“October Surprises"...the unforeseen shockers that change the course of an election, and therefore change the course of history. It used to be that “October Surprises” were acts of God, startling facts just coming to light, or recordings that were never meant to see the light of day. But this is the era of Trump. Knowing the full power of an “October Surprise,” any number of people are working frantically right now to manufacture them.
RBG. The Breonna Taylor Grand Jury decision. Trump's refusal to commit to respecting the concept of the “peaceful transition of power.” And now, The Atlantic reports that the Trump campaign is exploring ways to bypass the will of the people by pressuring Republican-held state legislatures to send an alternative slate of Trump-loyalist electors to the Electoral College.
Those are the shocking headlines in just the last five days.
Sure, it is still September, but it feels like every day is bringing a textbook “October Surprise…” the kind of unforeseen bombshell news story late in an election cycle that can fundamentally change the course of the race.
U.S. presidential elections have a history of being dramatically influenced by “October Surprises,” events that throw the momentum in the direction of one candidate at a point so close to the election that the opponent has no time to recover. We can trace the concept of the “October Surprise” back to Richard Nixon’s 1968 promise that he had a “secret plan” to end the war in Vietnam. Nixon’s perverse claim was nauseating to anyone with an intellectual pulse: “Hey, Tricky, if you know how to immediately stop the maiming and killing of our soldiers, tell us now instead of conditioning your brilliant solution on your election.”
Recent elections have actually seen multiple “October Surprises.” In 2012 (September, actually), a tape was released of Mitt Romney addressing a private meeting of wealthy donors in which he said “there are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what," alleging that these people are "dependent upon government ... believe that they are victims ... believe the government has a responsibility to care for them ... these are people who pay no income tax." Then, just days before the election, Hurricane Sandy devastated the East coast, and President Barack Obama flew to New Jersey to discuss Federal disaster relief with Governor Chris Christie. Republican Christie gushed effusively in praise of the Democratic President’s decisive action in a crisis. These two events did much to seal Romney’s fate.
But leave it to the hot mess of an election in 2016 to contain the most devastating “October Surprises” in American history.
In early October, 2016, Donald Trump’s campaign appeared to have been stopped dead in its tracks by the emergence of the “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump gleefully bragged that his fame gave him permission to sexually violate women. In the conference rooms of major Republican donors, there was urgent talk of demanding that Trump abdicate and let Mike Pence take the top spot on the ticket.
And yet weeks later, the momentum of the campaign would be reversed, as FBI Director James Comey torpedoed Hillary Clinton’s election prospects by announcing that he was re-opening the investigation into her emails and then issuing his “exoneration” letter even closer to election day, stirring the pot yet again. Comey’s announcement violated FBI protocols, and tipped the balance in a tight election to Trump.
The shockers in the past two elections alone make us wary that “October Surprises” can – and repeatedly have -- thoroughly altered the trajectory of a Presidential election. But the unique anti-democratic actions of Donald Trump should put us all on guard that the “October surprises” of 2020 will not just be random acts of nature or the overreach of bumbling, self-important FBI Directors. The surprises this time may be thoroughly planned, calculated actions on the part of the campaigns, news organizations, and even foreign countries, all designed to have maximum impact in the final days of the election… when it is essentially too late for a candidate to respond to or recover from a particularly devastating assault.
Given Donald Trump’s legendary flair for deceit, we have to recognize that “October surprises” need not be grounded in fact at all. Political operatives with rudimentary skills in photoshop and the moral compass of Josef Goebbels can concoct a brutal “October surprise” like a magician, creating doubt, shame, and an aura of guilt on an innocent opponent. In the wake of the latest egregious Supreme Court hypocrisy from McConnell and Graham, it is clear that Republicans follow no rules… not even the ones they make up.
And, of course, Donald Trump has repeatedly demonstrated throughout his time in office that the only way he knows how to deal with a negative story is to create even more shocking headlines that change the subject. The death of RBG not only gave Trump the opportunity to profoundly alter the composition of the Supreme Court, it has become just one more story that changes the subject away from Trump’s miserable management of the COVID-19 pandemic. Trump would love an October filled with surprises that prevent the media, Joe Biden, and the public from focusing on his actual record.
But do not presume that the Republican Party and their Pravda propaganda machine, Fox News, are alone in planning these bombshells. Foreign governments who see an advantage in the election of a specific party could take actions calculated to help or hinder a candidate. And reputable news organizations are no doubt racing to uncover the secret that could blow the lid off a presidential campaign. The difference is that The New York Times would only publish a story based on factual evidence, where the Trump campaign and Fox will eagerly make stuff up if they think it would work.
