Donald Trump desperately needed an October surprise, something to radically shake up the presidential race. His losing numbers in most polls only worsened after Tuesday night’s debate with Joe Biden. Democrats were beginning to see the makings of a landslide.
But the surprise awaiting Mr. Trump could hardly have been more grim. It will more likely be seen as his campaign’s October demise.
The news that he and First Lady Melania Trump have tested positive for the coronavirus might normally be seen as a sympathy generator. This was the case for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose personal approval numbers enjoyed a brief boost after he was admitted to hospital with the infection in March.
But Mr. Trump has treated the coronavirus so dismissively for so long that he cannot rely on any such benevolence. The more likely reaction – and one that appears prevalent in the Twittersphere – is that while there is hope he recovers, he is getting his comeuppance. That what goes around, comes around.
Indeed, in the annals of presidents and princes and kings, this may serve as a paramount illustration of being hoist with one’s own petard.
Who knows what he will do now? The United States, having received jolt after jolt through 2020, has been hit, astonishingly, by another one, another destabilizing trauma, this one at a most precarious time. The election campaign was already in question, given Mr. Trump’s threats of not accepting the result. Now, it confronts yet more potentially tumultuous scenarios.
Mr. Trump’s performance on the coronavirus – playing it down even as the death toll climbed over 200,000 – was his biggest election vulnerability. He has sought to find ballot-box issues that distract from it. But that is impossible now.
If his case is a mild one and he recovers quickly, he may try and pose as the strong man who overcame it. Me, Tarzan! Another option, if he struggles to recover, is that he may call for an election postponement; he has cited the possibility in the past. There are also conspiracy theorists who think, wild as it may seem, that Mr. Trump has concocted this whole thing and that he will somehow manoeuvre his faux sickness to his advantage.
The President’s diagnosis should at least serve as a wake-up call to the country and its great many COVID-19 skeptics; they should treat the pandemic with great sensitivity. The people now have exhibit A for taking such a turn of attitude: their Oval Office occupant.
The moment also serves as vindication for Joe Biden, who took the virus far more seriously, has campaigned a lot on a virtual basis, and who condemned the President as being “a fool” in the debate for the way he’s handled it.
In that debate, Mr. Trump mocked his opponent for wearing a mask. “I don’t wear masks like him," he said Tuesday. "Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from them and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”
Even on Thursday, after he knew that his trusted aide Hope Hicks was showing symptoms of the coronavirus, Mr. Trump insisted that “the end of the pandemic is in sight.” At a rally last month in Dayton, Ohio, he said the coronavirus affects “virtually nobody.”
Depending on the seriousness of his condition, he will now have to suspend the type of big rallies he favours for a couple of weeks, and maybe more, Whether we’ll see the two remaining debates – big opportunities for him to score points – is in serious doubt.
Republicans appeared downcast. It’s a “devastating blow” to the Trump campaign," said political strategist Rob Stutzman. It’s “the ultimate rebuke to his callous mishandling of COVID.”
Mr. Trump is overweight and, at 74, is in the highest-risk category for severe complications from the disease. Eight out of 10 COVID-19-related deaths in the U.S. have been of people 65 and over, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If his condition gets dire enough, the 25th Amendment allows power to be transferred to Vice-President Mike Pence. If Mr. Pence, who has tested negative, were to become badly afflicted, then it would be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – the Democrat! – who would take the reins of government.
There is a slim chance that COVID-19 will humanize the President, especially if he were to come out and tell the American people that he underestimated the severity of the virus, and express regret for doing so.
Given his character, however, that chance is very slim. The greater likelihood is that the news of him contracting the disease that he treated so dismissively is the death knell of his presidency.
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