Slate’s guide to the most important figures in politics this week.
Welcome to this week’s edition of the Surge, the final edition before the 2022 midterms. As things stand, the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 8, is setting up to be one of the best nights in a while for Democrats … to go to the movies and not watch the news.
This week, we’ve got a few serious entries (ugh, we know) and then revert to stray gags about cat people and how funny it is that some politicians have the same names as other politicians. And Business Surge returns with the latest news from Tech World.
Hold your nose and jump in …
1. Tim MichelsWhat will be the legacy of the 2022 midterms?
What happens if Republicans take back the House and Senate? Fewer confirmations, a tedious episode of brinksmanship over spending, theatrical investigations, and a go-nowhere impeachment or seven. Republican control of Congress for the next two years would not be good for Democrats. But a lot of it would be a show. If we want to think about the legacy of a 2022 red wave, and for what it could be remembered, let’s zero in on Wisconsin. Joe Biden won it by the skin of his teeth in 2020, and it tipped the election in his favor. What could this 50-50 state look like after Tuesday’s midterms? One in which Republicans, after a redistricting cycle, have supermajorities in both chambers of the state Legislature and can do whatever they want. That includes, as the New York Times wrote this week, following through on “promises to eliminate the state’s bipartisan elections commission and take direct control of voting procedures and the certification of elections.” The big idea, as the GOP candidate for governor, Tim Michels, was caught saying this week: “Republicans will never lose another election in Wisconsin after I'm elected governor.” It’s normal for the president’s party to get wiped out in a midterm election. But usually there’s a path back.
2. Mitch McConnellWho will deserve the credit.
You do not have to love Mitch McConnell to acknowledge that if Republicans take back the Senate, it will be because of him, and in spite of Donald Trump. What was Trump’s involvement? Foisting mediocre-to-poor candidates on the Senate GOP in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia, and Ohio. Some of these candidates had very little fundraising capacity of their own and had to rely on outside help to bail them out. It was the McConnell-aligned super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, that did most of the work in this regard, spending $234 million—“the highest-spending advertiser we've ever tracked,” per AdImpact—down the stretch for ads in this cycle’s determinative races. Trump will never stop insisting that someone unseat McConnell as Republican leader after the election. That won’t happen. McConnell gets what he paid for.
3. Donald TrumpWho will take the credit.
What’s Trump going to do if Republicans have a big night? Oh, nothin’ much. Maybe play a round of golf, read some interesting articles online. He’ll let the victors have their moment in the sun. Just kidding! He’s going to take all the credit on a national tour and maybe announce his 2024 run. “Former President Trump's inner circle is discussing announcing the launch of a 2024 presidential campaign on Nov. 14,” Axios reported this week, “with the official announcement possibly followed by a multi-day series of political events.” Trump did play surprisingly nicely with the rest of his party in agreeing not to launch his campaign before the midterms, preventing Democrats from making him their direct messaging target. But that’s over! Time to make everything directly about him, as an active candidate, once again. Who’s excited for the next couple years of American politics??
4. Don BolducThe kinds of candidates who can win in waves.
Bad candidates win in waves. If the polling momentum is correct, and late movement toward Republicans crescendos into a proper wave, what kinds of candidates can win? Blake Masters in Arizona, Adam Laxalt in Nevada, Herschel Walker in Georgia, Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania—they will all be senators in a proper wave. But it could go further than that. The next state to drop could be New Hampshire, which had fallen off the radar after the further-right candidate, Don Bolduc, won the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan. Well, a number of the most recent polls show a competitive race, with Hassan clinging to a narrow 3-point lead in the FiveThirtyEight polling average. He could win! And in that case, we would have a United States senator who closed the deal by spreading the hoax that students identifying as cats are being allowed to use litter boxes in school. “They lick themselves, they’re cats,” Bolduc said at a recent event. “And get this, get this … they’re putting litter boxes, right?” When NBC News pressed him about why he keeps saying this, Bolduc put the onus on the litter box cat children to prove that they’re not litter box cat children. “I’m not backing down. OK?” he said. “You’ve got the wrong guy. Just because they say it, they need to prove it. Prove it.” What is a wave? A wave is when a guy like this gets a committee vote on national defense policy for six years.
5. Mike DoyleMike Doyle!
The new Pennsylvania 12th District, anchored in Pittsburgh, should be an easy hold for Democrats; a plurality of its residents identify as cats. But there are a few problems. First, the putrid environment for Democrats nationally. Second, well-funded groups that couldn’t take out progressive nominee Summer Lee in the primary are giving it another shot in the general. Third, there is a slapstick “Two people with the same name?” gag playing out on the ballot. The previous iteration of the district was represented by Democrat Mike Doyle for nearly 30 years. He’s retiring. The name of the Republican candidate running against Lee—and folks, you just won’t believe this!—is also Mike Doyle. This isn’t the most unusual thing; most men in Pittsburgh are named Mike Doyle. But it’s led to serious concerns among Democrats that voters who’ve been voting for Mike Doyle since the Clinton administration will simply vote for Mike Doyle again. Doyle (the Republican one) has denied that he’s trying to “dupe” voters. But here’s a Republican mailer that says, in big type, “MIKE DOYLE: A TRUSTED NAME.”
6. Elon MuskPay $8 a month to own the libs.
We break from our regular midterms programming to once again bring you Business Surge: Buy buy buy, sell sell sell! Since our last Business Surge, Elon Musk has asserted control at Twitter (NYSE: n/a). His big idea, so far, is to insist you pay money for it so he can pay off his debts. Should he follow through with his proposal, it will soon cost $8 a month to get “verified.” Previously, verification was used to … verify that people actually were who they claimed to be. Musk, however, is selling verification as a status symbol, so that anyone can become an elite “Blue Check.” In other words, he is trying to get people to pay nearly $100 a year for a free website so that they can look fancy and stick it to the elites. Stoking very-online cultural resentment in order to make back (a little bit) of the money he overpaid to purchase Twitter may or may not be a viable business strategy, but the blue check will no longer be a sign that you are who you say you are. It will be a sign that you, whoever you are, are a mark.
7. Rick CarusoOne last sweep.
A couple of weeks ago we described the New York governor’s race, and the possibility of Republican Lee Zeldin defeating Gov. Kathy Hochul, as the late-night stunner that could really drive home how poor a night it was for Democrats. That take is so a couple of weeks ago, though, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone. At this point we have a few more options, deep into cat-identifying country. The first would be in Los Angeles, where Rick Caruso, a Democrat as of 10 minutes ago, is closing in hard against Rep. Karen Bass in the mayoral race. In Washington, longtime Sen. Patty Murray—a member of Democratic leadership who’s poised to take over the top Democratic slot on the Appropriations Committee (big!)—is well and truly hustling to fend off her Republican challenger, Tiffany Smiley. Rep. Katie Porter has raised a zillion dollars to defend a Southern California seat that Biden won by 11 points. Might lose! The truth is: The late-night stunner will be none of these races if there’s a red wave. It will be one that has barely gotten a whiff of attention and that professional operatives working the race didn’t even see coming. Now, enjoy the movie. We’ll see you on the other side.