Welcome to the Surge, Slate’s roundup of news, notes, and nonsense about the most important figures of the week in United States politics. I’m Ben Mathis-Lilley, filling in for Jim Newell, and this will be our last edition of 2023. We’ll see you again in the first week of the new year, a time of fresh starts and infinite possibility in which anything is conceivable. Why, just imagine all the novel experiences we might have the privilege of living through in the next 12 months, like a presidential race between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. It’s hard to even imagine what that would be like, of course, but that’s what makes the turning of the calendar so exciting!


This week, we’ve got DeSantis meltdowns, border negotiations, and, as always, fun times in greater Toledo. First, though: No. 1 Nate.

By Ben Mathis-Lilley

At this point, most of the local newspapers that used to exist in the United States have either been closed down or turned into spam-content clickbait generators by a private equity firm called something like “Strategic Capital Strategies.” This has only made the New York Times, which was already the nation’s quote-unquote paper of record, even more influential. And perhaps nothing the Times does, in the age of big data and Moneyball and such, has more impact than the release of its Upshot/Siena College polls. The “Upshot” is the paper’s data-journalism section, and there’s a solid argument to be made that it killed Elizabeth Warren’s primary campaign in late 2019 by publishing results that showed her losing to Donald Trump in hypothetical head-to-head general-election matchups. This week, the paper released its latest round of 2024 Biden-Trump polling, headlined by a piece by chief political analyst Nate Cohn whose takeaway is that Trump is hammering Biden among young voters who abhor the current administration’s support for Israel’s war in Gaza. Overall, Trump leads Biden in the survey by an eyebrow-raising 49–43 margin. There’s a big caveat to all of it, which is that a lot of the young voters in question aren’t highly engaged with politics and haven’t voted in past elections. That means that they’re less likely to vote in 2024, which means Biden likely has a better chance of winning than the topline about Trump’s 6-point margin would suggest. But it wouldn’t be surprising, either, to see the White House become more critical of Israel in coming weeks; while preteens doing paper routes might largely be a thing of the past, there’s definitely still someone dropping off the New York Times at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

What else does Biden’s campaign plan to do about all the bad polling? Part of it will be trying to figure out how to remind people that the economy is actually pretty good. Another part will be reminding them that the alternative to Joe Biden is Donald Trump, and that there is more to Trump than just having been the president before inflation went up. For instance, he’s also the person who decided to institute the permanent separation of children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border—it wasn’t popular—and said last weekend that immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country.” Now, for better or for worse, the past eight years have inured American news consumers to a lot of claims that this or that Trump behavior or promise is troublingly authoritarian or fascist. There’s always a professor or two on MSNBC, being troubled. But you gotta admit: Interlopers poisoning the blood of the motherland is some pretty Nazi-sounding stuff. And as Politico laid out this week, the Biden campaign’s position on this sort of thing is Sure, we will be willing to compare this guy to Adolf Hitler when he talks like Adolf Hitler. By the publication’s count, a Führer-referencing Biden statement issued in response to the blood-poisoning claim was “the fourth time in the past six weeks that Biden’s campaign has likened Trump’s remarks to Hitler’s.” In another recent example, Trump said at a New Hampshire rally that leftists “live like vermin within the confines of our country,” which, in addition to being alarming, does not sound like the kind of phrasing Donald Trump would ever use in the course of natural speech. Do better on multiple levels, Stephen Miller!

