The October surprise happened in September, but it was certainly a jarring surprise. Normally in a presidential race, it will be engineered by supporters of one candidate against the other. But unless we learn differently, the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg came when her health finally collapsed after years of fighting off cancers. Shortly before she succumbed, she dictated a statement:
"My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed."
But in the ways of Washington, the beauty of all the Twitter tributes immediately gave way to ugly politics. A vicious fight is assured as President Donald Trump is locked in a battle with his opponent, with a chance that he will lose; and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, also a Republican, is locked in a re-election battle with a chance that he will lose.
It's even feasible that Joe Biden and the Democrats will take over the White House and the Senate. So the GOP, in power now, is scrambling to ram a conservative justice through the "advice and consent" ritual and replace Ginsburg, a liberal legend who had become a longtime battler for women's rights. Her dissents and written opinions were so majestic that she had become a champion of the younger set, the "Notorious RBG."
If the Republicans are successful, the high court would be able to reverse so much of the progressive agenda that has grown into reality in recent generations, including the right to get an abortion.
So many women, even conservatives, view Trump as an obvious misogynist. However, many are even more offended by abortion. So they may see a conservative anti-abortion justice as an appropriate replacement for the pro women's rights, pro Roe v. Wade Ruth Bader Ginsburg, enhancing the chances to prohibit a procedure they view as murder.
The bitter absurdity is that the passing of the most liberal justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has altered the election campaign. The political scenarios following her death are chaotic, all over the map. On the one hand it allows Donald Trump to present himself as a statesman instead of the caricature of the hated, hateful buffoon to which so many million Americans see. But can the Trumpster hold back on his compulsion to say or tweet something outrageous?
And what about the contest for control of the Senate. Will endangered Republican members, who are fighting close battles for re-election, including McConnell himself, be willing to play along with McConnell and Trump's strategy to force through a replacement? Democrats promise an all-out fight against that. Will that help or hurt them? And will more GOP gadflies, like Mitt Romney, help the Democrats conjure up the four votes they need to thwart the hurry-up plan?
How will Joe Biden handle this unexpected development, and how will Kamala Harris deal with it? She's a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, under the control of Chairman Lindsey Graham, a Republican who is fighting for his political life back in his home state of South Carolina.
The September surprise of Ruth Bader Ginsberg's death will have an enormous impact on the campaign, and it's not overstating it to say that it will affect the future of this country. Obviously it might not be in the direction Ginsberg would prefer after a lifetime of leading the fight for human rights.
Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN; his opinions are his own.