How Trump’s Sudden Illness May Shift This Election

coronavirus, elections, COVID-19
Photo by Joaquin Corbalan/ iStock

Donald Trump's announcement early Friday that he and Melania Trump had tested positive for the coronavirus sent shockwaves across the country.

Experts say the effect of such news could be a game-changer for the election, shaking up an already contentious race.

In recorded remarks played at the Al Smith Dinner on Thursday night, hours before he announced his diagnosis, Trump said America was rounding a corner in the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I just want to say that the end of the pandemic is in sight," Trump said, before adding that 2021 would be "one of the greatest years in the history of our country."

But observers say this messaging is severely undercut by his diagnosis with a virus he said affected "virtually nobody."

Kathryn Watson, a White House reporter for CBS News, tweeted Friday, "For all the fun Trump poked at Biden for wearing a big mask and spending too much time in his basement, one candidate will almost certainly be able to continue campaigning around the country and the other will not for a period of time right before the election."

Most recently, Trump scoffed at Biden during Tuesday's presidential debate: "I don't wear a mask like him. Every time you see him, he's got a mask."

"The president's own callous & resistant policies towards #COVID are related to his condition," tweeted Jason Johnson, a political contributor at MSNBC and a professor of global journalism and communication at Morgan State University. "Pointing that out is not gloating any more than wishing him well is cheering."

"We are weeks away from an election," Sarah Reese Jones, managing editor of PoliticusUSA, posted on Twitter. "200,000 plus Americans have died, many of them needlessly — due to Trump's actions. We can't afford to ignore this while Trump is sick from what he said was nothing more than the flu when others were dying."

Logistically, the road to Election Day may look very different due to Trump's diagnosis.

A statement released Friday by Bill Stepien, Trump's 2020 campaign manager, said that all campaign events will be postponed or moved to virtual forums, as will all events involving the first family. [NOTE: Stepien later announced that he also tested positive for the virus.]

"All other campaign events will be considered on a case-by-case basis and we will make any relevant announcements in the days ahead," Stepien said, adding that Mike Pence will continue his duties as he has tested negative for the virus.

Trump rallies have been canceled, most notably in Florida, which was going to be Trump's next campaign focus.

Timothy Lynch, an associate professor in American politics at the University of Melbourne, has suggested that Trump's ability to appeal to the masses and rile up a stadium full of people, an edge he's long had on Democratic nominee Joe Biden, will now be erased.

"Trump was much better at energizing crowds in airport hangars than Joe Biden has been," he wrote. "This advantage is now gone."

He also noted that Trump will likely be unable to participate in any more presidential debates.

"The presidential debates will almost certainly be canceled, which will likely mean a more civil national debate," Lynch said.

And this may not help Trump's image, as he's already been long seen as less than compassionate towards those suffering from the virus. A recent poll by the Democracy Fund and UCLA Nationscape Project indicated that while 70% of Americans see Biden as sympathetic to coronavirus patients, less than half see Trump as sympathetic.

Americans are watching closely to see whether Trump's pandemic response improves after his illness — or worsens. And make no mistake: They are watching with an eye to the election.

"Unfortunately, POTUS's experience with COVID may determine if he changes his tune and attitude or not," said Rep. Nannette Barragan (D-CA) in a series of tweets. "If he quickly recovers and is symptom free, will he continue to mock those who wear a mask? Will he still say (re. deaths) 'it is what it is' or continue to downplay its danger? For his sake and that of our country, I hope not."

Some have speculated that Trump plans to spin a potentially relatively mild case of the illness and a full recovery to claim that the coronavirus is no worse than the flu. But experts such as Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright say that won't help his election bid — except with the people who were already planning to vote for him.

But, Seawright said, at least Trump's shocking diagnosis will refocus American voters on the important issues at hand.

"From now until we get to the election, attention is going to be back where it should be: on COVID, [Trump's] response, and the impact and on health care," Seawright said.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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