In American political parlance since 1972 an “October Surprise” is a major news event timed or orchestrated to affect the following month’s election, especially a presidential election.
So, does last Friday’s notorious recording of Trump boasting of attempted adultery and casual sexual assault constitute this election’s October Surprise? Well, it obviously occurred during the month of October. And it seems a safe guess that the Washington Post, a well-known left-wing newspaper, deliberately timed the release of the eleven-year-old recording so as to produce an effect on next month’s election.
But was it a surprise? I’ll have to say I was not surprised. My initial reaction was similar to what I felt in January 1998 when the news broke that President Bill Clinton had carried on an affair in the Oval Office with an intern approximately the age of his daughter. We already knew, didn’t we, that Bill Clinton was an out-of-control, extreme serial adulterer. What was surprising about the revelation of one more affair? It was remarkably brazen in its location and tawdry in regard to the youth of the woman, but it was just the sort of thing Bill Clinton would do. How then could it possibly affect the political situation? Surely, everyone who had any objection to adultery in any form was already opposed to Clinton. But it did turn out to be politically significant.
My initial reaction to the Trump tape was much the same. It is utterly disgusting and repulsive and exactly the sort of thing I would expect Donald Trump to do. Surely, anyone who cared about that sort of thing would already be in the #NeverTrump camp. Well, actually, no. Trump happens to have won the nomination of the Republican Party (with less than 40% of its primary votes), and that party contains a significant portion of Christians and others who object to things like adultery and sexual assault. Many of them have hitherto managed to convince themselves that the “R” behind Trump’s name on the ballot will provide a sufficient increment of virtue above his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton to justify voting for him, even if he is a notoriously immoral man.
So will the semi-surprise of October 7 have an effect on the election after all? Perhaps. People don’t always perceive things the first (or second, third, or fourth) time they encounter them. Sometimes I don’t either. When we’ve been paying close attention to a subject, and have recognized some things about it, those things may seem much more obvious to us than they will to our often distracted fellow citizens. Sometimes people have to see a thing, or hear it, for themselves before it will get their attention. Maybe hearing Trump’s own voice boasting of sexual assault will cause the light to dawn on some people. Maybe the latest Trump recording will persuade a significant number of Christians to maintain their testimony by taking a principled stand against the sexual predator who says he has never done anything for which he needs God’s forgiveness. This is not, after all, a two-way election. You are allowed to vote for others besides Democrats and Republicans, and there is at least one presidential candidate for whom Christians could vote with a clear conscience.
One thing seems certain, however. Whether a surprise or not, the October 7 recording of Trump boasting of adultery and sexual assault is not the October Surprise for this election. We can expect the emergence of further revolting specimens of Trump’s character as election day draws closer.