Donald Trump springs The Mother of All October Surprises
The old time-travelling Delorean with its flux capacitor chugs into action once again; this time round to see if we could get a glimpse of any Donald Trump ‘October Surprises’ as part of a desperate effort to snatch an electoral victory from the jaws of defeat.
Back in October 1968, with the US presidential race still very much in doubt, some of Richard Nixon’s second-story men sorted out a way to virtually ensure the presidential election would go their way and against Hubert Humphrey, the incumbent vice-president. Humphrey had become the Democratic Party nominee after President Lyndon Johnson had taken himself out of the race, after nearly losing an early primary to a lightly regarded challenger, Senator Eugene McCarthy. Humphrey eventually became the party’s nominee, but only after a wildly disruptive, exceptionally angry nominating convention in Chicago.
Eugene McCarthy was the Minnesota senator who had pressed Johnson hard to end the US’s participation in the Vietnam conflict, after years of fighting, and now with a half-million US military personnel stationed in that unhappy land, and still no real chance of success, given the perspicacity of Ho Chi Minh’s North Vietnamese army and the Viet Cong forces. McCarthy’s determined opposition to the war and the president had generated much enthusiasm for his campaign among students who, right in the midst of the seductions of the Woodstock generation, had suddenly put on neckties, shaved and bathed, going “Clean for Gene”, in an effort to convince the country to dump Johnson and his war.
However, McCarthy’s quest was ultimately overtaken by New York Senator Robert Kennedy’s more robust, strenuous opposition to the war and the president, right up until he was assassinated in Los Angeles, after winning the California primary. The year 1968 was a particularly brutal one for Democratic Party politicians, right up to the Chicago nominating convention, what with its massed demonstrations in a city park close to the convention centre and what was later termed a police riot opposing them, as well as some nearly open conflict inside the convention itself. Humphrey had been a longtime, crusading civil rights liberal and, until he became vice-president, had been a less than enthusiastic supporter of the Vietnam War. But now he was virtually trapped into both defending the war and the potential for new peace negotiations being pushed by the Johnson administration.
Naturally enough, some of Nixon’s particularly unprincipled artful dodgers figured out how to bollix those nascent negotiations between the US and North Vietnam. Doing that would put Humphrey into an even more difficult, still more awkward situation — with a war that was increasingly unpopular but still apparently without a way out for the Americans.
To get their deed done, they reeled in the talents of sometime-journalist and leading light of the “China Lobby” (fervid supporters of the Chinese government on Taiwan), Anna Chennault. She was the China-born widow of World War II fighter squadron leader, General Claire Chennault. The late general was a legend among those who still fondly remembered his wartime volunteer air combat group, “The Flying Tigers”, for their courageous attacks on the Japanese from their scratch bases in China.
And so, Anna Chennault was roped in to convey a message, successfully as it turned out, to South Vietnamese leaders to remain obdurately opposed to the Johnson administration’s effort to kick off real negotiations with Hanoi (see, for example: Anna Chennault: The Secret Go-Between , The Chennault Affair, and Anna_Chennault). Chennault’s pitch was that if they, the South Vietnamese, could just hold out a bit longer against the urgings from the dying Johnson administration, they would get a better deal, more support, and more aid from a Nixon presidency.
That Johnson effort had been his last roll of the dice to help nudge Vice-President Humphrey over the electoral finish line – and thus salvage Johnson’s reputation as well in his post-presidency. The details of this Nixon ploy only came out later, but the tactic for this whole affair has come to be dubbed, retrospectively, an “October Surprise”.
Anyway, so now here we are, just two months and a bit from the first day of October, and just a little bit longer before mail-in ballots begin arriving in the growing number of states that permit their easy use (ahead of the traditional election day on the first Tuesday of November).
Accordingly, it is perfectly reasonable to assume the Trump administration is planning several versions of its own October surprise to cut the legs out from under the Biden candidacy, right before the balloting. Even if Donald Trump is no student of history (or much else), some people around him, people like Roger Stone, now conveniently no longer facing the hospitality of the federal prison system, do have memories that stretch right back to the Nixon era. That should tell you something.