Back when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was winning reelection by 19 points and cashing checks from every major Republican donor in the lower 48, a considerable hubbub was made about the arrangement his prospective presidential campaign had come to with Never Back Down, a pro-DeSantis super PAC guided by prominent Republican operative Jeff Roe. Super PACs can raise unlimited money but aren’t allowed to take instructions from campaigns; campaigns, in turn, can do whatever they want but can only raise $3,300 per individual donor per election cycle. DeSantis ’24, however, decided to let Never Back Down have responsibility for certain activities, like door-to-door canvassing and organizing rallies, that had previously been the domain of campaigns proper. The reasoning, not without its merits, was that Never Back Down would have more to spend on those activities than the campaign would, and that it would be easy enough for the super PAC to take strategy and messaging cues from the campaign by just watching what DeSantis did and said in public. There was a problem, though, which is that voters turned out not to like Ron DeSantis, regardless of who was spending money to promote him. Now, the Washington Post reports, Never Back Down is beset by internal warfare and accusations of misconduct; DeSantis, the Post says, has objected to many of the group’s decisions. Four hours after the Post published its story on Saturday, Roe resigned from his role as the super PAC’s chief strategist; the chair of its board and its CEO have also resigned. With the Iowa caucuses in three weeks, this is kind of like the engine falling out of your race car as you hit the final straightaway. The good news for DeSantis, we guess, is that he wasn’t going to win anything anyway!

Congress’ most high-profile legislative business at the moment is the issue of military aid for Ukraine and Israel, and Republicans are insistent that any bill that sends weapons abroad must also initiate a crackdown at the Southern border. Senate Democrats, guided by the White House and led by Connecticut’s Chris Murphy, have decided to accept this trade-off. That’s already made a number of other Democrats upset—and negotiations on the issue, NBC’s Sahil Kapur reports, have hit a snag as Murphy et al. have realized that any authority that they give this administration to deter immigration could also be used by the next one, and that expanding Biden’s power could thus lead to “mass targeting and racial profiling” under Trump II. Well, yeah! History also tends to show that even the most punitive, restrictive border policies do not prevent people from leaving poor, unstable countries for more prosperous ones. In other words, whatever bill ends up passing will probably not stop migrants from coming to the U.S. Given the way immigration politics work in this country—a place where a plurality of people say at present that there should be less immigration—Democrats are the ones who will be blamed for that failure by voters. But that’s the price the party has decided it’s worth paying to get missiles into the hands of the Ukrainian military and the Israel Defense Forces.

It’s been a busy few months for the notorious P-Frank, as no one calls him. On Monday, the Vatican reversed itself on guidance issued in 2021 and declared that it is, in fact, acceptable for priests to bless same-sex unions (albeit not in “liturgical settings” that would simulate a marriage ceremony). In November, the church fired one of Francis’ hard-right American critics from his position as a bishop in Texas while yoinking a Vatican apartment and monthly stipend away from another. (The latter critic, Cardinal Raymond Burke, had been splitting his time between Rome and Wisconsin, which is probably not one of the more common dual-residency pairings out there.) As Slate’s Molly Olmstead wrote this week, Francis has always exuded relatively tolerant and progressive attitudes in his rhetoric and behavior—but now, as an 87-year-old with health problems, he appears to have decided that it’s time to put his stamp on the church in more formal and potentially lasting ways. (Apparently, this might also have something to do with the previous pope, Benedict XVI, having died in 2022. No one likes the guy who used to have the job hanging around second-guessing your decisions!)

On Tuesday, in a decision that seems to have come as a big surprise to pretty much everyone, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in a 4–3 decision that Donald Trump is prohibited from appearing on the state’s presidential ballot because he engaged in an insurrection against the U.S. government. (The prohibition against insurrectionists holding office is part of the 14th Amendment, which was passed in the wake of the Civil War. Our apologies, by the way, to the other three Colorado justices, besides Márquez, who voted to bar Trump from the ballot; we just picked her name because she’s the most senior one in the group.) Now, Trump wasn’t going to win Colorado in 2024 regardless, but the suit challenging his eligibility was brought with the help of a Washington-based public-integrity group, and similar cases have been filed in 16 other states. What this ultimately means is that the U.S. Supreme Court will almost certainly be taking up the issue soon, and while the current court usually favors Republican interests, it’s not as if Trump, you know, didn’t tell an armed mob of his supporters to march on the Capitol in an effort to prevent Congress from certifying the results of an election he lost. So, uh, this is one to watch!

