The Surge

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

Welcome to this special holiday edition of the Surge, the pillow you can scream into after three hours of patient, gentle discussion with Aunt Geraldine about the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop.

Our overlords have unwisely entrusted us with the Surge this week, as your regular correspondent Jim Newell is in the Bahamas poking around Sam Bankman-Fried’s abandoned mansion “just in case he forgot something.” And you know what they say: While the cat’s away, the mice will … try their very best to put out an informative, entertaining newsletter that meets or exceeds the standards of the solid-gold Surge brand!

In this last newsletter of 2022, before the Surge heads off to ring in the new year with that “special someone” (a Bernie Sanders Christmas ornament), we’ll have a look-see at Donald Trump’s tax returns. We’ll also ask (twice) what the heck is going on with New York Democrats and take note of Washington’s hottest winter accessory: a button begging everyone to be nicer to Kevin McCarthy.

But first, we’d like to give a big, warm welcome to an incoming congressman who has, let’s just say, cultivated a thick air of mystery about himself.

George Santos.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by David Becker for the Washington Post.

Rank 1

1. George Santos

A yarn for the ages.

This guy managed to flip a House seat on Long Island in November while seemingly lying about every single detail in his biography. According to several reports last week, the millennial Republican fabricated several easily falsifiable claims during his campaign, including having Jewish grandparents who fled the Nazis, attending Baruch College and NYU, working at Goldman Sachs, owning 13 properties, running an animal rescue nonprofit, and employing four people who were later killed in the 2016 Pulse massacre. None of those things appear to be true! He also claims to have been openly gay for a decade but was married to a woman until late 2019? And we haven’t even gotten to the shady financial disclosures yet! Or the alleged Ponzi scheme! (Somehow, New York Democrats neglected to jump on any of this before the election … perhaps to save themselves the embarrassment of losing to Santos anyway.) On Monday, in two interviews with conservative news outlets, Santos finally owned up to a few of the fibs, which were really just misunderstandings, you see. His campaign website had asserted that he “began working at Citigroup as an associate and quickly advanced,” but that was merely a “poor choice of words,” he told the New York Post, in that he never held any job with the company. Poor wording indeed! Moreover, Santos said, “I never claimed to be Jewish. I am Catholic. Because I learned my maternal family had a Jewish background I said I was ‘Jew-ish.’ ” To his credit, this is an excellent choice of words! Very funny, George Santos.

Rank 2

2. Donald Trump

Taxes, schmaxes!

As any certified public accountant will tell you, taxes are for losers and saps. This is why the coolest president in U.S. history simply chose not to pay them. Trump’s yearslong legal battle to shield his tax returns from scrutiny ended last week, when the narcs (Democrats) on the House Ways and Means Committee voted to release them to the public. Turns out, in three of the six years between 2015 and 2020, Donald and Melania paid $750 or less in federal income taxes by using this one weird trick: claiming massive business losses, all the time. Trump may have also claimed millions of dollars in improper write-offs and disguised monetary gifts to his children as “personal loans” so they could pay him interest and write that off on their own taxes. (Helping wealthy relatives exploit tax loopholes is Donald Trump’s love language.) There are many financial concepts relevant to Trump’s semi-dubious tax avoidance plan that are beyond the Surge’s comprehension (if you want a full breakdown on Trump’s “depreciation” of “assets,” go find a dang Wall Street Journal!), but it seems clear that his strategy of claiming to the world to be the best businessman ever while claiming to the IRS to be hemorrhaging cash from every available executive orifice worked beautifully. Which reminds us—where was the IRS in all this? Apparently, agency officials believed there might be something fraudulent afoot in Trump’s tax filings but worried it would be too complicated to unravel and that an audit would ultimately damage the “good relationship” they had built with Trump’s lawyers. We wouldn’t want that, now would we?

Rank 3

3. Steve Scalise

He’s pretty much the same as Kevin McCarthy. But he’s not named Kevin McCarthy.

Former Republican minority leader Kevin McCarthy’s campaign to secure enough votes to be named speaker when the new House meets in January is chugging down the rails like an Amtrak passenger engine in the midst of heavy winter weather, which is to say, slowly and with frequent points of frustration. His supporters have started walking the halls of the Capitol with buttons that say OK, for Only Kevin. This button stuff would be more appealingly quaint if those supporters didn’t include people like Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who’s actually getting in trouble with some of her fellow members of the extreme conspiracist bozo community, most notably Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, for backing an “establishment” figure like McCarthy. In any case, McCarthy has gone long enough without locking down the necessary number of commitments from the far right that Republican sources have started suggesting, to publications including Politico and the Washington Times, that former minority whip and Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise could emerge as a fallback candidate. Scalise has been McCarthy’s close ally for years, and they have never disagreed on anything substantive. So why would he be more appealing to the hard-liners? According to one of Politico’s sources, “Scalise is apparently viewed by these guys as more conservative because he’s from the South as opposed to California.” Hmm, OK (just OK, not Only Kevin).

Rank 4

4. Kathy Hochul

Democrats in New York may want to consider an “eradicate everything with nuclear fire and start over in the ashes” reform strategy.

