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 politics newsletter lamenting the fact that you can’t even get a decent court-appointed special master to perform your legal bidding these days.

We are somehow almost at the end of the 2022 campaign but Congress is still in session passing bills? Pick something for the Surge to focus on, you scatterbrains. This week, we look at the Republican “pivot to crime” and the Democratic pivot to saying “no, Republicans are the crime-doers.” Plus, a moron in Ohio.

Let’s start, though, with the last big pickle Congress has to get out of before fleeing Washington.

Joe Manchin wearing glasses in front of a microphone set on a red bar, with a blue drawing of West Virginia's shape in the background
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Rank 1

Last Week

1. Joe Manchin

The final puzzle before Congress bolts.

The last must-pass item on Congress’ agenda before members and senators peace out for campaign season is a dinky little bill to fund the government for a couple of months. Sounds easy enough—except for a wee promise Democratic leaders made to West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin. If you recall, in exchange for his cooperation on the climate bill that passed in August, Manchin was promised a permitting reform bill to expedite approval of energy projects. Democratic leaders are trying to pass it by attaching it to the government-funding bill, which comes up for a vote next week. The problem with leaders promising they will “pass something,” though, is that doing this still requires a majority of votes in the House and 60 in the Senate. And who, exactly, wants to do this, aside from Manchin? Plenty of Democrats in both chambers don’t want anything to do with speeding up oil and gas projects. Republicans do want to speed up oil and gas projects. They live for it! But they don’t want to help fulfill a promise Chuck Schumer made to Manchin, and they figure they can get a better deal on this issue in the next Congress, when they may control one or both chambers. Many of them also just refuse to vote to fund the government, as a general matter. Maybe Manchin and Schumer have some secret trick to get through this (hypnotism?), but passing big legislation as touchy as this was always a pretty big ask just before an election.

Rank 2

Last Week

2. Mandela Barnes

Inflation is sooo passé; crime is hot again.

The last couple of weeks have seen a shift in Republican messaging on the campaign trail. Even though inflation is still quite bad, gas prices are down comfortably from their highs, so the issue has lost some of its bite. If you’ve listened to Republican messaging recently, you’ve probably heard them talking a lot more about crime. That switch in emphasis is backed up in their ad spending too—and Democratic ad spending to counteract it. Let’s look to the Wisconsin Senate race for an indicative example. Republicans have been hammering Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes for his call to end cash bail nationally and for state-level bail reform legislation he introduced in 2016. (Make what you will of images in the attack ads of Barnes—who is Black—speaking with police sirens superimposed behind him.) These must be working relatively well, because pro-Barnes groups are responding with their own ads. Everytown for Gun Safety, for example, put out an ad accusing Mandela’s opponent, Sen. Ron Johnson, and the GOP of “flooding our streets with guns” and “voting against funding the police.” This sort of back-and-forth is happening in races across the country, and the Republican ads aren’t exactly subtle. This will be our hell until gas prices go back up another 50 cents and Republicans start talking about that again.

Rank 3

Last Week

3. Josh Gottheimer and Ilhan Omar

GAVEL CRIME on the floor?

It’s not just ad spending that shows Democratic vulnerability on crime—it’s floor action in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, too. After months of delays, Democrats finally pushed to the floor a package of crime and public safety bills that vulnerable moderates and progressives had been unable to unite behind. In the end, it came down to the avatar of the party’s centrist wing, New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer, hashing things out with progressive Squad member Ilhan Omar. The four bills they agreed on, all of which passed Thursday, allow vulnerable Democrats to say in campaign ads that they funded the police while progressives can tout the investments in deescalation training and mental health for officers. Even with the agreement, though, this package barely made it. On the key procedural vote allowing for passage of the bills, Democratic whips persuaded one Squad member, Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley, to vote “present” instead of “no.” When the vote was 216–215, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy asked the presiding officer—Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette—to hold the vote open a few more minutes because one more GOP member was on the way. DeGette gaveled the vote down anyway, and the procedural vote barely squeaked through. The late GOP member was none other than Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, whom Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene later accused of colluding with the Democrats on this. (Cheney said she had a family issue.) We love to write an entry name-dropping all of these stars from the last couple of years! Kind of funny to think about how all of these people, and you, and us, will eventually dissolve into dust for eternity.

Rank 4

Last Week

4. J.R. Majewski

In a way, weren’t we all deployed to Afghanistan?

One of House Republicans’ best pickup opportunities this cycle came in Ohio’s 9th District, which was gerrymandered in Republicans’ favor and made Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur, the longest-serving woman in Congress, a sitting duck. But, as is often the case, Republicans nominated a ding-dong to run against her. J.R. Majewski, whom the Surge’s colleague Ben Mathis-Lilley described earlier this year as a “Social Media Republican” who looks like “the personification of a Mountain Dew–branded energy drink,” and who was deep in various MAGA conspiracies and at the Jan. 6 riots, beat out a couple of real human beings in the primary. The one thing he did have going for him, though, was his background as a veteran who served in Afghanistan. The only problem: It’s reportedly not true. As the Associated Press reported this week, military records “indicate Majewski never deployed to Afghanistan but instead completed a six-month stint helping to load planes at an air base in Qatar.” Shortly after that news broke, the National Republican Congressional Committee canceled its ad spending in the district. Majewski has since claimed that his deployments are classified. Is he sure Donald Trump didn’t declassify them with his mind?

Rank 5

Last Week

5. Kyrsten Sinema

Just a big “nah” from everyone.

What do young people, old people, college-educated people, high school–educated people, white people, people of color, men, women, Democrats, Republicans, independents, and every combination of these demographics all have in common? Between 51 and 59 percent of them in Arizona dislike their centrist senior senator, Kyrsten Sinema. Such was the finding of a poll conducted jointly by leading GOP and Democratic pollsters this week. We’ve never seen numbers like these for a politician. Sinema has no political base to speak of, something she sacrificed in pursuit of support of centrists (who don’t like her) and Republicans (who don’t like her). Anecdotal evidence backs this up. Ask any ol’ Arizonan at the grocery store if they like Kyrsten Sinema and the response you’ll get is “I’m 55 percent against her,” because that’s how statistics work.

Rank 6

Last Week

6. Matt Gaetz


Ever wonder what happened to that federal sex-trafficking investigation of Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz? If he had done the sex trafficking, shouldn’t he have been charged by now? Well, the Washington Post reported Friday that “career prosecutors have recommended against charging” Gaetz, “telling Justice Department superiors that a conviction is unlikely in part because of credibility questions with the two central witnesses.” Those with their credibility in question include “the 17-year-old at issue in the investigation” and Gaetz’s scummy ex-friend who’s cooperating with the feds. If the department follows through on prosecutors’ recommendations, Gaetz will be in the clear and we all will never hear the end of it from him. We’re not sure, though, whether being charged or not charged by Biden’s Corrupt Administration for alleged sex trafficking would’ve been better for Gaetz’s career in Republican primary politics.

Rank 7

Last Week Down from last week #6

7. Ron DeSantis

Kidnapping polls surprisingly poorly.

Last week Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took credit for luring migrants in Texas onto a plane and flying them to Martha’s Vineyard, the fancy liberal island where the migrants were treated nicely for a day and then sent to a base in Cape Cod. Was this “cool” of him? The American people don’t think so. A Reuters-Ipsos poll this week found that “only a third of Americans—including half of Republicans and one in six Democrats—say it’s OK for state officials to fly or bus migrants to other states.” Perhaps this data, along with a word or two from lawyers warning that continued kidnappings could be frowned upon, is why that second plane never landed near Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, earlier this week. What a week in politics, goodbye!