On Saturday, the Republican Party may have just been handed an ‘October Surprise’ lifeline by, of all places, California, and, by all outlets, the Los Angeles Times.
On Saturday, the Times reported that Bush-era California National Guard enlistment bonuses given a decade ago were too large, and that fraud and mismanagement were part of the Guard’s practices. The Pentagon wants the money back, sometimes to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars per soldier and with “interest charges, wage garnishments and tax liens” added to recoupment efforts if soldiers refuse to repay.
The situation immediately drew bipartisan condemnation, including from California Republican Kevin McCarthy. The California Guard says it has little recourse, blaming the Pentagon even as the Guard helps current and former troops get at least some of their money back. Other individuals are suing the Obama administration, which is fighting to dismiss a class-action lawsuit.
While the Times does not add up the total amount being recouped by the Pentagon, the total appears to be less than $250 million – 10,000 soldiers receiving an average of $25,000, both numbers being higher than what the Times is reporting. Out of an unauditable Pentagon budget that totaled $586 billion in Fiscal Year 2016, that’s a budget savings of .043 percent.
As badly as I feel pointing out the politics in this shameful situation, this scandal clearly benefits hard-pressed, key Senate Republicans. A disciplined Donald Trump (yes, I’m laughing, too) could also possibly use this “October Surprise” to sway voters.
In New Hampshire, GOP Senator and foreign policy hawk Kelly Ayotte is losing against Governor Maggie Hassan. Ayotte ought to oppose this method of increasing the defense budget’s size, and tie Clinton to the Obama attack on veterans, and Hassan to it all (both Ayotte and Hassan are fighting to frame themselves as independent).
In Nevada, Rep. Joe Heck is losing a tight race that is still winnable. This scandal could easily benefit him, as he deployed to Iraq and is a General in the Army Reserves. A high-ranking veteran fighting for other veterans against an outgoing Democratic President? That’s a winning strategy.
In Indiana, Rep. Todd Young is losing but closing the gap with former Senator Evan Bayh. Like Heck, he has a strong military bio. Additionally, according to Politico, Young’s campaign has effectively portrayed Bayh as an elite – and Bayh he voted for the Iraq War that in part led to the bonuses in question.
Finally, in Pennsylvania, Senator Pat Toomey holds a slim lead. The former president of the fiscally conservative Club for Growth, Toomey in 2015 accused his Republican colleagues of lacking restraint on the military budget. He could burnish his fiscal credentials and pro-military views by defending veterans and finding other ways to cut the Pentagon’s bloated budget.
I’m loath to include Trump in this list – principles are why I’m #NeverTrump, and I don’t want to boost his campaign. But no piece about an “October Surprise” would be complete without him in it.
The GOP presidential nominee has a tough case to make – he supported the Iraq War. But he’s facing Clinton, who voted for it and worked in the same administration that is now targeting veterans.
Trump has positioned himself as the pro-veteran candidate, despite some very public mishaps on issues related to veterans. But like the Senators mentioned above, if he ties Clinton to this Obama administration, he’ll be in fine shape – especially if he frames himself as the compassionate candidate who refuses to sacrifice veterans.