Feehery: Are you (October) surprised?

Feehery: Are you (October) surprised?
© Anna Moneymaker

In 1968, on the eve of the presidential election, Lyndon Johnson found out that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger were actively working to stop his administration from concluding a peace deal with the North Vietnamese. Nixon didn’t want that kind of October surprise to shift the election to Johnson’s vice president, Hubert Humphrey.  

Unfortunately for LBJ, he couldn’t reveal that kind of political hanky-panky because he found out about it by illegally wiretapping the Nixon campaign. 

In 1980, rumors were rampant that the Reagan campaign had actively worked to ensure that Iran wouldn’t give back the American hostages right before the election, which it had held for more than a year. If those rumors were true, they worked because Carter didn’t get the hostages back in time to save his presidency. 


On Oct. 30, 1992, Lawrence Walsh, the independent counsel appointed to investigate the Iran-Contra scandal, reindicted former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger for his role in the affair. That October surprise dominated the news, taking the steam out of George H.W. Bush’s comeback and throwing the election to Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonPennsylvania's other election-night story Democrats debate how to defeat Trump: fight or heal As impeachment goes public, forget 'conventional wisdom' MORE. 

It used to be said that the American people didn’t really start paying attention to politics until after Labor Day. That’s what made October surprises so effective in swinging elections. If voters were still making up their minds about who to vote for, big news could make a big difference. 

I am not sure if that is still the case today.

Rahm Emanuel, the former top campaign strategist for House Democrats and the retiring mayor of Chicago, was a master at the October surprise. He was one who rode the Mark Foley scandal to a Democratic majority in 2006. He lit off several other bombs in campaigns across the country, but the Foley scandal was the one that really hit the GOP hard. 

You can make the case that the latest revelations about Brett Kavanaugh, which could potentially derail his nomination to the Supreme Court, is an example of the October surprise, although we are still in September. My view is that if you were opposed to Kavanaugh getting the nod, these accusations tend to support your opposition. If, on the other hand, you think he would make a good Supreme Court justice, you tend to look suspiciously at the timing and the substance of the allegations. 

If Republicans buckle on his confirmation, the October surprise will be on them, because they will make their base furious and could lose the Senate, as well as the House. 

In this hyperpartisan era, it is hard to know what other surprise could persuade anybody to change their vote. This is not a persuasion election. It’s an activation election. To misquote Meghan Trainor, it’s all about the base.  

Another book from somebody like Omarosa Manigault NewmanOmarosa Onee Manigault NewmanAuthor of anonymous 'resistance' NYT op-ed to publish book Juan Williams: Black Republicans call out Trump — finally — on race Michael Cohen denies Omarosa advising him in prison MORE or Bob Woodward, another anonymous op-ed printed in The New York Times or another revelation that Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinDemocrats ask judge to force McGahn to comply with subpoena Democrats ask court to force DOJ's hand on Mueller grand jury materials Washington celebrates diplomacy — and baseball — at Meridian Ball MORE wanted to depose the president isn’t going to change the arch of the election. We have been there, done that. 

The current crop of Republican voters doesn’t pay attention to the Lamestream Media anyway. They watch Fox or they watch Chip and Jo. And they have come to deeply distrust the Times and The Washington Post because of their incredibly biased view of the president and his administration.

So I don’t expect another media hit to make much of dent in this election. 

The president could make some news of his own, either by tweet or otherwise. He could get a deal on NAFTA with the Canadians. He could make progress on North Korea or get the Chinese to come to the table on trade. He could announce we were pulling out of Afghanistan or he could bomb the Syrians in response to a chemical attack. Any of those actions could make more him appear more presidential and perhaps calm the middle down a bit.

And of course, there could be plenty of mini-October surprises scattered across the country, as the campaign committees on both sides unload their opposition research in a desperate attempt to capture control of Congress. 

Politics has gotten so crazy, nothing surprises me anymore. And I think most voters feel the same way.

Feehery is partner at EFB Advocacy and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former Speaker of the House Dennis HastertJohn (Dennis) Dennis HastertFeehery: What Republicans must do to adapt to political realignment Feehery: How Republicans can win back the suburbs John Feehery: Mutiny on the Bounty MORE (R-Ill.), as communications director to former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) when he was majority whip and as a speech writer to former Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).