With only a week left until we flip a page on the calendar, it’s inevitable that folks, like political dabbler Donald Trump, would be ginning up an October surprise guaranteed to shake the presidential race to its very core.
But at least in recent years, most trumped-up “October surprises” aren’t all that surprising — and, most important, they haven’t ultimately swayed election outcomes.
In 2000, a scant five days before voters headed to the polling booths, it came out that George W. Bush was arrested for drunken driving in the 70’s. He still won. (Adviser Karl Rove said the revelation lost Bush evangelical votes, and he lost the popular vote, but still, a win’s a win.)
People often refer to the economic collapse in 2008 as that race’s October surprise — but the financial crisis began in September. So it’s disqualified.
Another supposed 2008 October surprise was the shocker that Obama had a half-aunt who was an illegal immigrant. (Cue the crickets.)
In recent times, most everything of note in October seems to get labeled a surprise, even if it’s not a bombshell revelation or something that can alter a race.
Perhaps that’s why Trump could hype offering 5 million bucks if Obama releases his school transcripts as his own “October surprise.”
In the good old days, Stephen Hess, who served in the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations, recalls a bona fide October surprise at the end of the 1956 campaign, when the Soviets invaded Hungary and Israel, Britain and France invaded Egypt.
Now that’s a game-changer. “A real October surprise is something that happens in a close election that could really make a difference,” Hess says.
From a world on the brink of war to a swirly haired TV star’s publicity stunt, the October surprise — or what’s described as one — sure has changed.