In many ways, it’s surprising that it took this long for him to contract it. That’s not a comment about him personally, but about the job – he’s the President of the United States, in an election season. Even in normal times, he’s probably meeting twenty to thirty people a day sitting right across a desk from him. But in election season, he’s also flying coast-to-coast across the US, meeting hundreds of elected officials, voters, and reporters. No matter how much he’s going to socially distance, that’s an awful lot of chances, every single day, for the virus to get lucky.
Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 2, 2020
There are two questions here that are very relevant, and to which we do not know the answers.
First, will the illness impact his ability to do the job?
That’s a less important question in somewhere like the UK, where Boris Johnson was able to deputise people to make decisions on his behalf.
President Trump cannot do that – constitutionally, he’s the only one who can give certain orders, sign or veto laws, and so on. If his symptoms were to progress (and let’s pray they do not) to a point where he needed significant medical care, then that could present a major crisis.
The other issue here is that in many cases, the virus is not lethal, but does have a lasting impact on a person’s energy levels and ability to function at the same level as they did before contracting it. Boris Johnson, for example, is reported to still be suffering some after-effects of Covid. And he is a much younger man than the President.
Second, how will this impact the election? Will there be a surge of sympathy for the President and his family? Or will voters conclude – unfairly, but politics is not fair – that the President contracting covid is a symptom of his own failure to contain it? Nobody knows the answer to that, yet, but tens of millions of people will be watching the polls even more closely in the coming days.
If you’re looking for evidence that it will help him, then you probably need look no further than the reaction of some Biden supporters online. When your candidate is trying to be America’s nice, friendly, grandad, it probably doesn’t help when many of your supporters are expressing a hope that the President dies:
Thread of Blue Check Marks gleefully celebrating and hoping that Trump dies pic.twitter.com/sF4WAsQ2MA
— Zwetchkenstiel (@zwetchkenstiel) October 2, 2020
If nothing else, that kind of thing will put fire in the belly of Trump supporters, making sure they go out to vote.
It’s also hard to see the average voter concluding that they’re going to vote against President Trump because he got sick. They may have been going to vote against him anyway, of course, but most fair-minded people will struggle to blame someone for contracting a highly contagious virus.
The most immediate issue, in terms of the election, is that this means that next week’s scheduled second debate is now, certainly, off. Is that good or bad news for each candidate? On the one hand, with Biden ahead in the race, it’s one less chance to mess up. On the other hand, it was scheduled to be a town-hall style debate with actual voters asking the questions, which would have played to Biden’s biggest strength, which is his empathy.
It also probably heightens the importance of the Vice Presidential debate between Vice President Pence and Senator Kamala Harris. Trump is 74. Biden is 77. There’s a very high chance that one of the two Vice Presidential candidates will be President before 2024, whether we like it or not.
There might now be an increased audience for that one.
Anyway, the good news is that prior to this, President Trump seems to have been in remarkable health for a man his age, and that, at this stage, he seems to have no symptoms. Normal people, of all views, will be wishing him a speedy recovery.