Kass: An October Surprise, or lack thereof


This is an installment in Matt Kass’ weekly political column “Left, Right and Center”

The race for the presidency is down to just over a month now, and Hillary Clinton is still neck and neck with Donald Trump heading down to the wire. Not even Tuesday night’s vice-presidential debate, in which Mike Pence and Tim Kaine exchanged verbal jabs all night, did anything to separate the two presidential campaigns.

As a possible result of the close nature of the race, many longtime political analysts are anticipating an October surprise that will dramatically shift its tone and propel a candidate to victory over the other. (And no, creepy clowns in the woods don’t count.) For readers who may not be as well-versed in political lingo, the name is not as complicated as it sounds.

According to Wikipedia, an October surprise is “a political event orchestrated or seemingly orchestrated in the month before an election in the hopes of affecting the outcome.”

This cycle’s October surprise was supposed to come in the form of a massive dump of WikiLeaks files from Julian Assange, containing pages of previously unseen Clinton documents. However, unlike this excellent column that I write every week, it was all flash and no substance. Same for Trump’s tax return: a blip on the political radar.

But why? Why is it that the candidates are still so close together in the polls? Why has nothing made a dent? Record-high unpopularity ratings for both Clinton and Trump are certainly a key piece of the equation, but I suspect it’s something slightly different.

My suspicion is that almost every eligible voter has made his or her mind up about Trump and Clinton one way or another. For Clinton, any other documents released would come as fuel for her critics, and proof for her supporters that people are looking for any shred of evidence to discredit her.

And for Trump, every bombastic outburst either confirms that he’s willing to speak his mind and isn’t concerned with being politically correct, or that he’s dangerously unfit for the office of the presidency and has an awful temperament to boot.

To put it in terms that someone who isn’t politically savvy can understand: Clinton and Trump are both like candy corn. Despite heavily scouring the country, you’ll likely find no more than a handful of people who have no moderate opinion about candy corn. You either love it or you hate it. The same goes for Trump and Clinton.

Therefore, any huge revelations, like Trump’s 1995 partial tax return or any more Clinton emails, aren’t seen as bombshell revelations, but rather one more piece that fits into how you view the candidate overall. There’s nothing new to look for, because whether or not it’s true, you’ve already formed your perception of this election.

And on the off chance you detest both candidates—as plenty of prospective voters seem to do—any new information that filters out simply fits into your existing preconceptions of Clinton and Trump. Perhaps then, the lack of an October surprise in this year’s election is the least surprising thing about a race that has been anything but ordinary.