October Surprises: Trump and Pence Remind Us that This Is a Change Election

James P. Pinkerton, Breitbart

1. The October Surprise

Remember the “October Surprise”? I sure do. Back in the 1980 presidential campaign, the October Surprise was the rumor that the incumbent president, Jimmy Carter, vexed as he was by the Iranian hostage crisis, would pull off some shocking ploy—such as gaining the sudden release of the hostages—as a way of winning that year’s November election. That October Surprise never happened, of course, and maybe we’ll never really know if it was ever anything more than a figment of someone’s imagination.

And yet as we all do know, in that year, 1980, it was Ronald Reagan, not Carter, who triumphed. In fact, Reagan won in a landslide. Still, the notion of some big game-changer happening in October has reverberated in every presidential election since.

This year, 2016, October has only just begun, and so we don’t yet know what shockeroo might be in store for us. Yet it’s a cinch that something surprising will happen, because, well, that’s the way the world works. Indeed, just on Monday morning, we got an ominous indicator of what could be in the offing; the Iranians fired two missiles at a U.S. ship off the coast of Yemen in the Middle East. (The missiles missed, and there were no American casualties).

Of course, we already know that on October 4, to the surprise of the pundits Mike Pence clearly won his vice presidential debate against Tim Kaine. Yes, as we all saw, Pence was calm and cool, while Kaine was overcaffeinated and overheated.  And we also know that in the second presidential debate on October 10, Donald Trump put the hammer down on Hillary Clinton—“You should be ashamed of yourself; you should be in jail.” It’s fair to say that the political class didn’t see either of those events coming; those two victories in the debates were, yes, October surprises.


Looking ahead a month to Election Day, November 8, one hesitates to make any sort of prediction; after all, the news cycle—in reality, a continuous news stream—is so fast and furious now that who can say what impressions the voters will have in their heads as they go to the polls. So instead, one must settle for piecing together clues and portents. And I will say this: The  parallels between 1980 and 2016 are strong. 

Indeed, I have particularly sharp recollections of the 1980 presidential election, because I was there: I was a twenty-something peon in the policy operation at the Reagan headquarters, first known as Reagan for President in Los Angeles, and later, in Arlington, VA, as the Reagan-Bush campaign.

To be sure, my duties were humble; mostly, I answered letters and helped fill out questionnaires, along with making frequent runs to the library—because that’s what you had to do back then to check facts in the pre-Internet era. (One of my missions was a trip to the Library of Congress to gather material on the legal power of the president to unilaterally impose wage-and-price controls: Yes, the theory that Carter would suddenly announce a drastic governmental response to the double-digit inflation of that era was yet another rumored “October Surprise.”)

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