Every four years, political pundits talk about an “October Surprise” that could significantly sway voters for or against particular candidates, especially those candidates angling for the White House.
This election has already seen two such surprises. The first was unsurprising revelations that GOP presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits Biden: Those who defy Jan. 6 subpoenas should be prosecuted Hillicon Valley — Presented by LookingGlass — Hackers are making big money MORE was a sexist pig in 2005, and, related, a series of suspiciously-timed accusations that Trump sexually assaulted a number of women.
The second was the series of Wikileaks releases showing that Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits Biden sends 'best wishes' to Clinton following hospitalization The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Jan. 6 panel flexes its muscle MORE lied about her Blackberry use, changes positions on public policy in private and public speeches, and that some of her senior advisers are intentionally subverting the Catholic Church in America.
And that just scratches the surface — a more recent release indicates that a possible $12 million pay-for-play took place at the Clinton Foundation with the king of Morocco, and Clinton received a primary question in advance from former CNN contributor Donna Brazile, who now chairs the Democratic National Committee.
Despite being a #NeverTrump voter, it’s pretty clear even to me that the Trump sex scandals were set to launch in a way that successfully partially buried the devastating Wikileaks releases.
The third surprise came about on Saturday, and it might just be the most significant of all.
What is this new surprise?
On Saturday, the Los Angeles Times reported that Pentagon is recouping enlistment bonuses given to 9,700 members of the California National Guard during the Bush administration. Desperate to fill quotas, the California Guard had given overly large bonuses that included fraud and mismanagement.
Now, veterans and others who were enticed to enter and/or stay in the military are facing the loss of tens of thousands of dollars each. According to the Times, it’s not just the original money that’s at stake, either; “interest charges, wage garnishments and tax liens” are being added to recoupment efforts for those who refuse to pay.
A follow-up report by the Times has noted bipartisan condemnation, including from California Republican and fourth-ranking House Member Kevin McCarthy. The Guard says it has no recourse, and blames the Pentagon for the controversial policies. The Obama administration, meanwhile, is fighting to dismiss a class-action lawsuit related to recoupment.
Why would this “surprise” matter?
This is a non-political issue that affects everyday people, and was broken in such a fashion by a major mainstream publication.
Conversely, Wikileaks probably broke the law, possibly in partnership with the Russian government. The Trump sex scandals are clearly opposition research being dropped at a time convenient for the Clinton campaign, and the right is correctly accusing the media of using the sexier issue of groping to cover the far more problematic issues of Clinton’s dishonest and possibly illegal behavior.
Again, this scandal was broken just this past Saturday, yet one petition urging the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the Pentagon’s recoupment efforts already has over 30,000 signatures. It affects veterans who were recruited on the government’s word that it would honor sums of money that are significant to each individual, but total less than $43 for every $1,000 provided to the Pentagon in Fiscal Year 2016. The money in question totals less than $250 million out of the $586 billion Pentagon budget last year.
This is a clear case of the Pentagon corruption or mismanagement. There are tens or hundreds of billions — depending on who you ask — in mismanaged funds via the Pentagon’s contracting system and cost overruns, to say nothing of simple fraud. Yet the Obama administration is going after veterans, the very people who risked life and limb for two wars that both President George W. Bush and President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaJill Biden campaigns for McAuliffe in Virginia Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Biden administration breaks down climate finance roadmap Pelosi hilariously scolds media for not 'selling' .5T spending bill: 'Do a better job' MORE spent far too many lives and too much treasury on.
Morally, nobody benefits from this scandal. Veterans are again getting the shaft, and taxpayers are watching their leaders scrap for pennies while ignoring the real savings potential at the Pentagon, which has never been fully audited, by the way.
Politically, Republicans stand to gain a great deal. Obama’s veterans’ scandals are the stuff of legends, and even leftists like Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart have slammed him on numerous occasions. This is the same administration that Hillary Clinton has proudly tied her reputation to, both as Secretary of State and by having Obama as a top surrogate this year.
Plus, she voted for the U.S. to go into Iraq. While Trump also supported going in, she had real influence on the policies of the day — as did Obama, since they were both U.S. senators when veterans were being given allegedly illegal bonuses.
Now, Obama is going after veterans who served his administration through two wars, who were given a promise under Bush that the current president is breaking. Rather than go after billions in program overruns to save money, the Pentagon is targeting veterans.
Blame a predatory Obama administration, tie Clinton to it, and don’t give an inch until Election Day. Use powerful rhetoric — as Trump has done on occasion, despite several very public stumbles on issues related to veterans — about caring for veterans, and come across as genuinely compassionate. The GOP might actually save the Senate, and perhaps Trump could actually get in the White House. As a #NeverTrump voter, this last part is annoying to admit, but it’s true.
Please note that looking beyond the tactics, it’s an open question as to whether veterans or taxpayers will fare any better under GOP control of Washington. We’ve seen what Republicans will do with majorities — under Bush, they made things worse financially, bore their own major veterans scandal, and began two badly-run wars. Under Obama, they’ve done scant little on the fiscal front, and mostly doubled down on spending more at the Pentagon, even violating the 2011 Budget Control Act to do so.
And Republicans have broken promise after promise on the Affordable Care Act and other issues of great national importance.
I doubt they’ll change their colors after Election Day 2016. But as a political commentator, this third October Surprise is unquestionably available for a party besieged on all fronts.