Fortunately for Daily Maverick readers, once again we have been able to gain at least a glimpse into the near future, now that our now-finicky Delorean flux capacitor has been repaired. True, the time machine doesn’t have as much range as it once did for Marty McFly and Doc so they could go flying back and forth along the space-time continuum, but it was able to get us to the evening of 18 October 2020, where we were able to watch a presidential address on both television and online media streaming — thereby giving us a look at a terrifying but masterful October surprise.
Sadly, while the video record function on our smartphone failed, perhaps due to excess radiation emitted from the Delorean’s engine, we were able to record the words, and so we can say the scene went like this. Just as soon as the off-camera voice announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States,” the on-screen visual of the presidential seal yielded to the figure of Donald Trump, sitting at the Resolute Desk in the White House’s Oval Office. While there were no tins of Goya food products in front of him this time, there was a face mask with the presidential seal on it, and a tantalising display of a bunch of small glass tubes with a clear liquid inside each one, as well as several sample mail-in ballots. The president gave one of his toothy but weak smiles and then began to speak.
Obviously reading at first from the teleprompter screens before the improv impulses got to him:
“My fellow Americans, tonight will probably be the final time I speak to my entire country and all its citizens, until millions of you go to vote – in an election that is the most monumental election in our country’s history. It is probably the most important election since the one in which Abraham Lincoln was victorious, or perhaps even the one where George Washington became our first president. This one is even more important than the one I won nearly four years ago when everybody said I would lose to that Democrat, Hillary Clinton.
“Now our nation has been facing three terrible challenges. Your president, me, your wartime leader, has been working overtime to defeat each one of them. And my wonderful vice-president, my extraordinary staff and family, and members of the Cabinet have all been part of that effort too. But I have led the way because I understand just how hard things have been for many people, even if my critics don’t seem to understand. I know what hurts people and what will help them. I always will; and I will continue to do so, especially if the millions of good people in this nation give me a second term of office, regardless of what the naysayers and those cynical people in their ivory towers write and pontificate on failing, fake news networks.
“First of all, we are continuing to combat the breakdowns of public order in our country, in cities like Portland and Seattle and everywhere else when needed, what with the wanton destruction of public property by lawless mobs of anarchists, such as those statues memorialising our great national heroes and historic figures.
“Unfortunately, local and state governments have been ridiculously ineffective in doing this vital task. And so, we have reluctantly taken the responsibility to mobilise special federal law enforcement agents to neutralise radical, communist, Antifa, anarchist rioters who would have – if they were left unstopped – devastated our beautiful cities and our magnificent public buildings. And I know about buildings. I really know about buildings.
“This task is not yet fully finished. There are still terrible elements who want to create ruin and devastation across our great land – and so our duty is clear. We must stop them and remove them from our public spaces. And we will continue to do our job until law and order is fully restored for the benefit of everyone. Even for me.
“I was elected back in 2016 in a fantastic victory by good people all across the country to be your agent in this, and I will always do my best for you. It is unfortunate when a few people might be hurt while we are bringing order back to our cities, but sometimes that is the cost of ensuring liberty and freedom. And good people, after all, should not join in with rioters, criminals, anarchists and looters as they do their awful deeds.
“But, of course this has not been our only challenge in recent months. A virus that started in central China, the city of Wuhan to be exact, and then attacked us secretly, surreptitiously, sinisterly, and caused infections of several million people. Sadly, not everyone survived, despite the heroic efforts of our public health specialists. But because my administration wanted to deal with this as quickly as possible and through our outstanding, innovative research project, our Warp Speed initiative, many have worked on cures and vaccines. We promised we would do this for you. This has been an amazing project, uniting the federal government, universities, and the private pharmaceutical sector in many full speed ahead projects to create a real vaccine. A vaccine that will protect you and your families; your parents, your children, your friends, your relatives. Everyone. Even Democrats.
