During every presidential election year in the United States, seemingly without fail, a damaging piece of news about a candidate arrives in October. Leaves will fall, pumpkins will be carved, and pundits will ponder whether a presidential candidate can make it through a scandal or miscue dug up by journalists or opposition researchers.
But 2016 is not like other election years. September ended with the revelation that Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for president, appeared in an adult film in 2000. But after the year America has had—an onslaught of deleted emails on one side and not-so-subtle racism on the other—that news didn’t raise that many eyebrows.
If the American electorate entered October jaded and exhausted, assuming nothing could be shocking this late in the game, the release of a 2005 video on October 7, showing Donald Trump making vulgar comments about women, proved otherwise.
“You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful,” Trump says in the video. “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
He added: “Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
While the comments don’t seem to have significantly swayed Trump’s voter base yet, they’ve certainly reminded the American public what it’s like to be surprised in an election year. And as if that weren’t enough, alleged excerpts from the long-sought-after transcripts of Hillary Clinton’s closed-door speeches to financial firms on Wall Street were published by WikiLeaks shortly after the Trump video was released. In them, Clinton says she’s “kind of far removed” from the middle class, and that her “dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders.”
We’re only nine days into October, but we already have enough material to compare these October surprises to past ones:
2012 Obama vs. Romney
Ah, 2012. What an innocent time it was. The most explosive piece of news that came in October that year was when New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a Republican critic of Barack Obama, praised the president’s response to Hurricane Sandy.
The more memorable and surprising news of the 2012 election cycle came in mid-September, when Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made remarks about Obama’s voter base during a private fundraiser:
There are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47% who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.
The remarks, uncovered by left-leaning magazine Mother Jones, have been compared to Clinton’s assertion in the current election cycle that half of Donald Trump’s supporters are a “basket of deplorables.” It’s also not unlike Clinton’s comment in the alleged speech transcripts, in which she says she’s “far removed” from the middle class.
2008 Obama vs. McCain
Just before the 2008 election, the jobless rate had hit a 14-year high. The approval ratings of president George W. Bush dropped as it rose. The sentiment was bad for the Republican candidate, John McCain, who made several mistakes in his response to the economic downturn.
But McCain wasn’t the only candidate in hot water that October. Just days before the election, the Associated Press reported that Barack Obama’s aunt was living illegally in the United States.
“Onyango was denied asylum by an immigration judge,” the Associated Press reported. “She was instructed to leave the United States in 2004,”
2004 Bush vs. Kerry
In 2004, the US was only a year into the Iraq War, and George W. Bush was up for reelection. In late October, just before the election, the New York Times reported that a cache of American explosives had disappeared in Iraq.
Following the incident, Democratic candidate John Kerry questioned Bush’s ability as commander in chief, and said the White House was trying to keep the incident under wraps until after the election.
“Mr. President, what else are you being silent about?” Kerry reportedly said at a campaign rally. “What else are you keeping from the American people? How much more will the American people have to pay?”
2000 Gore vs. Bush
Days before voters would head to polls in the contentious 2000 election, Time magazine reported that George W. Bush had been arrested for drunk driving in Maine in 1976. Shortly after the incident was reported, Bush held a press conference. He confirmed the report, noting it had happened 24 years prior.
“I have been straightforward with the people, saying that I used to drink too much in the past,” he said. “I have been very candid about my past. I’ve said I’ve made mistakes in the past. People know that. They’ve thought about that. They’re making their minds up now.”
Bush, of course, won the election anyway.