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 digest of all of the secret nuclear documents on the back of which Mar-a-Lago prints its menus.

This week we finally allow ourselves to entertain the notion that maybe Democrats aren’t 100 percent certainly doomed in November after all? Just typing that sentence ensures 110 percent Democratic doom. One lightning rod of a member of Congress narrowly escaped a primary, another may be the only remaining pro-impeachment House Republican, and Mike Lee has joined Weird Twitter.

But let us begin with how the former president got his entire party to rally around him for keeping stolen state secrets in his fridge’s cold-cut drawer.

Donald Trump.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images.

Rank 1

1. Donald Trump

A most pathetic display.

This week, federal agents entered Mar-a-Lago and executed a search warrant to take back government documents with which ex-President Donald Trump had absconded. Trump used the occasion to make himself a martyr, screeching about being persecuted by the Biden administration. Politically, the (short-term) effect was to rally the party around him in frothing outrage, and it worked. Same old, same old. The guy who tried to overturn an election by sending a marauding mob of lunatics to attack members of Congress at their workplace wound up the string yet again, and Republicans were off to the races defending him. These dopes deserve to live under his thumb, repeatedly enduring the same embarrassment, again and again, forever. What do they think is going to come of this? Do they think that the very cautious Attorney General Merrick Garland signed off on this (polite!) search to get the government’s shit back when he didn’t have strong reason? We will learn more—oh, we will learn more!—but the Washington Post has already reported that “classified documents relating to nuclear weapons” were among the documents the FBI sought to retrieve. Donald Trump long ago forfeited the benefit of the doubt, and it’s been tiresome to watch another round of supplicants rushing to wipe his fake tears.

Rank 2

2. Brad Finstad

Another promising election sign for Democrats.

We can look at issue polls or generic ballot polls or other ethereal election data all we want. But the best way to determine whether the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade has kicked Democrats back into contention for the midterms is to check on actual elections. And going by those, the answer is: They might be! In late June, Republicans won a special election in Nebraska by a modest 6-point margin in a district they won last November by 22 points. Last week, pro-choicers comfortably won a state referendum in Kansas to keep abortion rights protected by the state constitution. And this week, Republican Brad Finstad narrowly defeated Democrat Jeffrey Ettinger, by about 4 percentage points, in a special election in Minnesota. This was a district Trump carried by 10 points in 2020. Democratic turnout since Dobbs has been higher in these special elections than you would expect to see if a red wave were about to crash. There’s just something about a court stripping away a constitutional right that rubs people the wrong way, you know?

Rank 3

3. Dan Newhouse

The lone impeachment survivor?

Washington Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler this week conceded defeat after placing a narrow third in her district’s top-two primary system. Her co-impeacher, also from Washington state, Rep. Dan Newhouse, did manage to make it to the general election, where he’s expected to cruise. It’s possible that in the next Congress, Newhouse might be the only one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump to still serve. Herrera Beutler, Michigan Rep. Peter Meijer, and South Carolina Rep. Tom Rice all lost their primaries, and Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney is probably going to join them next week. Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, New York Rep. John Katko, and Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger didn’t run for reelection. California Rep. David Valadao will be on the ballot in November but will have to win in a toss-up district to keep his seat. So how did Newhouse earn the one “safe” ride to reelection? (Aside from the favorable top-two primary system and his opponents divvying up the opposition?) Per local sources, it was his good standing with his district’s agriculture community. You’ve just gotta look after the farms, people! Then you can impeach whomever you want.

Rank 4

4. Chuck Grassley

Maybe we can cool down a bit?

We understand that Republicans want to make typical political hay over new funding for the IRS in Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act. You do you, guys! But at a time when there are sickos all across the internet frothing over the box pickup from Mar-a-Lago—even, say, shooting nail guns at FBI offices—maybe now’s not the best time to promote the lie that the IRS wants to kill you. A job listing for the IRS for recruits to its Criminal Investigation Division went viral on right-wing Twitter this week. Among the duties, it listed: “Carry a firearm and be willing to use deadly force, if necessary.” Indeed, that is a standard requirement for a law enforcement job. Republicans, stoking the paranoia in their base, jumped on this. Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, who knows better, asked in a Fox Business interview: “Are they going to have a strike force that goes in with AK-15s [sic] already loaded, ready to shoot some small business person in Iowa?” STOP IT. We need a national “Everyone Get Off the Internet and Eat Ice Cream in the Park” Day/Month.

Rank 5

5. Ilhan Omar

A missed opportunity for her haters.

Leftist members of “the Squad” in the House are always and ever fighting back primary challengers, who come at them from the center. They usually dispatch them with haste. But one of the Squad members, Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, quite nearly lost this week. Omar defeated her challenger, former city Councilman Don Samuels, by about two points in a race that was closer than either side expected. In her primary a couple of years ago, wealthy donors and pro-Israel groups spent big to unseat her, but she handily beat back the challenge, winning by about 20 points. AIPAC, which worked heartily to unseat her in 2020, sat out Omar’s race this time around given their previous wipeout. Little did they know that Omar was extremely vulnerable after all: She didn’t spend on television ads and was hit hard for supporting a (failed) 2021 referendum to disband and replace the Minneapolis police department. Expect all of the haters to get back in the game next time around.

Rank 6

6. Mike Lee

Strange dude.

Utah Sen. Mike Lee: tough to get a read on him. He’s kind of shy in person. He doesn’t enjoy chatting with Capitol reporters, but when you get him going about the Constitution in a committee hearing, he can’t stop himself. He’s the guy you didn’t want to be in a political science seminar with, even if he’s friendly. But also, he just started a really weird new Twitter account? “@BasedMikeLee,” which was confirmed this week to be Lee’s personal account, is an odd mix of typical political talking points and slang that sounds awfully weird coming from a conservative white Mormon from Utah. “This account is no cap—bussin, forreal forreal,” Lee tweeted on July 24. Two minutes later: “The haters can’t handle this frickin’ smoke.” He keeps doing this because, we guess, he thinks it’s funny that no one knows what he’s babbling about? That’s the Surge’s schtick, Mike. Stay in your lane.

Rank 7

7. Joe Biden

Are all these wins actually helping? Kinda!

It’s been a big few weeks for Biden. He killed the leader of al-Qaida and is subject to an ironically flattering meme. Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act, the PACT Act, and the CHIPS and Science Act. Inflation was flat over the past month, and unemployment fell to 3.5 percent. This, in Washington terms, is a lot of “points on the board.” But policy wins, especially if they don’t make an immediate difference in people’s lives, don’t automatically translate to soaring approval ratings. What we’ll be watching is to see if this streak of wins—plus the Dobbs backlash, plus Republicans being crazy—can invert the pro-Republican midterm environment. But that is also quite dependent on how high Biden’s approval rating can go. The good news for Democrats is that this hot streak does appear to have sent Biden’s approval on an upward trajectory. The bad news is that upward trajectory has taken him from 38 percent to 40 percent. If he can ride this wave closer to 50 percent, then folks—FOLKS!—we might have a NOVEMBAH TO REMEMBAH! That’s a Boston voice; have a good weekend!