The Surge

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

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Surge, your weekly newsletter that … well it … doggonit, we turned all of the opening throwaway jokes into full entries this week.

Yeah, it’s getting August-y up in here. Congress is gone and people are on vacation. And so we have been forced to turn our gaze to dumb nonsense on the campaign trail, and toward Finland. We’re talking: “Banana Republic,” voicemail miscommunication, Carl Paladino outbursts, and leaked videos of fun-having.

There’s no doubt, though, which dumb campaign story won the week—well, win is a loose term.

Dr. Oz is seen against a backdrop of two blue broccoli pieces and three red carrots.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by JC Olivera/Getty Images and Getty Images Plus.

Rank 1

Last Week

1. Mehmet Oz

A crud(it)e summer for Senate Republicans.

If a “quick hit” Twitter video that your campaign team shot and released in April becomes a weeklong topic of conversation in August, it may not have been your best work. So it was this week for Mehmet Oz, one of the least popular Republican candidates for Senate in one of the most vital Senate races in the country. A video recirculated of Oz in a grocery store, potentially for the first time in decades, that he dubbed “Wegner’s” (because it sounds grocery store–ish enough, despite not being a real chain). The purpose of the video was to show how much vegetable costs had gone up, and he was doing this via examples on a veggie platter he was preparing. But he didn’t call it a veggie platter. He called it “crudité,” repeatedly. “Guys, that’s $20 for crudité” might be the sentence by which we remember the 2022 midterms. The campaign of his rival, John Fetterman, had a field day with this, saying it raised half a million dollars in the 24 hours after the video went viral. The Fetterman campaign further prodded Oz to tweet that he owned “10 properties” but only “2 homes.” This race is really quite bad for Republicans right now: Fetterman is leading Oz by about 12 points in the polling average. There’s time yet, and more Republican voters will come home as the general election nears, but the Cook Political Report has seen enough to shift its race forecast from “Toss Up” to “Lean Democrat.” Republicans shouldn’t be close to losing a Pennsylvania Senate race in a midterm cycle under an unpopular Democratic president. Congrats to them on finding a way!

Rank 2

Last Week

2. Harriet Hageman

[Deep, DEEP sigh] … voicemailgate.

The primary for Wyoming’s at-large House seat—a well-run scam by reporters trying to get in a Jackson Hole spa week on the company dime—finally arrived this week. Harriet Hageman, endorsed by Donald Trump, dusted Rep. Liz Cheney by a cool 37 points. The loss was expected. The dispute over voicemails that ensued was not. Cheney called Hageman on Tuesday night a few times to concede, couldn’t get through, and left a voicemail congratulating Hageman on the win. Hageman, however, told Sean Hannity that all she had heard from Cheney was a voicemail in which Cheney said, “Hi, Harriet,” and then “that was the end of it.” Hageman, we regret to say, is full of it. Cheney’s team released a recording of the full voicemail in which she conceded. Then Hageman released her own side of the recording, in which the sound cuts out after Cheney says hello, but the clip keeps running. In other words: There were cell service issues and the audio cut out, which may explain why Hageman missed Cheney’s first couple of attempts. (It’s Wyoming. There are mountains ‘n’ stuff getting in the way of all the cellphone calls.) Hageman, though, chose not to explain this, because she preferred the narrative that Cheney is a hypocrite who’ll chastise Trump for not conceding his own loss, but won’t even concede hers. It would be cool if people could refrain from being their absolute scummiest, occasionally.

Rank 3

Last Week

3. Dan Goldman

Trump enters the primary-meddling game.

New York will finally hold its congressional primaries on Tuesday, and one of the most covered races has been for the open seat in the new 10th District encompassing Lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn. (It’s been so covered primarily because a plurality of the American media lives in this district.) It’s taken some interesting turns in the past couple of weeks. Despite being one of the most sharply blue districts in the country, relatively moderate Dan Goldman—an old-money heir and former prosecutor best known for his role as Democratic counsel during Trump’s first impeachment—has taken an edge against a split field of more progressive challengers. He earned the New York Times’ endorsement—which does actually matter in a race like this—to the ire of progressives, who noted the close relationship between his family and the publisher of the Times. Perhaps all of that was to be expected. But things took a stranger turn when Trump decided to meddle in the primary by “endorsing” Goldman, whom he remembers from the first impeachment, in an attempt to poison-pill his chances in the primary. One challenger in the primary, Rep. Mondaire Jones—who swooped into the new district after being bigfooted out of his old one—chose to run with it in a debate this week, repeatedly citing Trump’s endorsement of Goldman at face value. “Mr. Goldman is fulfilling Donald Trump’s vision of him being a moderate person who is attempting to defeat progressives in this race,” Jones said in the debate. You see, it’s a matter of ideological principle for Donald Trump. We’ll see if Democratic primary voters are as easily duped by Trump as Republican primary voters are by Democratic campaign groups.

