground for a minute without moving “got banged up.” Del Rio was fined $100,000 by the Commanders on Friday. Jacked up!