Donald Trump, and the Sordid Tradition of Suppressing October Surprises

Secret negotiations in the dying days of a campaign. Sneaky phone calls. Refuse to openly enthusiastically.

American history is full of October surprise — late revelations, sometimes orchestrated by opponents, that shake the trajectory of the presidential election and terrify candidates. In 1880, a forged letter ostensibly written by James A. Garfield stated that he wanted more immigrants from China, a position so unpopular that it almost cost him his election. nominate. Weeks before the 1940 election, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s press secretary knelt in the crotch of a Black police officer, just as the president was trying to woo skeptical Black voters. (Roosevelt’s response made history: He appointed the first Black general and established the Tuskegee Air Force.)

But the scandal ensnared Donald J. Trump, the hush payment to a porn star in 2016., of the rare kind: the attempt not to bring to light an election-changing event, but to prevent one.

The reward for Stormy Daniels for having a grand jury in Manhattan weigh criminal charges against Mr. Trump could trace its origins to at least two other episodes that broke a surprise in October. The first was in 1968, when aides to Richard M. Nixon pressed the South Vietnamese government to block peace talks in the closing days of that election. The second was in 1980. New revelations emerged that Ronald Reagan’s allies may have worked to delay the release of the American hostages from Iran until after Jimmy Carter’s defeat.

The fierce debate over exactly which election law may have been violated in 2016 is missing the broader point – all three events may have changed the course of history.

Gary Sick, a former national security aide to President Carter who has followed his argument for more than two decades that the 1980 Reagan campaign delayed the release of the hostages from Iran, said: “Yes at least three cases. “And if you have the guts to do it, you have to say it works.”

Potential criminal charges against Mr Trump for his role in silencing money to Ms Daniels – falsifying business records to cover up payments and possibly violating election law – appear trivial when compared with previous efforts to counter a history-altering October surprise.

This month, a former vice governor of Texas spoke out that he accompanied a Reagan ally to the Middle East to try to delay the release of American hostages from Iran until after the 1980 election. And notes discovered in 2016 have emerged to confirm that Nixon’s senior aides working through back-channels in 1968 to hinder the beginning of peace negotiations to end the war in Vietnam — and secure Mr. Nixon’s victory over Hubert H. Humphrey.

“Wait a minute,” Anna Chennault, Nixon’s envoy to South Vietnam, told Saigon government officials, as she pressed them to boycott the Paris peace talks. “We will win.”

But the troubles of 1968 and 1980 were left to historians and partisans to categorize and debate for decades afterward. What differentiates the charges against Mr. Trump is that they could make him the first former president to be indicted by a grand jury, forcing him to answer the charges in court.

The concept of an October surprise has been around in American politics since at least 1838, when federal prosecutors announced plans to charge top Whig officials with “fraud.” most serious and brutal” for paying Pennsylvanians to vote for their candidates in New York.

Two weeks before the election of 1888, the Republican Party published a letter from the British ambassador to the United States suggesting that the British supported Grover Cleveland, the Democratic candidate. It encouraged Irish-American voters, and Cleveland lost the presidency to Benjamin Harrison.

Just days before the 2000 election, Thomas J. Connolly, a defense attorney and former Democratic candidate for governor of Maine, confirmed that George W. Bush had been arrested for driving while driving. drunkenness in the state in 1976. Some say it cost him dearly. Bush got just enough votes to turn a narrow win in the popular vote into one of the most controversial presidential elections in American history.

What linked the 1968, 1980 and 2016 allegations was the fear that such an unexpected thing would happen. In all three cases, the people accused of carrying out the scam were worried that it would happen.

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John Dean, Nixon’s White House lawyer, whose testimony before the congressional Watergate committee helped bring to light the dirty trick of perhaps the most famous election campaign of all time. “I am sure that when campaigns learn of negative stories, they will do all they can to stop them.”

