Well, it’s finally happened: there’s now been so many October surprises in the US election that they ain’t surprising no more. The revelations have become daily, hourly, events, exhausting the attention of jaded voters, even though tens of millions have voted early. Both campaigns have become grim slugfests, artillery bombardments from well behind the lines, trying to land some blow on territory long since turned to sludge. Both candidates are noticeably hoarse, running out of juice. Both campaigns have pundits scratching their heads at some of the strategic choices, which suggests either good inside knowledge, or more likely, crazed cabin fever making for poor choices.
The measure of the matter is that the WikiLeaks “Podesta” email revelations, sketching in great detail the operations of US elite power, have been upstaged by the reopening of the FBI investigation into the newly discovered Clinton-Abedin emails on the server of serial sex pest Anthony Weiner. WikiLeaks even sent out a slightly waspish tweet urging people to ignore that tittle-tattle and return to the Podesta emails. With the spectacular reopening of the case by FBI director James Comey, the vision of a presidential candidate “under FBI investigation” — not really — has been too big for big meeja to ignore. Their reaction appears to have been in part driven by relentless criticism from the Trump campaign of their alleged bias towards Hillary.
That, in turn, has obscured the most recent accusations and revelations against Trump, which, in other years, would constitute two or three campaigns worth of October surprises alone. Trump’s absurd tax arrangements — posting a near $1 billion loss in the mid-’90s, allowing him to avoid tax for 20 years — have finally come under scrutiny, with revelations that even his accountant thought that claiming vast losses of other people’s money as personal losses was stretching it. That raises the question as to why he was allowed to do so in the first place.
But that was nothing compared to new accusations of the Donald’s relationship with Vladimir Putin and Russian banks — the new charge being that Trump has, in Trump Tower, his glittering black skyscraper, an entire dedicated server that communicates only with a Russian bank, Alfa. It’s at that point that US political culture meets its popular culture halfway: the multiplexes are full of superhero and fantasy films, and what could be more Marvel comics than a grotesque pseudo-billionaire communicating with shadowy forces, using his dark tower of power as a giant antenna? The story, which broke in Slate, has been questioned after Alfa allowed for an audit of its computer communications. But it’s worth thinking about how it would have played had team Clinton been playing the campaign in the Trump style.
By contrast, of all the angles team Clinton could take, it’s Trump and the women they’ve pivoted back to, with Hillary now touring Florida with Alicia — “miss Piggy, miss housekeeping” — Machado, the ex-Miss Universe contestant. Given that other angles would include Donald’s desire to use nuclear weapons — “because we’ve got them” — this is a telling choice: team Hillary is banging the wedge in, trying to widen the gender gap as far as possible, and it’s a reasonable strategy.
Team Trump, meanwhile, appears to have settled on a final strategy, buoyed by a $25 million donation by Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Colorado and Virginia have been all but abandoned — the focus is on Wisconsin, Iowa, New Hampshire, the Maine second district, while also shoring up North Carolina as a “hold” — and of course winning Ohio and Florida as well. With those, and even without Pennsylvania, Trump could eke out a narrow victory. They’re also campaigning in New Mexico, which suggests less of a polling surge than they might try to steal the election in that very cowboy state, and need a pretext for justifying their ‘surprise’ victory there.
With all this, the country is turned to what really matters … the World Series, the premier baseball competition, which might be won by much-loved longtime losers the Chicago Cubs. Hard to know what sort of omen that victory would be: the Cubs are Obama’s team, and they have only a 25% chance of winning — which is, according to FiveThirtyEight, Trump’s chance of winning.
Roll on the November surprises …