Republicans and October Surprises

In response to comments following this post, In October? No Surprise.

Fears that Republicans will attempt to manipulate elections using some kind of “October Surprise” go back further than the 1980 election when Iran released the hostages just after Reagan’s inauguration, after President Carter had worked so hard to get them released with no success — and no rational reason for the Iranians to hold out so long. (Doing that only makes sense if the Iranians wanted something in writing signed by a representative of the new President, not by a candidate, and coincidentally two weeks later the Reagan administration started shipping arms to Iran — a fact that became public from the Iran/Contra investigation.). In fact, this story about the 1968 election, Nixon ‘Wrecked Early Peace In Vietnam’, describes events that helped people who knew about them realize what was going on in 1980: (Other sources here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

At the heart of the new account was Nixon’s fear that Vietnam peace efforts by President Johnson in the run-up to the November 1968 US presidential election could wreck Nixon’s bid to oust Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic candidate, and capture the White House.

Nixon’s response to Johnson’s efforts was to use a go-between, Anna Chennault, to urge the South Vietnam’s president, Nguyen van Thieu, to resist efforts to force them to the peace table.

Nixon’s efforts paid off spectacularly. On October 31, Johnson ordered a total halt to the bombing of North Vietnam, the precondition for getting the North and their Vietcong allies to join the talks. Two days later, under intense secret urgings from Nixon and his lieutenants, Thieu announced his government would not take part. Less than a week later, Nixon was elected president with less than a one-point margin in the popular vote over Humphrey.

The charge that the Reagan campaign interfered with attempts to get the hostages released in order to manipulate the elections came from people who knew that Republicans had interfered to block peace negotiations of a previous Democratic administration in order to make Democrats look weak on national security. They understood what Republicans are capable of. And now we have more history. We have Nixon in 68, Reagan in 80 and Bush forcing the Iraq vote to manipulate the 2002 election. So the question is not what are they capable of doing for the 2004 elections, it’s what ARE they going to do?

(Gotta go — My wife’s looking at me with that ‘there I go again’ look…)