It is hard to overstate how much more instability President Donald Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis has injected into an already tumultuous time in American political and social life. The Presidential election is only a month away, the pandemic has ravaged several parts of the country, racial tensions persist and the economy is fragile. Throw into it the exceptionally bitter political campaigns, raging wildfires on the west coast of the country and Donald Trump’s insinuation that he might not concede if he loses the election.
In a less developed part of the world, one might think it’s a matter of time before the country descends into massive social unrest or a military coup or even a civil war.
In the short term, the announcement of Donald Trump testing positive for coronavirus has cast a shadow on what the final days of the election campaign will look like, what might the political fall-out be and whether the remaining two presidential debates will take place.
This is hugely frustrating for a President looking for a re-election and one who thrives on canvassing amidst big crowds and positive media coverage. Voting in this year’s election has already started in some states and at the time of writing this piece, there is no suggestion that there will be any changes to the remaining election schedule. Any changes to that will have to be approved by lawmakers.
As of now, the US government is expected to continue as normal with medical observers closely watching Donald Trump’s health at Walter Reed military hospital.
“This is quite a pivotal moment for the country, especially during such an acrimonious election,” USA Today’s White House correspondent Courtney Subramanian said.
“The virus has now reached the highest office in the country. Mr. Trump is not just quarantining in the West Wing but has been taken to a hospital where he is expected to spend a few days. His aides have been downplaying it saying that the President is going to work from the hospital but it’s important to note that the First Lady Melania Trump also tested positive but she has stayed back home,” Courtney Subramanian said.
Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been a central issue in the run up to this year’s election. His critics, particularly the Democratic party, have accused Donald Trump of mishandling the coronavirus pandemic and of a botched national response to a virus that has so far killed more than 200,000 Americans and infected more than 7 million.
President Donald Trump, for his part, has often made light of the virus though he has advocated wearing a mask on some occasions. But he has also said that it will magically disappear and is frequently seen with his face uncovered and not practicing strict social distancing.
Therefore, his own infection will come as a bit of an embarrassment to him. Donald Trump is tested every day, as are the people who come in close contact with him.
Rather than the coronavirus, he has sought to focus on the violence in cities run by Democrats, saying that if Joe Biden is elected, the country will further slip into anarchy. More recently, Donald Trump has directed his attention to appointing a new conservative judge to the Supreme Court which he hopes will bolster his poll numbers.
However, now with his own diagnosis, it will be difficult for him to deflect attention to any other issue. There will likely be closer scrutiny of his coronavirus response, whether he followed proper procedure and whether the American people got the appropriate advice from his administration.
Courtney Subramanian adds, “The President gives himself an A+ on his handling of the virus but he continues to poll very poorly on the issue. He has downplayed the issue at the White House. His aides are often seen not wearing masks and that’s largely been a part of the White House ethos that its voluntary, that if you are tested regularly you will be safe and the White House is one of the safest places in the country. But that’s simply not true now because the commander-in-chief has tested positive.”
However, if Donald Trump recovers quickly without any complications, it may well give him a chance to downplay the severity of the virus again. The odds though are stacked against him.
Donald Trump is 74 and in the vulnerable age group. He is most likely to be severely affected by the virus. He also has a body mass index above 30 – which is classified as obese, a health condition that puts him at further risk. That said, the virus affects different people differently and Donald Trump will have the best medical professionals and resources in the world available to him.
The first reactions across the political spectrum have been to wish the President and the first lady well. Joe Biden, who himself tested negative for coronavirus, wished the President a quick recovery.
The President’s Democratic opponent said, “This cannot be a partisan moment. It must be an American moment. We have to come together as a nation”.
However, Democrats will also know that this is an opportunity for them to hammer home their disapproval of the President’s national coronavirus policy and gives them an opportunity bring the spotlight back on the pandemic.
Joe Biden had earlier tweeted, “I hope this serves as a reminder: wear a mask, keep social distance, and wash your hands.” He has also suspended all negative campaign ads. The Obamas and the Clintons joined other politicians in sending good wishes to Donald Trump.
The United States government has a continuity plan in place in case Donald Trump gets incapacitated. Next in line is Vice President Mike Pence who will become acting President. If Mr. Pence is unable fulfil those duties, the speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi – a Democrat – would be next in line.
Analysts are also concerned about what this chaos at the White House could mean for national security and if there is a possibility for enemy powers to exploit it. The New York Times editorial board wrote, “The president’s health is a matter of national security. Mr. Trump’s illness will throw the highest levels of government into disarray. Even if he does not become seriously ill, the president will be unable to perform many of his duties until the threat of contagion has passed.”
President Donald Trump’s core supporters have steadfastly stood by him in the past – through several scandals and controversies. They have especially had his back when he confronted a crisis. From the allegations into collusion with Russia to his impeachment over improper dealings with Ukraine, he has weathered all the storms due to the unwavering support he has from them.
The question now is whether the President contracting the virus himself will garner him more sympathy or unravel the narrative he has created on the coronavirus which many critics say has been cavalier, misleading and dangerous.