The Surge

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

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Surge, whose master plan to destroy Twitter and inherit all internet traffic is proceeding apace …

Boy, oh boy, do we have political TIDBITS this week. It’s the first edition in the Surge’s memory where anyone on the list could have been ranked No. 1. (Maybe not Marjorie Taylor Greene. But she serves an important follow-up purpose in the architecture of the ranking.) We have upheaval in the House and the Senate following the Red Tinkle of the 2022 midterms; Rick Scott is going for the all-time number of losses in a month; and Kari Lake fulfills her role as Star of the Midterms by being another Republican who loses.

We could start anywhere. … Hmm … let’s go with [very Catherine O’Hara voice] KEVIN!

Kevin McCarthy.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Rank 1

1. Kevin McCarthy

Is this speaker thing going to happen or not?

Rep. Kevin McCarthy was never on an unimpeded path to becoming speaker of the House. He was always going to have to negotiate with the hard right in his conference. But presiding over a “red wave” would have taken care of a lot of his problems: He would’ve had more votes to spare in a speakership race, in which you need a majority of the whole House, not just of your party. The red wave didn’t come, though, and House Republicans’ slender majority will be a mirror image of House Democrats’ current one. McCarthy will be able to suffer only three or four Republican defections if he wants to become speaker—and he may already be at his max. Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs says he won’t vote for McCarthy in a floor vote for speaker. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz also says this. Virginia Rep. Bob Good, who threw a conniption fit at McCarthy behind closed doors this week, is also looking no-ey, as is Montana Rep. Matt Rosendale. Now, McCarthy does have certain tools to bring them around. He could try to pick off “no” votes one by one, offering would-be defectors goodies like committee assignments or pledges to make a citizen’s arrest of Hunter Biden’s laptop. He could also persuade them to vote “present,” lowering the number of votes he would need on the floor from 218. But certain hard-right House Republicans are simply not persuadable human beings. They do not care about the consequences of their actions, such as the House Republican conference being unable to select a speaker on the first day of the next Congress. McCarthy has his work cut out. The Surge’s take? It would be funny if he couldn’t get there, again.

Rank 2

2. Marjorie Taylor Greene

The unlikely voice of reason.

McCarthy has valuable support from a couple of corners as he tries to round up the Ding-Dong Vote. He has Trump’s endorsement, which is fatal in all contexts except those of internal Republican politics. He also has that of Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. We’ve been surprised at her efforts to persuade fellow hard-right members to fall in line behind McCarthy with correct and rational talking points (aka establishment sellout fearmongering). Her argument about why it’s “very very risky” to challenge McCarthy with such a narrow majority is that if McCarthy can’t get the votes, a few moderate Republicans could defect and join all House Democrats to elect a consensus speaker. At least one moderate Republican entertained that thought this week. But lest you think MTG is going too soft, don’t worry! She also secured a promise from incoming Majority Leader Steve Scalise this week to “support investigations into the treatment of pretrial January 6 defendants.” We’re really not prepared for what the next two years will look like.

Rank 3

3. Nancy Pelosi

Passing the torch.

Many commentators and ambitious Democratic members of the House finally got what they’ve said they wanted: Nancy Pelosi, who’s led House Democrats for 20 years, stepped down from leadership this week. (She will remain in Congress.) We’re just not sure everyone’s ready for this. Sure, Democrats will likely gain a replacement who is better at public speaking and whose lack of diabolically elite San Francisco values make for less of a campaign target. What they’re losing, though, is someone who nearly all Democrats and Republicans in the Capitol agree is the most effective legislator in memory. Democrats may not understand—though Republicans do!—that the ability to assemble 218 votes with the snap of one’s fingers is not normal. Getting Republican majorities to pass the Democratic minority’s spending priorities as a matter of habit is not normal. The ease with which she did both was historically anomalous, and that’s going to become clear pretty quickly. But hey, people get old! Shout-out to Big Steny too.

Rank 4

4. Hakeem Jeffries

What can Democrats expect?