“And so now I have extraordinary news for you tonight. Despite all the naysayers and the people (even like some doctors I could name but won’t) who thought they knew better – because of the amazing efforts and brilliance of our American researchers, the best in the business, I can announce tonight to you that we now have a vaccine that works. It has been through testing, clinical trials, evaluations, checks, rechecks, and yet more checks. This was America at its best and fastest. It was just like putting a man on the Moon – only faster. Right here in front of me are the very first 25 vials of this miracle, and we will start receiving it tonight, right after my conversation with you. The entire White House staff. And then, everybody else. And so we will never need these masks again. Good riddance!
“This vaccine works. And now it will be rolled out all across the nation to everyone. At cost. And if you don’t have the money to pay for it, we have agreed to provide it to you free of charge. The churches, hospitals, fire departments, police departments, non-profit groups will all have a hand in delivering this lifesaving, miracle drug to you. This is what a government can do — if it works hand in hand with business.
“This brings me to our second challenge – our economy. The professional fear mongers and naysayers have tried for almost a year to have our nation shut down, locked down. Shuttered. It was as if going to the grocery store, taking in a movie with your girl, praying over the weekend in the church of your choice, or even just going to school were the tools needed to save our nation. They were wrong and they knew it. But they tried anyway.
“But now that we can vaccinate everyone, and protect us all, there is no longer any reason for governors, mayors and others to keep insisting we must destroy our economic life to stop a tiny germ.
“It is now past time to bring the nation’s factories back at full strength; to open up restaurants, clubs, and cinemas; to allow free people to make their own choices about where they will go to enjoy a moment to pray, to enjoy themselves, for a hamburger or a taco bowl; to get an education. It is time for the naysayers to step aside and let us get back to what we do best.
“I want to hear about all those phones ringing tomorrow as businesses start to place orders for products and supplies. I want to hear about the trucks making those deliveries. And I want to hear about people getting into their cars, trains, and buses going back to work and school. It is time. Past time.
“Nobody, no president, has ever been able to turn the economy around like this, until I, Donald Trump, came to Washington. I did it once, and now, I will do it again.
“I want you to listen to the words of John Klezuski from Racine, Wisconsin. Right in the heartland of America. He wrote to me earlier this week in an email. This is what he said:
‘Mr President, I am reporting for duty. I am ready to go back to work.
‘I am ready to strap on my tool belt and get in my van, and then go do the heating-ventilation-air conditioning installations for big buildings that I love to do and for which I already have a big backlog of orders to fill.
‘As soon as I receive the products from my suppliers I have already ordered, we are ready to do the work. And my team is waiting at home for me to call them in.’
“John, I want you to give your team a call tomorrow morning and tell them that Donald Trump said it’s past time to go back to work! And while you’re at it, take your wife out to dinner to celebrate with a great steak and all the trimmings. Tell ’em all that America is back and ready to win again, and again, and again.
“Of course there are still challenges. The world is a tough place and it needs people prepared to fight those bad ’ombres out there. It is a shame we have had to come down hard on a place like China, but the way they have been prevaricating over that Wuhan virus, over their predatory trade practices and unfair treatment of our great American businesses, and their increasingly aggressive treatment of those Uighurs, the Tibetans, and the good people of Hong Kong; it meant we had to be tough. And I know that their leader, Xi Jinping, understands strength.
“But that has not quite been the end of it. We have had to become much more vigilant about their military provocations in the South China Sea and even along their border with India. But we have the best military in the world, a navy that can beat anybody. I know it is a difficult time for the world, but good people must be firm. Look, I like President Xi Jinping and think he is a really smart guy and he has tried to be the best leader he can be for his people. But he does not know just how tough we can be if we have to be.
“Once we get past the current unpleasantness, we will be reopening our consulate in Chengdu soon enough, but only after we can make sure the Chinese are not using their diplomatic buildings in America to spy on our industries and our military secrets. That would be wrong for them to do, and they know it. And we know they know it.
