Trump’s October Surprise(s)

Spirited Reasoners will recall the term “October surprise” from the past ten general elections. It refers to the (allegedly) intentional actions of one candidate aimed at gaining a last-minute advantage. The hope on the part of the alleged perpetrator is to douse potential voters with powerful arguments when there is too little time for the opposing candidate to respond.

As this post is being written, polls have trended decisively in Biden’s direction, and the Trump campaign seems to have painted itself into a corner. Although Trump replaced his campaign manager this week, one wonders what possible strategy remains for the man who declared, so publicly, that COVID-19 was nothing more than the flu, and that after the first fifteen cases it would just go away (or “wash right over us,” to use his words.) As disease numbers continue to mount in states across the Sunbelt, Trump’s politics of delusion—the idea that it’s all just a Democratic hoax—is no longer viable. Voters understand that hospital ICUs are not filling up because of “too much testing” any more than this week’s heatwave across the south is being caused by too many thermometers. ICUs are filling up because more people are becoming seriously ill.

Which leads us to the question at hand: What strategy could Trump’s new campaign manager possibly employ to turn these poll numbers around?

Following are a few, admittedly cynical, possibilities for an October surprise. Speculation is not the same as spirited reasoning, but Biden’s campaign manager must consider such matters as Election Day approaches.

  1. A last minute “cure.” We should not be surprised if, sometime this fall, President Trump makes some sort of special address to the nation, announcing that, as a result of his amazing leadership, American scientists have discovered a miracle treatment for COVID-19. Does anyone want proof? “We’re in the process of manufacturing hundreds of millions of doses this very day,” he can say. And who would be able to prove him wrong? Especially when the CEO of a drug company, one who happens to support Trump’s reelection, would happily stand at the podium to make such an announcement at his side. Have federal agencies proven this new drug to be safe and effective? “People need this treatment now. We can’t afford to wait for a bunch of pointy-headed bureaucrats to hold things up.” Biggest problem here for the Trump campaign? He’s already been down this road with hydroxychloroquine.
  2. A last minute “vaccine.” Same scenario as above, but the vaccine is now “already being administered” at hotspots “all across this beautiful country.” Will it work? We’ll have the results soon after the election, of course.
  3. A last-minute smear relating to Joe Biden. Perhaps one relating to his age or health.
  4. Imminent military action against a known enemy—perhaps China or Iran. Just enough saber-rattling to make some voters nervous about changing the Commander-in-Chief.

You get the point. As intelligent voters, we need to be on our guard against any claims of this sort.  The first question we should ask, if and when they arise, is the following: Why are we hearing about this now, and now before?