Here are two things to consider in our brave new post-October-surprise world: One, the pros tell us that October surprises rarely matter in November. Two, the pros have been wrong about Donald Trump from the very beginning, so why not until the very end?
And thus we enter the final week of the weirdest presidential campaign ever in the weirdest possible way ever. And with very little idea of what happens next.
As you may have heard, FBI Director James Comey sent a strangely vague letter to Congress saying he’s looking into more Clinton emails, but — and this would seem to have been important — he hadn’t yet seen any of the emails and really had no real idea whether they might be pertinent to the Clinton investigation or to anything else.
If you believe Comey, as I do, he felt had to say something publicly but something vague, despite the fact that he knew it could well change the course of the election and despite the fact that he’d been warned not to, because how else could he cover his ass if one or more of his backstabbing FBI agents leaked to the press that he knew about the emails — the very emails that may or may not matter at all.
This appears to have been a, uh, mistake. Comey is getting hammered from both sides of the political divide for a decision that might be called “extremely careless.” In fact, his only defenders seem to be from the Trump camp where, until Friday, most had been calling Comey a corrupt Clinton stooge.
Which brings us to the obvious question: What did Comey think was more important — Comey’s reputation, which is probably ruined anyway, or the future of the country?
There’s another question: Why didn’t Comey just say, “We found some more emails. We have no idea if they’re relevant, but we’ll let you know if they are”?
And, of course, there’s another way to look at it as explained in a tweet from Politico’s Glenn Thrush, in which Comey may have been victim to Fate itself: “Of course 2016 would end with Clinton shouting ‘the game is rigged!’ and Trump solemnly defending Washington bureaucrats.”
Of course it would.
Meanwhile, as I write this, Comey is in Washington briefing congressional leaders about his decision — hoping that he can talk his way out of this mistake.
But in Colorado, where Trump spent much of his post-lifeline weekend, making campaign stops on consecutive days, we didn’t need Comey in order to gain some much-needed clarity.
We had Trump, who did jump on the email story, calling it bigger than Watergate, which, of course, it’s not. In Watergate, a president resigned and another four dozen or so Nixon aides pled guilty or were convicted at trial of criminal misconduct. By Monday, he was saying that the “Clinton crime spree” would end in November, which egged on the lock-her-uppers in the crowd but ignored the simple fact that no one – as in no one, but particularly not Clinton — has been charged with any crime, much less a spree.
But that’s not the story, because Trump guaranteed it wouldn’t be the story. And this tells you everything about Trump the campaigner and why the October surprise may not be surprising enough to overcome Trump himself.
In two stops in Colorado, Trump turned the narrative back from “Crooked Hillary” to absurd claims of a “rigged” election, starting with Colorado, where, in Trump World, all officials must be on the take, even the Republicans who run the state elections and the Republicans in charge of six of Colorado’s seven largest counties. He has no evidence, of course. Not even a hint of evidence, “probably because,” as ace Secretary of State spokesperson Lynn Bartels tweeted, “there is none.”
I’m sure you’ve seen the clips wherein Trump advised voters who had sent in their ballots to go ask for new ballots and get the old ones voided, because, “I have real problems with ballots being sent. Like people say, ‘Oh, here’s a ballot. Here’s another ballot, throw it away. Oh, here’s one I like. We’ll keep that one.’ I have real problems.”
On Sunday, he went further on getting a new ballot and voting again: “In some places they probably do that four or five times. We don’t do that. But that’s great.”
So, let’s review. Trump spends parts of two days in a state in which he trails Hillary Clinton, but where he thinks he may have a way to change the dynamic. It’s important. If Trump wins Colorado, there is every chance he wins the election. Colorado, Virginia and Pennsylvania are the Clinton swing-state firewall. If one or more goes, well, I don’t have to tell you about the conflagration that could follow.
The problem for Trump is that Colorado is the cleanest of clean states, even if former Secretary of State Scott Gessler tried to convince us otherwise. I wonder whatever happened to him. Clinton may have her problems, but that doesn’t make it our problem. You see, this is not New Jersey. We don’t tie up toll bridges. We don’t even have toll bridges. This is not Chicago. We don’t bring in dead voters. We can barely keep up with all the live voters that are moving to the state. This isn’t Florida. By one count, 1,760 public officials were convicted of corruption there between 1976 and 2012. And that doesn’t include the U.S. Attorney who was fired for biting a stripper.
This is Colorado, where, by most governmental standards, it’s boringly clean and where it wouldn’t surprise me if voters chose to ignore a carnival-barking demagogue who couldn’t tell the difference.
Photo by The Aspen Institute via Flickr, Creative Commons