Sure, it is fair to speculate that in 2020, the impact of “late October surprises” might be muffled by the fact that this year so many Americans will be voting well before election day. Yet it is equally plausible to suggest that the very people who are waiting to the last minute to vote are the ones who are undecided… and therefore the most vulnerable to such last-minute manipulation.
It is with these realities -- and very real phobias -- that we consider ten “October Surprises” that could be coming to a television near you in the final weeks of the 2020 campaign.
1.Trump’s instantly universally available vaccine panacea.
Count on it: Donald Trump will call a major press conference in late October to formally announce that there is a proven, effective, and safe coronavirus vaccine... whether there is one or not, and whether any of the promising trials has actually been fully completed. Trump believes that a vaccine is the trump card that can fully negate his abject failure in handling the COVID-19 pandemic, and he will do anything and everything to claim credit that one is ready and imminently available. Indeed, his real “October Surprise” may be to insist that the vaccine will be broadly available within weeks after the election.
Trump may not be enough of a student of history to be familiar with the practices of the Third Reich, but the essence of Nazi propaganda was the belief that the vast swath of the population was comprised of unthinking, gullible oafs, who were particularly susceptible to the “Big Lie,” the outrageous assertion that they deeply want to believe. Americans desperately want the coronavirus to, in Trump’s famous words, “magically disappear,” and Trump is ready to promise that a vaccine will be ready immediately after election day in order to get re-elected. Hey, he won’t be proven wrong until after the election, so what does he care?
But it won’t just be a “Big Lie,” it will be an enormous lie. When the head of the CDC informed the Senate about the likelihood that the vaccine would not be available to mass populations until “late second quarter, third quarter of 2021,” Trump tried to overrule him, announcing that he had “incorrect information.” Trump is absolutely determined to change the public view of his inept, ignorant management of the COVID-19 pandemic by scoring a “Hail Mary” with a coronavirus vaccine.
And, of course, knowing Trump as we now do, he will probably wander way off script in his press conference and claim that the formula for the vaccine was his idea, that Obama couldn’t do it, and that he will prioritize the availability of the vaccine to all the swings states that vote for him.
No matter how many scientists, pharma executives, and public health officials try to tell the public the truth, Trump's vaccine "October Surprise" will be successful, if only in further deceiving the true believers who he desperately needs to turn out in droves in order to keep the election close. The damage will be done, as Fox News will put Trump’s vaccine claim in the “A bloc” of every hour until election day.
2. William Barr will announce the “findings” of his probe into the origins of the Russia investigation.
Here is another “October Surprise” that has been in the works for months. Last year, Barr assigned U.S. Attorney John Durham of Connecticut the task of investigating the motivations and processes of the U.S. intelligence operations that ultimately led to the Mueller investigation and the impeachment of Trump.
Barr’s “investigation” is a naked ploy to turn the massive evidence of the Trump campaign’s 2016 collusion with Russia into liability for Biden. Last week Nora Dannehy, a top prosecutor in the probe, resigned because – according to interviews with her colleagues -- she felt that Barr was exerting inappropriate pressure to produce findings before election day.
Expect Barr to make a big announcement the last week in October that Durham’s investigation has concluded that the Obama/Biden White House ordered a surreptitious effort by our intelligence operations to dig up dirt and manufacture bogus information designed to damage Trump’s candidacy. Fact? No. It will be a replay of Barr's heinous misrepresentation of the findings of the Mueller investigation.
And as sickening as it is to contemplate, we should not be surprised if the grossly corrupt Barr announces that criminal charges “should be considered” against Barack Obama and Joe Biden for their “central role” in “using their executive powers to direct the intelligence agencies to generate a false narrative in order to discredit a political opponent.”
Yes, irony is rarely recognized by the cast of the Trump Puppet Show.
3. Pre-election “proof” that the election has been “rigged.”
Trump’s game plan is now crystal clear: turn out his base in droves on the hope of making the elections close enough in swing states that he can claim that he lost because massive voter fraud. He then will contest the results in court, and will count on his new 6-3 majority in the Supreme Court to overturn the will of the people and hand him a second term.
However, rather than wait until after election day, expect Louis DeJoy, the political appointee heading the U.S. Post Office, to announce in late October that he has already been presented with “incontrovertible evidence” of “massive voter fraud” on the part of the Democrats in key swing states.
Who would put it past the corrupt Republican Party to actually print thousands of bogus mail-in voter forms, and then present their own fraudulent forms as evidence that had been “discovered in the mail system,” as clear proof of the Democrats tampering in the ballot process?"
