I know what you’re thinking right now: “I wonder what the October surprise will be.” (Admit it, you were thinking that, weren’t you?) And well you should. It can be expected the month before an election, especially the presidential ones. It’s when one side or the other arranges for the release of information that is devastating to the other candidate. Sometimes, it’s happenstance that something major is revealed in October, but more often than not, it’s a contrived major disclosure that has such an impact that it strongly influences the election’s outcome. That, at least, is the intention of the operators who are trying to turn voters against the opposing side.
This could be when we’d see the 33,000 emails from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private server that were determined by her lawyers to be personal and deleted. They could magically appear, courtesy of Donald Trump or his Russian comrades, certainly if some of them showed seriously questionable or even corrupt conduct by Clinton or her aides. That’s a big “if,” of course, but made plausible by the shifting stories of her and her aides, which have led millions of people to ask, “What are they hiding?” If the answer is nothing, we won’t see the emails. Of course, the other possibility is that neither Donald nor Vladimir has them, and there won’t be a dump.
The oppo research people on the Clinton side may be holding evidence of Trump’s smarmy business dealings or of conduct with women that is even more disturbing or outrageous than what we’ve seen already. Given how he’s held on to the passionate loyalty of the millions who have stayed with him through his constant displays of bigotry, misogyny, gross insensitivity and ignorance, it’s hard to imagine that there’s anything left that could further discredit him. But if it’s out there, October is when we’ll see it.
October also is when we’ll see the rest of the debates. The first one was no surprise. Hillary got to Trump, and he made the bush-league mistake of showing how he really thinks. Typical was how he responded when Hillary was suggesting the tax returns he refuses to release would show he did not pay any federal taxes. Twice, he interrupted her (he did that a lot) to say, “That makes me smart.” Actually, Donny, saying that out loud makes you stupid, which was why he denied saying it an hour later, even though it was on tape. Proof that he lost the debate was in the way he suggested that it was because of some conspiracy: He was given a bad microphone, and moderator Lester Holt was unfair to him. For the record, Lester did a superb job, highly professional. (Full disclosure: Lester Holt and I have a cordial relationship that stretches for years of crossing paths on stories.)
Maybe the October surprise will be an unintended one, where one candidate or the other says something so outrageously stupid during one of the remaining debates that it somehow sways the outcome. What would that October surprise be? If we knew, it wouldn’t be a surprise, now would it? Besides, I have no idea whatsoever.
Frankly, I’d personally be surprised if the next debate was anything but boring. That’s the one between the vice-presidential candidates. No offense, but Mike Pence and Tim Kaine don’t really get the adrenaline flowing. But you never know. Sometimes the lounge act is pretty good.
But it’s the next main-room performance where Donald Trump promises to bring it, hinting that he might hammer Hillary Clinton with her husband’s sexual exploits. That would be a huge mistake, considering he’s no slouch in the sleaze department, but maybe the October surprise will be that the campaign will reach new lows just in time for whatever surprise we might get on Election Day.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.