Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death was not the only electoral upset we’ll see in the coming weeks. And one particular surprise might be delivered by the very people Trump made sure got seats in the Supreme Court
No, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death was not the “October surprise” of this presidential election cycle. It’s true that the late justice’s passing, removing a liberal vote from the dais that soon will be replaced for decades by a conservative one, already has changed the conversation. But by how much, really?
One poll found 12 percent of Democratic voters are more motivated to vote now than they were before the possibility of a 6-3 rightward bend on the highest court in the land became a virtual lock. Despite some breathless reports about Democrats being more fired up, look at that number again.
Twelve is only 3 percent higher than the result being a single-digit motivation increase, and this correspondent always adjusts polls to factor in the margin or error, which typically lands around the 3 percent mark.
So when this cynic, no realist, examined that survey, my first reaction was: “That’s all? Twelve percent?”
There has been an outpouring of grief and sadness since the Brooklyn-born justice passed away, tributes befitting a true political and cultural icon who helped create more equitable workplaces for women, among other achievements. But one could assume her death will have a larger cultural impact than a political one, at least in our current climate.
Allow me to be more clear: In this Donald Trump-centric climate, everything is about the president. If it isn’t right now, wait five minutes for him to tweet about it. Or get ready for “Chopper Talk” as he shouts answers to masked reporters’ muffled questions over the hum of Marine One’s idling engines on the White House’s South Lawn. Or buckle up for his next evening “coronavirus briefing” or campaign rally. No topic or individual or group is ever truly safe from Trump.
There were ample warning signs that Ginsburg had again fallen ill. A body can only take so much, no matter the fighting spirit and still-sharp intellect of the mind inside. There were reasons to suspect, after warding off so many serious health scares, her latest at 87 might be the final straw.
But, make no mistake, the single reason Ginsburg’s passing is not the 2020 “October surprise” is Donald John Trump. Period
He showed us why on Tuesday evening, when Playboy magazine White House correspondent and columnist Brian Karem asked the president, should he lose to Democratic nominee Joe Biden, if he would accept the results of November’s election and ensure a peaceful transition to the 46th commander-in-chief.
“Well,” Trump said, “we’re going to have to see what happens.”
“I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster and…” he continued until Karem tried again.
“We want to have… Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very trans…” Trump said, appearing to catch himself before he did something he almost never does: Admit he might lose. That’s not a The Donald thing to do — it shows weakness to his base. And if Trump has a superpower or true gift, it is the mindset he has nurtured among his core supporters: To them, he is the strongest and most righteous American leader since Ronald Reagan, and maybe even “The Gipper” was a wilting flower compared to “Mr America First.”
“We’ll have a very peaceful…” he stopped again, unable to say the words. “There won’t be a transfer, frankly. There’ll be a continuation. The ballots are out of control.”
The sitting President of the United States is attacking the integrity of the election, and all evidence suggests he is preparing to legally challenge ballots in key swing states that are mailed in as a result of the coronavirus pandemic he could have done more to stifle and defeat.
With state and local officials about to send out ballots that, unlike the absentee ballot process, do not require any verification, Trump’s Tuesday night comments amounted to telegraphing his plan. But whatever action he takes would come after November 3rd, which is after October has come and gone.
With the president speaking more and more into live microphones as he ramps up his campaign stops at regional airports in those handful of ultra-competitive states, he showed us Tuesday night there could be many October surprises.
But don’t expect the campaigner-in-chief to light the fuses of those potentially election-changing bombs while speaking to a rowdy crowd of loyalists closely packed around a stage at an airport barely big enough for the small version of Air Force One.
Trump ignored and shunned the James Brady Briefing Room just steps from the Oval Office for three years. Then so did two of his press secretaries, Stephanie Grisham and Sarah Huckabee Sanders. It became an odd hybrid of media storage area and makeshift workspace. It smelled of sweat, lunch and coffee many days. Then came the coronavirus, and a need for him to look and sound presidential.
But the room has become his kryptonite. It’s not the room, though, of course: It’s the questions. He can’t resist stoking tensions and saying anything he can to signal that perceived strength to his base – if he is fighting a media they believe is in bed with Democrats, he calculates they are more likely to go vote in swing states where he needs a large conservative turnout.
The dynamic between Trump and his loyalists resembles a bad relationship on its best days and a toxic one on its worst. He has to take the most extreme positions, including raising the prospect – once you play out the scenario he created Tuesday night – that a President Joe Biden’s first order could be to remove a trespassing Citizen Donald Trump from the executive mansion. Or arrest him if he won’t leave.
But a Trump-uttered October surprise might be of his own making, a gaffe so large that is again raises questions about his fitness for the highest office in the land. Remember the night he advised Americans to inject household cleaners into their bodies to kill or protect them from Covid-19 while standing behind the room’s lectern?
