Trump’s ‘October Surprise’ a Reality Show of Presidential Incompetence

Trump's rallies recklessly endangers thousand of his supporters with limited mask wearing and no social distancing.
With each rally, Trump is recklessly endangering thousands of supporters throughout the country. Source: CAP Action

Nobody’s buying the Hunter Biden smear, and so this year’s ‘October Surprise’ is Trump surrendering to widespread coronavirus spikes.

Prologue: The October Surprise

You’re no doubt familiar with political jargon called the October Surprise. In US politics, the October Surprise is an event, usually deliberate but sometimes spontaneous, that may influence the outcome of a November presidential (or midterm) election. It occurs in almost every cycle.

The term was coined by a one William Casey, who was campaign manager of Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign against incumbent President Jimmy Carter. Carter’s embattled presidency seemed to depend on the release of American hostages being held by fanatical Iranian students who stormed the US embassy. The Reagan campaign was rightfully worried that a breakthrough in negotiations with the Iranians right before the election–an October Surprise–would ensure Carter’s reelection.

History does not record a secret, back-channel Reagan intervention with the Iranians, similar to what Richard Nixon pulled off with the Vietnamese right before the 1968 election. But the facts will show that Reagan won the election and–surprise!–the hostages were released on the new president’s Inauguration Day. That very day!

There was no report of a James Comey letter. Or any DNC hacking.

Conspiracy theorist Rudy Giuliani, formerly America’s Mayor. Source: New York Magazine

It’s really quite amazing. With the novel coronavirus broadening its reach to all parts of America (rural outposts are seeing their first cases) and COVID cases multiplying like it’s spring and summer all over again, you’d think the president would abandon his do-nothing approach and at least pretend to care about this catastrophe a week from the election. Now that would be an October Surprise.

You would be wrong. in fact, Trump is holding “super-spreader” campaign rallies all over the country (see lead graphic). No, Trump is pursuing his own brand of an October Surprise: Attack. Divide. Belittle. Deceive. It’s what he does. But it is not going well.

The Hunter Biden Smear

Just like in 2016 with Hillary Clinton, this smear started with emails.

Right before the final presidential debate, Rudy Giuliani, still the president’s personal lawyer, presented to the press a one Tony Bobulinski, allegedly a disgruntled former business partner of Hunter Biden, the Democratic nominee’s son. Bobulinski displayed to the press gaggle three cell phones (which were never inspected) that he claimed contained incriminating evidence against Joe Biden that Bobulinski planned to turn over to prosecuting authorities.

The allegations had to do with Joe Biden being involved in a shady business venture with Bobulinski, son Hunter and the Chinese oil company CEFC China Energy Co.

Bobulinski provided the Wall Street Journal with emails and text messages about the deal. Just as the Trump campaign hoped, the WSJ published a story just minutes after the debate concluded. But the story was definitely not the one Trump and Giuliani expected.

After reviewing the emails and texts, the paper found that the materials lacked any inkling of a role for Joe Biden in the venture. Wall Street Journal:

The venture–set up in 2017 after Mr. Biden left the vice presidency and before his presidential campaign–never received proposed funds from the Chinese company or completed any deals, according to people familiar with the matter. Corporate records reviewed by the Wall Street Journal show no role for Joe Biden.

Wall Street Journal
There’s No ‘There’ There

Of course the tenacious Giuliani has not given up. (By the way, what happened to America’s Mayor?) Giuliani probably learned a valuable lesson from the WSJ transaction: respectable newspapers base their stories on facts and evidence, no matter the slant of their opinion pages.

Giuliani maintains strict control over the documents so that he can cherry-pick portions that may put the Bidens in a bad light. And Giuliani allows access to the documents only to news outlets that won’t scrutinize them too closely. If you’re a good, principled reporter, you will probably not get a look at anything out of Rudy Giuliani’s briefcase.

“Working the Refs”

And so Giuliani is basically stuck with a “rogue’s gallery” of hand-picked right wing newspapers and websites. The most prominent of those is the New York Post, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch. The Post gave the story front page coverage, but problems with credibility were so toxic in the newsroom that some reporters refused to add their bylines.

Understanding that a questionable story will get oxygen if it’s covered by the mainstream media, Trump has made a last ditch attempt at a familiar strategy called “working the refs”: Trump continually berates journalists (like Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes) for not covering the story. The unspoken response: Give me access to the documents.

With less than a week before the election, Trump’s October Surprise is dimming like a late fall sunset.

Chart of daily new COVID cases in the US.
Source: CNBC
Trump to Coronavirus: I Surrender

Last Thursday, the US set a single day high of 77,640 COVID cases, according to NBC News. Also on that day, there were over 1,000 recorded deaths.

The Trump administration responded by accusing doctors of faking the numbers so they can make more money. During the final presidential debate, we heard the same old reality show spin: “It will go away,” Trump said. “and as I say, we’re rounding the turn, we’re rounding the corner…it’s going away.”

Last Sunday, the president’s chief of staff at last leveled with the American people: “We are not going to control the pandemic,” said Mark Meadows.

It’s always nice to control your October Surprise. But that requires a degree of competence that this presidency thoroughly lacks.

Editor’s note: Many thanks again to Media Matters for America for again providing crucial background material. Please go out and vote.

Andrew Goutman

Andrew Goutman is the editor of The Record.

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