Analysis: US election 'October surprise' comes early

Analysis: US election October surprise comes early
Date: 22.9.2020 12:00

Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death completely changes the campaign. The question is, how?

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Every four years around this time, political observers become breathless in anticipation of an "October surprise," an event or disclosure or a gaffe that will change the dynamic of the upcoming US presidential election. And it is almost a given something will come up to shake things up.
2016 had two so-called "surprises": Donald Trump's Access Hollywood tape, released on October 7, and the FBI reopening their investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails on October 28.
This year's October surprise arrived a month early: the death of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the impending political war over filling her vacancy on the court. Of course, everybody wants to know how this will affect November's presidential and congressional elections, but the short answer is: nobody knows.
For the clearest sense of how this might all play out, cut through the noise of the politicians and talking heads and look closely at voters' reactions in the coming weeks to Trump's choice and the subsequent nomination battle.
Leading up to this moment, there has been little indication of how a Supreme Court fight might influence the vote. A Fox News poll released last week showed that likely voters trust Democrat Joe Biden over Trump, 52 to 45 percent, to do a better job with Supreme Court nominations.
The New York Times last week asked voters in three battleground states who are undecided or could change their minds who they preferred to choose the next Supreme Court justice - they preferred Biden over Trump 49 to 31 percent.
However, until voters are asked by pollsters what they think about this development and the subsequent fallout, all we can do for now is watch the political players.
Their strategies will be calibrated not only for a long-term political advantage, as Supreme Court appointments usually are, but also for a short-term electoral advantage, something the US has never seen this close to a presidential election.
There is no question this is an opportunity for Trump to change the focus of the election away from voters' negative reviews on his performance as president and his handling of the pandemic and racial justice issues.
It is almost certain he will make his choice and this process one of, if not the, main focus over the next six weeks. But what is not clear is which strategies he will adopt regarding his nominee and the subsequent fight over that choice.
Trump had announced a lengthy public list of potential nominees before Ginsburg's death and said on Saturday he would nominate a woman. But will he choose one to placate his unwavering conservative base, promising them a 6-3 conservative-leaning court for the next generation?
Will he pick someone who will emphasize his divisive, us-versus-them, culture-war campaign strategy or someone he and Republicans can try to sell to voting blocs with whom he is underperforming, such as independents, suburban women and older voters?
Source: AlJazeera / Steve Chaggaris 


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