The charges against Mr. Trump are on a different scale than they were in 1968 or 1980. No American is left in captivity. No army will stay on the battlefield longer than necessary. No civilians died in the napalm fires. Indeed, the hush money transfer to Ms. Daniels is hardly the worst allegation against a president who has been impeached for withholding military aid to Ukraine for political gain, and in turn was impeached for inciting riots to overturn a legitimate election he lost.

But as the 2016 election draws near, stamping out a late-night sex scandal may have handed the White House to one of the most divisive leaders in American history. Mr. Trump lost 2.1 percentage points of the popular vote and won the presidency by winning Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by a total of 78,652 votes, a total of less than one Tickets sold out at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ

Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, was taken by surprise when just a few days before the 2016 election, FBI director, James B. Comey, reopened a closed investigation into emails she sent on a private server while secretary of state. With profits, that alone could cost Clinton her right to the White House.

Daniels’ claim that she had sex with Mr Trump in 2006 while his wife, Melania, was raising their only child, which has surfaced since 2011, seems to cause some concern in the community. Trump world. But in early October 2016, that changed when The Washington Post published the tape “Access Hollywood,” in which Mr. Trump slanderously describes how he groped women.

Amid the ensuing outrage and the defection of several Republican leaders, Ms. Daniels’ attempt to buy silence went too far. Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, and others fear that a second punch, delivered shortly after the “Access Hollywood” outrage has subsided, could knock out their belligerent boss. out of the presidential race and subject them to legal action.

“People can see it as very bad,” Dylan Howard, editor of The National Enquirer, wrote in a text to Mr. Cohen, noting that if Ms. Daniels went public, their job was to cover it up. Her account of a possible sexual encounter also became famous.

The 1980 election is remembered as a resounding victory, hardly susceptible to a belated change of course. But in reality, Reagan’s aides and allies were so openly fearing the release of hostages in the final weeks of the campaign could get Carter re-elected, to the extent that the term “surprise of the month” 10″ is often attributed to Reagan’s anxiety.

“All I know is that there is concern, not just with us but I think among voters in general, well, this Carter is a political tough guy, he will do anything. to get re-elected, and let’s prepare for a surprise in October,” Reagan’s running mate, George HW Bush, said at the time.

Gerald Rafshoon, the White House communications director and Carter’s campaign communications adviser, said in an interview that he was confident the release of the hostages would secure the president’s re-election. Polls were tightened that fall amid growing optimism about the release of those arrested. Then Mr. Carter’s position collapsed.

“If the little farmer couldn’t handle a two-bit ayatollah,” Mr. Rafshoon recalls a woman telling him, “I would take my chance with the cowboy.”

He added: “It’s not like I hold any grudge against those bitches. I got on with my life and so did Jimmy.

Mr. Sick wasn’t sure the hostage release would have much of an impact. “It will certainly change some votes, but will Carter win? He only won one state, he said. “The people running the campaigns get very paranoid and talk about these things.”

The 1968 election was a closer call.

Ken Hughes, a researcher at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center whose book “Chasing Shadows” chronicles the Nixon campaign’s efforts to thwart peace talks, said Nixon had the lead. Mr. Humphrey in the mid-September polls. By mid-October, Nixon’s lead had dropped to 8 percentage points. Then, a few days before the election, President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered a halt to the bombing of North Vietnam, and the media began reporting on the negotiations to end the war.

Once again, the winning candidate showed his fear, which was based on Mr. Nixon’s belief that the dirty tricks of the 1960s Democrats kept him from becoming president. “Let Anna Chennault work with SVN,” or South Vietnam, Nixon begged, according to notes from a top aide, HR Haldeman.

On the eve of the election, The Christian Science Monitor was preparing an article about the Nixon campaign’s efforts to thwart peace negotiations. Mr Johnson convened a conference call with his security cabinet for advice on whether to confirm the story he knew was true from the FBI and CIA wiretapping.

“Some elements of the story are so shocking in nature that I wonder if it would be good for the country to reveal the story and then maybe have a certain individual elected,” the defense minister said. his said. Clark Clifford, talking about Mr. Nixon in a recorded call. “It could make his entire administration so suspicious that I think it would harm the interests of our country.”

White House officials said nothing.


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