Democratic New York Gov. Kathy Hochul took office in August 2021 when Andrew Cuomo resigned and has since squandered all the considerable goodwill she inherited at that time by simply not being Andrew Cuomo. At the moment, her nominee to become the new chief judge of New York state’s highest court is reportedly at risk of failing to win confirmation in the Democrat-held state Senate because of his conservative record on abortion and labor rights. Why was there an opening for a new chief judge in the first place? Because the last one, Janet DiFiore, abruptly resigned after an ethics investigation was opened against her. DiFiore allegedly attempted to influence a disciplinary proceeding against the leader of the state court officers’ union, Dennis Quirk. She did so because Quirk had sent her an email in which he threatened to post copies of an allegedly scandalous 2013 blog post about her in every court building in New York state. (The feud between DiFiore and Quirk goes back years prior to this and includes an incident in which she accused him of perpetuating “vile and insidious ethnic stereotypes” against Italian Americans by having an alleged reference to the Mafia printed on shirts his officers wore at a protest.) DiFiore, who became a Democrat after switching parties in 2007, also has a separate running dispute with Judge Judy’s son. Quirk used to manage the Democratic Brooklyn district attorney’s reelection campaigns while holding his court officers’ job simultaneously. And both DiFiore and Quirk have children who’ve been boosted into judgeships by local Democratic machines. It’s quite an organization the Dems have got going in the Empire State! No wonder no one noticed George Santos, honestly.

Rank 5

5. Mitch McConnell

Regrets? He has a few (about things that other people did).

Thanks to the poor performance of Trump-backed candidates in the midterms, we are back in the stage of the Mitch McConnell–Donald Trump biocycle in which McConnell says—and perhaps even believes—that the Republican Party no longer has to worry about Trump dragging it down. “The former president’s political clout has diminished,” he told NBC News in a one-on-one interview just before Christmas, asserting that in 2024 the party will be able to do a better job picking candidates because there will be less “potential interference” in the process by outsiders (Trump). Looking back deliberatively and judiciously on everything that happened, McConnell—who endorsed Trump for reelection, voted twice against removing and barring him from office after impeachment trials, waited more than a month after the 2020 presidential race was called to acknowledge that Joe Biden was its winner—told NBC he thinks he figured out what the problem is. “We lost support that we needed among independents and moderate Republicans, primarily related to the view they had of us as a party—largely made by the former president—that we were sort of nasty and tended toward chaos,” he said. In other news, it’s time for the Surge to get started on a “prewrite” for its 2024 entry about Mitch McConnell endorsing Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Rank 6

6. Kyrsten Sinema

The senator is always ready for dinner.

Would you like a job with the senior senator from Arizona? If so, please familiarize yourself with the 37-page internal guide for staffers obtained by the Daily Beast. According to the memo, staff members must make themselves available to greet a Verizon technician if Sinema’s home Wi-Fi fails, ask at the beginning of each week if she needs groceries, and front the cost of a shopping trip if she does, to be reimbursed later via Cash App. These directives would violate Senate ethics rules against tasking staffers with personal errands, which is reprehensible, but the Surge prefers to focus on the funnier parts of the guide: Due to Sinema’s rigorous athletic pursuits, she “is always hungry and needs to consume a lot of protein each day,” which means staff members are tasked with “ensuring she has dinner” if she has to work past 6:30 p.m. Sinema must also attend two 45-minute physical therapy sessions each week in addition to an hourlong massage, a former aide said, but she is “often not reachable” after 8 p.m. on weekdays and “will very, very rarely agree to work outside the regular hours, so only ask if it’s a big deal.” With her focus on self-care, adequate protein, and work-life balance, Sinema makes “U.S. senator” seem like the best job in the world! Unfortunately, she has to stay in the good graces of a million or so Arizonans to keep it. Can she swing a reelection in 2024? Now that she’s an independent, Dems who’ve had enough of her inscrutable centrist politics (that would be … nearly every Democrat in the state) cannot simply knock her out in the primary, which means they’ll have to risk splitting the center-left vote between Sinema and the future Democratic nominee. A likely front-runner: Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego, a progressive and vocal Sinema critic who has been fundraising on the promise that he is, wink-wink, “thinking of running for Senate.” In a recent poll, Sinema trailed Gallego and recent Trump-endorsed gubernatorial flop Kari Lake in a hypothetical three-way race. Maybe it’s time for Sinema to burn the midnight oil (occasionally work past 8 p.m.) to prove her dedication to her constituents.

Rank 7

7. Dmitry Medvedev

From Russia, a sobering premonition for 2023.

It’s the end of the year, which for many people means it’s time to think about what the future will bring! One of those people is former Russian President and Vladimir Putin associate Dmitry Medvedev, who posted his 2023 predictions on Twitter on Monday. Among them: The European Union will collapse, Poland and Hungary will occupy parts of Ukraine, France will enter a war against the “Fourth Reich,” and Elon Musk will become president of the United States after a civil war that ends with California and Texas seceding from the union. (Responded Musk: “Epic thread!!”) Will all Medvedev’s wishes come true? Until we get word from the guy who predicted Lionel Messi’s recent World Cup win in a 2015 tweet, we remain skeptical.