Could catching coronavirus be the President’s trump card?

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[Originally written for and published by Empoword Journalism]

03/10/2020

The irony of Donald Trump catching coronavirus is lost on few. From his blatant denial that America is handling the pandemic badly, to his mocking of Joe Biden’s mask-wearing habits fewer than 48 hours before testing positive for the virus himself, some critics are saying this was inevitable or indeed implying that it was deserved. But is this really going to harm Trump’s campaign? Maybe, maybe not.

Could the virus be the President’s downfall?

Trump supporters have mimicked the President’s blase attitude towards coronavirus through anti-mask protests and a lack of social distancing at Republican rallies. But how would they react if their leader were to become seriously ill, or worse? Many are happy to take the President’s word when he rejects any bad press as “fake news”, but even Trump would struggle to downplay the severity of Covid-19 if he were to suffer the same tragic fate as more than 208,000 Americans after becoming infected. That would be one fact-check that couldn’t be disputed. Also insisting that “Sleepy” Joe Biden is a man not healthy enough for the job no longer sticks if you yourself are sat in a hospital bed.

With swing states like Florida still to play for, it is key that both candidates put on their best display in this last month before Election Day. But Trump has already put a halt to his campaign schedule, and it’s very possible that without his energy-packed, sometimes described as cult-esque, rallies, undecided voters may be swayed by the Democrats.

Or a winning card for the Republicans?

The Republicans could also spin this plot twist in their favour. If, like 80% of cases, President Trump continues to only suffer with mild symptoms, then his personal circumstances will fit very snugly into his long-held narrative that coronavirus, for the most part, is “totally harmless” and that the US is “rounding the final turn”, despite hard scientific evidence countering both of these statements. 

There is also the impact that the President’s illness has on media coverage in the run-up to 3 November – while the information is fresh it has saturated the news, and its continuing to do so would eclipse the typical election preamble, causing further disruption to what is already the most atypical of campaign seasons. Following the chaotic first debate, which was described by commentators as “a dumpster fire”, “a shitshow”, and “the worst debate in presidential history”, it’s possible that either party could profit from the distraction.

There are also scenarios to consider if Trump, who does have a number of risk factors, were to really suffer with coronavirus – would the incumbent benefit from a surge of sympathy as was witnessed in the UK when Boris Johnson fell ill back in April? Or again following in Johnson’s footsteps, could we see the President return somewhat humbled by his close shave with Covid-19? Both could impact the way that Americans vote in November.

Nobody can call it

Following suit in what has been a year of certain uncertainty, there is really no way of knowing how the US Election will shape up in a month’s time. It would, however, be foolish to assume that President Trump having caught coronavirus means an easy victory for the Democrats – the final four weeks of this long-haul game will only continue to hot up, and the incumbent is definitely still in play.

Hannah Ward-Glenton

Featured image courtesy Unsplash.

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