As the band Green Day once sang, “wake me up when September ends.” That is when we could get a string of October surprises from a president who knows he cannot secure a second term without talking. Some have suggested his political career is a New York con-job. Whatever you call it, it is based on him talking. And when he does in the presence of the White House press corps, expect a surprise. Then another. Then another.
His repeated bombshells and chaos-making only further desensitizes us all. It rounds out our formerly shocked edges, and helps make the boundary-pushing actions that sometimes follow seem almost in bounds. This has been his approach for five years. And he’s trying to do it again to challenge what should be a very close election.
Remember that two of the conservative justices Trump put on the Supreme Court (Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh) – which he predicted Thursday likely will have to decide the election – have bucked him this year on high-profile cases. Chief Justice John Roberts, also appointed by a GOP president, has done so several times. Perhaps the election’s real surprise will come in November or December. And perhaps it is those “Trump justices” who will deliver it.
Chris Wallace: There Were Two October Surprises
‘Fox News Sunday’ host Chris Wallace doesn’t think there was an ‘October surprise; ahead of the midterms. He thinks there were two.
Mueller Investigators Probe Roger Stone Conference Calls
Longtime Trump adviser spoke of WikiLeaks’ plans to release emails ahead of 2016 election
The Aug. 4, 2016, conference call marks one of Mr. Stone’s earliest known predictions that WikiLeaks would release more hacked emails before election day, beyond the ones published in July 2016. Hours before the call, Mr. Stone emailed an associate, saying, “I dined with my new pal Julian Assange last nite,” the Journal previously reported.
Four days later, in an appearance before the Southwest Broward Republican Organization, Mr. Stone made another prediction: “I actually have communicated with Assange. I believe the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation, but there’s no telling what the October surprise may be,” he said.
On Aug. 21, 2016, Mr. Stone appeared to foreshadow trouble for Mrs. Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta, whose emails would be dumped online by WikiLeaks in mid-October. “Trust me,” Mr. Stone tweeted, “it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel. [sic] #CrookedHillary.”
In an email, Mr. Stone told the Journal that his email about dining with Mr. Assange was a joke, and that his tweet about “Podesta’s time in the barrel” was in reference to the lobbying activities of Mr. Podesta and his brother Tony. Mr. Stone also said he “had no advance knowledge about the acquisition and publication of John Podesta’s e-mail.”
Giuliani Promised a Surprise Before the Election. Comey Delivered One.
Once, in his days as New York’s chief federal prosecutor and later as the city’s mayor, Rudolph W. Giuliani was a master of releasing damaging leaks aimed at the kneecaps of opponents. Sometimes, they were true.
.. witnesses told the inspector general that a fear of leaks from within the F.B.I. drove the agency’s former director, James Comey, to break with established policy against opening or discussing investigations in the run-up to an election.
.. The former attorney general, Loretta Lynch, told investigators that Mr. Comey “said, ‘It’s clear to me that there is a cadre of senior people in New York who have a deep and visceral hatred of Secretary Clinton.’ And he said, ‘It is deep.’”
.. Mr. Comey said he found it “stunning,” Ms. Lynch told the investigators. She replied to him: “I’m just troubled that this issue — meaning the, the New York agent issue and leaks — I am just troubled that this issue has put us where we are today with respect to this laptop.”
.. On Oct. 25, 2016, three days before Mr. Comey’s stunning announcement, Mr. Giuliani appeared on a Fox morning television show.
“We got a couple of surprises left,” Mr. Giuliani said.
He chortled, and when asked to expand on the subject, replied, “And I think it’ll be enormously effective.”
On Thursday, Oct. 27, Mr. Giuliani appeared on another Fox show and said he was talking about “pretty big surprises.” He added, “We’ve got a couple of things up our sleeve that should turn this thing around.”
The news of the reactivated email inspection arrived the following day
.. Upon inspection by the F.B.I., the emails on the laptop turned out to be much ado about hardly anything — many of them had already been reviewed, and the authorities decided they did not warrant changing the conclusion
.. In interviews this week, including on Fox, Mr. Giuliani said that the “surprise” he was talking about in 2016 had nothing to do with the email investigation, but was a speech that Mr. Trump was going to give right before the election blasting Mrs. Clinton.
It’s hard to imagine that anyone, Mr. Giuliani included, would have classified a Trump campaign speech as a “pretty big surprise.”
.. On the day of Mr. Comey’s announcement in 2016, Mr. Giuliani was so pleased that he blurted out a description of his sources for inside information on the email case.
“The other rumor that I get is that there’s a kind of revolution going on inside the F.B.I. about the original conclusion being completely unjustified, and almost a slap in the face of the F.B.I.’s integrity,” Mr. Giuliani said in a radio interview with Lars Larson, the conservative talk show host.
“I know that from former agents. I know that even from” — Mr. Giuliani paused, then continued — “a few active agents who obviously don’t want to identify themselves.”
.. And now Mr. Giuliani is telling a new version. All his predictions were just speculation by retired agents, he said on Fox Business recently.
“We knew just by instinct,” he said, “that the New York office was enraged.”