The 2016 race for the White House has been a campaign unlike anything we have ever seen.
Not since 1940 has a candidate without elected or appointed office experience become the nominee of a major party. Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist and independent U.S. Senator, almost defeated the Clinton machine for the Democratic nomination.
With about 50 days left, American voters should brace themselves for the nastiest and most negative presidential campaign in history.
It is unprecedented that both major party nominees would have images that are upside down, meaning both are viewed more negatively than positively. Candidates who are upside down must drag their opponent down to win, which means this race will result in a race to the bottom.
There’s a rich history of so-called “October surprises” in modern American political history—late and unexpected developments that seek to tip a presidential race in one direction.
Two modern examples: The news of George W. Bush’s DUI was leaked the weekend before the 2000 election, and cost him support among Christian conservatives. The economic collapse in 2008 quickly and fatally turned the race away from John McCain and toward Barack Obama.
Could an October surprise determine the outcome this year?
Here are five potential October surprises:
1) Wikileaks—On September 13, Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange released 100,000 new documents from hacking the Democratic National Committee. Assange had previously promised to release more information damaging to Clinton, and it is unclear if this is it, or if he has more relating to the Clinton Foundation or her State Department tenure, including some of the 33,000 deleted emails.
2) Terrorist attack—Given what ISIS appears to want, we must soberly accept that terrorism can occur any time in the West, including in Europe, the Middle East, or even in the U.S. To date, we have not seen another 9/11-style terrorism attack on U.S. soil, due to the professionalism and commitment of our intelligence community. Undoubtedly, another attack before the election would have profound political ramifications.
3) Candidate health scare—Hillary Clinton’s health has been whispered about for several years, with the worst commentary reserved for the conspiratorial fever swamps of the Alt Right. Many of those questions became mainstream the week of September 6, when she had a coughing fit, was diagnosed with pneumonia, had a fainting spell, and stayed off the trail for several days to recover. Will she be healthy for the rest of the campaign? Will Trump? Does either have serious medical problems that voters should know about?
4) Sharp economic news—With about 50 days left, there are two more monthly job reports to be released in October and November, and in October health care consumers should receive notification from the health insurance companies about premium increases for next year. The Federal Reserve appears unlikely to raise rates before the election. Will an unexpected global or domestic economic development occur?
5) Game-changing gaffe—It’s hard to imagine what kind of gaffe would change the trajectory of this race, because there have been so many already. For much of the summer, Trump was constantly saying controversial and damaging things. Recently Hillary gave Trump a gift by calling half of his supporters a “basket of deplorables” who were “irredeemable.” The debates, which begin September 26, offer the kind of high wire act where pressure, stress, and fatigue can combine to reveal who these candidate truly are. Will Trump demonstrate credibility? Will Hillary address the perception that she is dishonest?
With early voting already underway in some states, an “October surprise” may have less impact this cycle than in earlier ones.
But we have come to expect the unexpected this year.
We have two desperate and deeply unpopular candidates who are just one step from the Presidency.
Anything can happen.
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.
Matt Mackowiak is syndicated columnist, an Austin-based Republican consultant, and a former Capitol Hill and Bush administration aide.