Rank 4

Last Week

4. Carl Paladino

Ah yes, the very mature “new” Carl Paladino.

We wrote earlier this year about the return of Carl Paladino, a wealthy clown notorious for his 2010 New York gubernatorial campaign, during which he was busted sending numerous pornographic, racist, and sexist emails with his buddies. He’s only gotten worse in the years since. As he heads into Tuesday’s primary for a safely Republican western New York congressional seat against state GOP chair Nick Langworthy, we’ve seen some interesting commentary about how he’s been “buttoned-up and on-message,” eschewing his usual overtly psychotic and racist asides. Sure, he hasn’t recently wished for Barack Obama to die from mad cow disease or for Michelle Obama to “return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe” to live “in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.” (Truly, we apologize for quoting this but he actually does have real potential to soon be serving in the House.) He did, however, say in an interview last week that Attorney General Merrick Garland “should not only be impeached, he should probably be executed.” OK OK, BUT GUYS: He would later say that he was just being “facetious” when he said the attorney general should be killed. It’s a brand-new Carl! The Surge looks forward to getting literally murdered by Carl Paladino in the halls of Congress next year—but then receiving an explanation that it was just a gag.

Rank 5

Last Week

5. J.D. Vance

This wasn’t supposed to be hard!!

There’s been a slew of recent polls showing Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan leading Republican challenger J.D. Vance in Ohio’s Senate race. Vance may be a stinky candidate, but there are a couple of reasons to be skeptical about Ryan's chances in what’s now a comfortably red state. First, these polls still show a lot of undecideds. If Ryan’s polling average can get closer to 50 percent, then we can take this a little more seriously. Second, the last few elections cycles have proved that pollsters have lost the ability to accurately poll the Midwest—and Ohio especially. Now, why should you take this race seriously? Because the top Senate Republican super PAC sure is—to the tune of $28 million. The Senate Leadership Fund reserved that much in fall ads this week. As the Cleveland Plain Dealer explained, that’s the third-largest commitment SLF has made in a state, trailing only Georgia and Pennsylvania. Ohio is not supposed to be the third-most-competitive race in the country. Can Ryan win in Ohio? Yes. Is it likely? No. Did national Republican groups think they would have to spend tens of millions of dollars to prop up a Senate candidate in Ohio? Very much not.

Rank 6

Last Week

6. Bo Hines

This was inevitable.

Republicans have been throwing around the term banana republic an awful lot since the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago. We were excited when we saw this: Inevitably—a mathematical FACT—some political figure, probably on the younger side, would run with this as though it was a reference to the store. Congratulations, then, to Bo Hines, the 26-year-old Republican nominee for North Carolina’s 13th District. “A lot of people have likened the situation going on right now, is, you know, they say we’re in a banana republic,” Hines said on a radio show. “I think that’s an insult to Banana Republics across the country. I mean, at least the manager of Banana Republic, unlike our president, knows where he is and why he’s there and what he’s doing.” That last sentence sure stings! Hines would label this a “joke” afterward. Still, you have to imagine there are millions of people like Hines out there not familiar with the banana republic term who are deeply confused at why Republicans, en masse, are equating an FBI search to the Gap’s higher-end sister retail company.

Rank 7

Last Week

7. Sanna Marin

The prime minister of Funland.

What is it like in a country where heads of government aren’t required to be 77-year-old men? Let us look to Finland, a happy country that is a little worried about getting invaded by Russia but doesn’t let that keep it down. The 36-year-old prime minister, Sanna Marin, was subjected to scrutiny this weekend after a video of her “boisterous” partying with friends at a house party leaked. This comes after a separate incident last year when she went clubbing with friends until 4 a.m. and left her work phone at home. Marin has since taken a drug test to prove she wasn’t doing any of the hard stuff. Even if that comes back positive, the only problem here, as far as we can tell, is that there’s a rat in the friend group. Also, can you imagine how thankful we would have been, during the Trump years, if he had separated from his phone for a few hours?