Your substitute Surge author had a whale of a time in 2022 covering J.R. Majewski, a QAnon-curious Republican nominee for Congress in northern Ohio who came to prominence by appearing in an anti–Joe Biden rap video and painting a 19,000-square-foot picture of Donald Trump on his lawn. (It’s a big lawn.) Majewski ended up getting whomped in his race against incumbent Democrat Marcy Kaptur after the Associated Press revealed that his claims about having been deployed to Afghanistan as a member of the Air Force were untrue. (He was in the Air Force, but the closest he came to Afghanistan was Qatar.) This time around, Majewski is running again, but Ohio Republicans were hoping to nominate a longtime local politician named Craig Riedel for Kaptur’s seat instead. Two weeks ago, though, leaked audio emerged in which Riedel is heard complaining about Trump and saying that the Republican Party should nominate someone else for president. (It’s not clear when the recording was made.) That caused several prominent members of the GOP to withdraw their endorsements of Riedel, which raised the possibility that Majewski could win the primary again; Riedel responded to that by releasing a TV ad, which notes that Majewski, for his part, is alleged to have called Trump “an idiot” in a 2022 direct-message conversation. This Wednesday, the national Republican Party responded to the mess by recruiting a state representative named Derek Merrin to enter the race, which will fix everything unless Merrin and Riedel split the anti-MAGA vote and/or it’s discovered that Merrin, like probably every other Republican politician in the country, has acknowledged privately at some point that Trump is a jackass.

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The Man Who Really Has the Most Influence Over the 2024 Campaign

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23.12.2023

Welcome to the Surge, Slate’s roundup of news, notes, and nonsense about the most important figures of the week in United States politics. I’m Ben Mathis-Lilley, filling in for Jim Newell, and this will be our last edition of 2023. We’ll see you again in the first week of the new year, a time of fresh starts and infinite possibility in which anything is conceivable. Why, just imagine all the novel experiences we might have the privilege of living through in the next 12 months, like a presidential race between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. It’s hard to even imagine what that would be like, of course, but that’s what makes the turning of the calendar so exciting!


This week, we’ve got DeSantis meltdowns, border negotiations, and, as always, fun times in greater Toledo. First, though: No. 1 Nate.

By Ben Mathis-Lilley

At this point, most of the local newspapers that used to exist in the United States have either been closed down or turned into spam-content clickbait generators by a private equity firm called something like “Strategic Capital Strategies.” This has only made the New York Times, which was already the nation’s quote-unquote paper of record, even more influential. And perhaps nothing the Times does, in the age of big data and Moneyball and such, has more impact than the release of its Upshot/Siena College polls. The “Upshot” is the paper’s data-journalism section, and there’s a solid argument to be made that it killed Elizabeth Warren’s primary campaign in late 2019 by publishing results that showed her losing to Donald Trump in hypothetical head-to-head general-election matchups. This week, the paper released its latest round of 2024 Biden-Trump polling, headlined by a piece by chief political analyst Nate Cohn whose takeaway is that Trump is hammering Biden among young voters who abhor the current administration’s support for Israel’s war in Gaza. Overall, Trump leads Biden in the survey by an eyebrow-raising 49–43 margin. There’s a big caveat to all of it, which is that a lot of the young voters in question aren’t highly engaged with politics and haven’t voted in past elections. That means that they’re less likely to vote in 2024, which means Biden likely has a better chance of winning than the topline about Trump’s 6-point margin would suggest. But it wouldn’t be surprising, either, to see the White House become more critical of Israel in coming weeks; while preteens doing paper routes might largely be a thing of the past, there’s definitely still someone dropping off the New York Times at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

What else does Biden’s campaign plan to do about all the bad polling? Part of it will be trying to figure out how to remind people that the economy is actually pretty good. Another part will be reminding them that the alternative to Joe Biden is Donald Trump, and that there is more to Trump than just having been the president before........

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