The October surprise: the Republicans won’t wait for the election results, and won’t wait until the ballots are already in the hands of election officials. They will attempt to poison the well in advance by claiming to already have evidence of voter fraud before Election Day.
4. Allegations of illicit and abusive sexual behavior by Biden.
It’s actually pretty easy to manufacture an “October Surprise” from thin air. Imagine that Fox News announces that it has “explosive video evidence” that proves that Joe Biden used his power as Vice President to force a woman into a non-consensual sexual relationship.
Here is where Photoshop artists will have a field day. Suddenly, in late October, photographs emerge on sketchy news outlets that allege to show Joe Biden entering the home of a suburban Washington women who will accuse him of using the power of his office to demand sexual favors. It will be easy enough to generate: simply hire a man of comparable age and build ti Biden, and photograph at the front door of the woman’s home, and hire a loyal Republican woman to make the allegation.
A modest amount of Photoshop artistry will make the “visitor” appear to be Biden.
As has happened so often, Fox News does not feel a need to authenticate a story. They'd just constantly air "reports of the Joe Biden sex scandal" on a continuous loop until the election.
Character assassination 101.
5. Trumped-up “medical evidence” that Joe Biden’s mental faculties are compromised by “rapidly advancing Alzheimer’s disease.”
We should expect it: some organization – the Russians, a White supremacist cult, Qanon – will attempt to create a bogus medical file that allegedly chronicles Joe Biden’s "eroding mental acuity," which will be “leaked,” having been supposedly smuggled out of a private medical facility by a “whistle blower” who felt that it was crucial that the nation was aware of Biden’s supposed mental deterioration.
It will all be fake. But Fox News will eat it up.
6. A foreign power will make a major announcement designed to enhance Trump’s stature.
If Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-un want to keep their puppet in the White House, one of their best ploys would be to make Trump look good on the international stage.
How about if Vladimir Putin decides that late October would be the perfect time to announce that he wishes to engage in comprehensive nuclear disarmament negotiations if Donald Trump is re-elected President? What if Kim Jong-un issues an utterly disingenuous statement that based on his admiration for and trust of Donald Trump, he wishes to normalize relations with South Korea and abandon his own nuclear aspirations if Trump is re-elected?
It doesn’t matter if these intentions are forgotten the minute the election is over. They’d help accomplish the common goal of these two dictators: keep Trump in office.
Ok, it this all too depressing? Remember: not all of the “October surprises” will be designed to damage Biden.
There’s no doubt that respected journalists in highly reputable news organizations are aggressively pursuing every possible source to get at the truth about some of the biggest liabilities in Donald Trump’s flimsy façade.
7. The real story about Trump's unscheduled trip to Walter Reed.
In November, 2019, Trump made a hastily arranged visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and the explanation at the time – that Trump was simply completing a delayed portion of his annual physical – raised more questions than answers. Recently, Michael Schmidt of The New York Times reported in a new book that Mike Pence had been instructed to be “on standby” during Trump’s time at the hospital.
What was curious is that Donald Trump responded to Schmidt’s book with a tweet denying that he had suffered a series of “mini-strokes,” but Schmidt had never mentioned “mini-strokes” in the book. The two weeks that Trump spent chanting “person woman man camera tv” as evidence of his sturdy mental capacity seemed to be further evidence that Trump doth protest a bit too much.
Bet your bottom dollar that enterprising reporters are probing every contact to find out exactly why Trump made that unscheduled visit. Given his two-handed water glass lifts, his constant mangling of language, and his perverse psychological need to project his own weaknesses, sins, failings, and deceits onto his opponents, it’s a good bet that where there is smoke there is fire.
Were facts to come out in October indicating that significant medical incident had occurred -- one which was concealed from the public -- it would be another gut punch to Trump’s prospects.
8. A smoking gun about “what Putin has on Trump”
If there is a Holy Grail of investigative journalism, it goes to the reporter who finally figures out exactly why Donald Trump kneels before Vladimir Putin, refusing to confront the Russian despot on his election meddling, the poisoning of his political opponents, and for putting a bounty on the heads of American soldiers. Putin’s grip on Trump is so overwhelming and yet so mysterious that Americans ache for an explanation. The journalist who can decisively solve this riddle will be Woodward, Bernstein, Cronkite, Bradlee, and Edward R. Murrow rolled into one.