It took about five seconds after Nancy Pelosi stepped aside for New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries to coalesce support behind him in a bid to become the new House Democratic leader. (Really, he coalesced it several years ago.) He’s on track to become the first Black party leader in congressional history. What will people learn about him? That he’s intelligent, shrewd, and an excellent communicator who’s adept at pushing back against Republican talking points. Members of the left who thought Pelosi wasn’t on their side often enough, though, may be in for a rude awakening. Jeffries rose to his position in leadership through a narrow defeat over California Rep. Barbara Lee, a progressive hero, in the 2018 caucus chair race—and his campaign against her wasn’t particularly pretty. He takes pride in distancing himself from the left, which is part of his appeal among Democratic moderates (and ever-worried incumbents fretting about primary challenges from the left). He’s fortunate to be taking over in the minority, when the task will just be to vote no a few times a day and highlight Republican incompetence. It will afford him time to earn the trust of the whole caucus.

Rank 5

5. Rick Scott

Any other elections this guy can blow? Oh! There is.

We don’t get the confidence of certain people. Just think about Florida Sen. Rick Scott. Scott, as chairman of Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, failed to net even one Senate seat in the midterm elections, under an unpopular Democratic president. Within DAYS of that result, he decided against taking the only reasonable recourse—hiding, in shame, for a long time—and instead had the gall to challenge Mitch McConnell for Senate Republican leader. His Senate colleagues mostly rolled their eyes. Like, Maine Sen. Susan Collins absolutely blew up his spot. The following day, McConnell defeated him, 37 to 10. If Herschel Walker loses the Georgia Senate runoff in December, allowing Scott to complete the Triple Crown of L’s on the cycle, what lesson will he take? He could decide to keep quiet for a couple of years and focus on getting reelected in Florida. But he could also somehow interpret all of this as a sign that he should run for president.

Rank 6

6. Kari Lake

Hey, good try, though!

While we’re on the subject of overconfidence: Kari Lake. The election-denying former news anchor had become the official mascot of the 2022 Red Wave! This dynamic, electric, uncompromising speaker was going to romp to the Arizona governor’s mansion, leaving her sorry, pathetic, no-debating opponent, Democrat Katie Hobbs, in the dust. Some of the trash she was talking in the days before the election was just incredible. A few days before the election, she told “McCain Republicans” to “get the hell out!” of a campaign event, calling John McCain a “loser.” She wrote a mocking letter thanking anti-Trump GOP Rep. Liz Cheney for releasing an ad against her. She told reporters on Election Day, “I’m going to be your worst fricking nightmare for eight years.” That could still be the case! But Lake would have to be reporters’ worst fricking nightmare for the next eight years as a private citizen, because she lost the Arizona governor’s race. The margin was close, too—maybe if she had needlessly antagonized one fewer group, she could’ve pulled it out. Ah, well! Lake, as of Friday, still had not conceded, and has been tweeting stolen-election-curious thoughts all week. But she really nailed it in her first tweet after the race was called Monday night: “Arizonans know BS when they see it.” They sure do.

Rank 7

7. Donald Trump

How ol’ Donny Trump can wriggle out of this one.

Reader, it’s not looking good for our beautiful boy right now. He declared a bid for the presidency this week, and it was practically a footnote in the news. Republican leaders and media are turning against him after disappointing midterm results. (Trump had basically gone out of his way to do his own party harm.) He’s looking low-energy, is what we’re saying. But chin up! If the Republican powers that be play this wrong, they can let him right back in. Does the moment we’re in right now—Republican leaders turning against Trump, even conservative media turning against him as a joke—sound kind of familiar? A little bit like what happened the first time Trump ran for president? There’s a risk for Republican elites that if they get ahead of primary voters too quickly and try to shove Trump off the stage, that could breed resentment about the “establishment” telling them what to do. And Trump has a fairly strong record of weaponizing Republican primary voter resentment against the elites. Yes, the boy’s at a weak point right now, and leaders are itching to move against him. But they ultimately have to let Republican primary voters make that determination for themselves, not make it for them.