“I don’t want to take up too much of your evening tonight; I know you have things to do like working with your children on their homework, or getting ready to go back to work on Monday morning. But I did want to give you my thoughts on one other topic, and that is the upcoming election. In a few weeks time, America will go to the polls and vote for a president – hopefully me, but whoever – and also for several dozen senators, the entire House of Representatives, and thousands of other offices in the states, counties, cities and towns. Every one of these choices matter.
“Many of you may be voting by something called a mail-in or absentee ballot. I want to tell you frankly – I worry, and many experts do too and they tell me about their fears, that there could be widespread cheating from the use of mail-in ballots. Some foreign nations will try to flood our beautiful country with fake ballots. And some organisations, agents of deception and disruption – the Antifa, whoever – may try to fill in ballots for real citizens. That is so wrong.
“I tell you right now, right here, right on this broadcast, that if I and my team determine there has been any cheating, any frauds, or any fake ballots, we will stop at nothing to bring those culprits to face the consequences and weight of the law for making this a hoax of a rigged election.
“I tell you frankly, we cannot allow the president of our great nation to be elected through a lie. And we cannot hand over the vast powers of this office to someone who gained it through cheating, skulduggery, and backroom dealings. I will make sure there will be no way – absolutely no way – that anyone at any level from president to dog catcher will become elected as a result of a rigged, crooked, fixed, hoax, stolen vote. You have my word on it. We will be watching. Very carefully.
“In conclusion, I want to make it absolutely clear that in the coming four years, assuming you decide to elect me again, just as you should, I will always be strong for you. This will be true when we deal with the waves of those illegal immigrants trying to bring drugs, crime, and disease into our beautiful country; when we must be strong with weak and unreliable international allies who want us to carry all of the burden in their own defence costs; or when we are dealing with criminal elements and anarchists who try to wreck our cities, destroy your beautiful suburbs, and when they even want to defund the proud defenders of society – America’s police.
“Our economy is coming back strong, I can already feel it. And you will too, very soon. Our citizens will now be protected from the Wuhan virus like that old ‘Ipana invisible shield’, the toothpaste brand I remember as a child, and we will support every effort to put America back to work like it has never done before. It is all about getting our jobs back from foreign nations and getting our people back to work in them.
“With these promises, I wish you all a good evening; Godspeed to you all, and do not be afraid for the darkness that has threatened our land. We are now stepping into the sunlight. We will be stronger than ever.”
Damn, that was some speech. It is clear there was more than just one October Surprise embedded in it. There was a whole collection of them, calibrated to catch people just as they were filling in their mail-in ballots – as well as to give a chance for some final thoughts by any people who had not yet made up their minds and who still had two weeks left to decide how they would vote in person, come 3 November.
But such a speech – or something like it – could leave the Democrats with several problems. They could no longer attack the president for failing to confront the Covid-19 virus; they could no longer attack him for failing to address the economic fortunes of the country; and they would be put on the defence at the dividing line between Democrats as supporters of anarchy versus the rest of the nation, now primed to vote for the strong man who is already in charge.
And most of all, he had effectively made Democrats the proponents of voter fraud, in comparison with Republicans and an incumbent president who promised – or threatened – to prevent any outcome in the presidential race he didn’t agree with, ie, a Biden victory. Oh boy. Oy vey.
But then, the Delorean’s flux capacitor gave some worrisome gurgling sounds and it was now or never to jump into the Delorean to return to the present, without learning who won the election. Now the challenge was to alert the world of what the president’s speech would sound like, weeks before he delivered it.
Like Cassandra in ancient mythology, I was doomed to know the future, but tormented by the fates as being unable to convince anybody about what I knew. Maybe it would just be best if this speech and the secret October surprises were not revealed to Trump’s operatives through a column, but, instead, only quietly shared with Biden’s campaign staffers so they could prep the candidate properly for the debates that will be coming up ahead, with the first one in just a month or so. Oh the heck with it, we should all be ready for this assault on us. So, there you have it. DM
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