If a reporter can deliver a major revelation on this subject – concrete proof of financial debt to Putin, recordings of Trump’s personal involvement in soliciting Putin’s help in the 2016 election, or evidence that Putin possesses has personal dirt on Trump – it could drop a neutron bomb on Trump’s re-election prospects.
9. Evidence of criminal activity by the Trump Organization in New York.
We’ve all been aware of the cat and mouse game between New York District Attorney Cy Vance and Trump’s lawyers as the New York prosecutor draws ever closer to getting his hands on Donald Trump’s tax records. Similarly, New York State Attorney General Letitia James recently took legal measures to force Eric Trump to testify about the financial dealings of the Trump Organization, which he has now agreed to do… after the election. Neither governmental enforcement agency appears ready to actually charge Trump or his company with criminal behavior, and it remains a matter of unsettled law whether charges can even be brought against a sitting President.
However, don’t rule out a classic massive investigative probe by The New York Times that provides enough fact to hypothesize about the scope and magnitude of criminality tied directly to Trump in his role as head of the Trump Organization.
10. George W. Bush and Barack Obama join forces to endorse Biden.
There is already been a formidable cast of Republican bold-faced names who have either refused to endorse Donald Trump for President, or who have actually come out and endorsed Joe Biden.
Colin Powell, John Kasich, Chuck Hagel, Cindy McCain, and Christine Todd Whitman have all endorsed Biden. Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has openly excoriated Trump’s leadership, and William H. McRaven, the retired Navy admiral who directed the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, has openly opposed Trump’s re-election. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski is “struggling” with whether to support Trump or not. The Republican candidate for President who preceded Trump – Mitt Romney – voted to impeach Trump and will not support his re-election.
So far, the defections of these prominent Republicans has elicited a yawn from the Trump faithful.
However, there is one name and one action that could possibly be damaging to Trump.
George W. Bush, who used to be the most vilified Republican President until Donald Trump came along, is now remarkably popular. When Bush left office in 2009, his approval rating was an appalling 33% -- actually less than Donald Trump’s rating at its worst. But popular opinion has changed. By 2018, approval of George W. Bush had soared to 61%. It’s fair to say that Bush is far, far more popular today than Trump.
What if Bush – the last Republican President – teamed up with Barack Obama to film a joint endorsement of Joe Biden?
Imagine if these two party icons collaborated on a video that condemned Trump’s divisiveness, disrespect for the Constitution, and his assertion that those who fought and died in our military are “losers?” Perhaps it is unlikely. But George W. Bush must be seething at the gross disrespect that Trump has shown him, his father, his brother, the office of the Presidency, and the military in which his father so nobly served. Maybe. Just maybe.
There you have it. Ten possible October surprises... and yet we could go on forever.
Of course the real truth is that the ones that can’t be predicted that always seem to be the most crushing.
And, yet, then again, would any of it make the slightest difference?
Could any “October surprises” really change the course of the election in the way Jim Comey threw the 2016 election to Donald Trump?
Many would argue that minds are already made up, and the truth of it is that through all the twists, turns, and news cycles in recent weeks, the national polling on the presidential race has remained remarkable stable.
It certainly feels that after every disgrace, lie, and assault on the Constitution in the past three years, nothing on heaven or earth would convince a Trump loyalist to abandon him at this point.
Sadly, it’s actually far easier to imagine a Biden support being alienated by an allegation of wrong-doing than a Trump supporter: the latter have been conditioned to believe that all negative press about the president is “fake news,” and none of the outrages he has committed in office have made the slightest dent in their devotion.
But it all comes down to this: Trump is going to do every single thing he can to steal this election: lying about his accomplishments, lying about his opponent, suppressing the vote, casting doubt on the validity of the results, attempting to undermine the Electoral College, and screaming that it is all rigged… all, likely, with the simple goal of taking the decision out of the hands of the people and putting it in the hands of a Republican majority Supreme Court.
We've said it many times before: Donald Trump desperately needs to retain the presidency because he knows that it is the only way he will stay out of jail. He will do anything to win.
The past four years have been a nightmare, 2020 has been a catastrophe, and yet still we must understand this: it is actually going to get worse before it gets better.
If, indeed, it ever gets better.
It's time to get back to the phone banks, the post cards, and making the donations -- no matter how many urgent emails you end up getting from John Hickenlooper. The time is now to do everything we can to win big -- to win by a big enough margin in enough states that Trump's effort to characterize his loss as a fraud will collapse.
Buckle your seat belts, America. We’ve predicted ten “October surprises.” And yet is likely that the ones we haven’t predicted are going to be the ones that really rock the election.
Just ask President Hillary Clinton.