Welcome to November. For Trump, the October Surprise Never Came.

Trump’s hope that an economic recovery, a Covid vaccine or a Biden scandal could shake up the race fades with the last light of October.



By Shane Goldmacher and Adam Nagourney

President Trump began the fall campaign rooting for, and trying to orchestrate, a last-minute surprise that would vault him ahead of Joseph R. Biden Jr.

A coronavirus vaccine. A dramatic economic rebound. A blockbuster Justice Department investigation. A grievous misstep by a rival he portrayed as faltering. A scandal involving Mr. Biden and his son Hunter.

But as the campaign nears an end, and with most national and battleground-state polls showing Mr. Trump struggling, the cavalry of an October surprise that helped him overtake Hillary Clinton in 2016 has not arrived.

That has left Mr. Trump running on a record of an out-of-control pandemic, an economy staggered by disease, and questions about his own style and conduct that have made him a polarizing figure.

Some events that flashed across the political landscape gave Mr. Trump’s political circle hope for a lift: an opening on the Supreme Court, street protests that the president sought to blame on Democrats and even his three-day hospitalization with the coronavirus, which some advisers had hoped might make him more empathetic.

None of it appears to have made a difference. If anything, the come-and-go nature of what seemed like earth-moving moments underlined the central and fundamentally stable dynamics of the race. Opinions about Mr. Trump are largely set.

More than anything, the race was defined by the pandemic that exploded into the public consciousness in March and that Mr. Trump has struggled to manage as both a health care and a political issue.

The nation experienced a new spike in daily infections — almost 100,000 on Friday — as infections jumped in particular across the Midwest. “State nears shortage of ICU beds,” the banner headline in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel warned on the eve of Mr. Trump’s visit to the battleground state of Wisconsin on Friday. The spiraling of bad news about the pandemic overwhelmed a glimmer of good economic news for the White House: a record increase in third-quarter economic growth.

“The October surprise happened in March,” said Mike DuHaime, a Republican strategist who managed the 2008 presidential bid for Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who is now one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers.

Jennifer Palmieri, a top adviser to Mrs. Clinton in 2016, said that “the underlying factors of life in America right now are so dramatic in and of themselves” that the idea that the race could be transformed by a news event, as happened with Mrs. Clinton in 2016, had always seemed like a long shot.

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