Americans woke up to the shocking, but not unexpected, news on Friday wondering what 2020 would bring next. After months of denying the severity of the pandemic, even though more than 200,000 Americans have died of Covid-19, the virus is upon Trump and First Lady Melania Trump. Both are in quarantine.
Trump is 74 and overweight — both factors that put him in the vulnerable category. His doctor said he can carry out his duties ‘without disruption,’ but other presidents have temporarily transferred duties to the vice-president even when they went for routine procedures to the hospital. Trump is different, we know.
First, his chances for re-election will be severely affected, and his handling of the pandemic will now come into even sharper focus. Nothing will remind voters more about his cavalier attitude than the ‘October surprise’ of the president being stricken by the virus.
For months, Trump has ridiculed the idea of wearing masks and appeared at rallies without one. During the first presidential debate in Cleveland on Tuesday, he made fun of Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden for wearing the ‘biggest’ mask even when Biden was 200 feet apart from the next person. ‘I don’t wear masks like him,’ said Trump derisively.
His aides routinely walk about without masks, and many have come down with the virus, including his closest aide and communications director Hope Hicks, who showed symptoms on Thursday on Air Force One. It’s unclear how Trump got infected. But he has been in the company of too many people and his is a mask-less society.
Trump’s attitude has generated an entire movement, especially in Republican-controlled states, of people who defy basic precautionary methods of masks and social distancing. It’s as if the virus cared about political ideology. The president delivered his acceptance speech on the White House lawns last month with more than a thousand mask-less supporters sitting in close proximity.
With barely a month to go before the November 3 election, it’s hard to predict whether the latest twist in an already twisted landscape will get Trump the sympathy vote, or shut the door to his re-election. He can’t appear at rallies — the lifeblood of his campaign and a boast he regularly employs to ridicule ‘Basement Biden’.
Trump has consistently lagged behind Biden in national polls by at least 8 percentage points, but kept a tighter margin in battleground states. The Democrats now have more ammunition to paint him as an irresponsible leader who flouts basic science and medical advice.
But no one can safely predict how Trump the Spinmeister will spin this one. It was his insistence on campaigning in person that is partially responsible for forcing the Democrats to get Biden out of the basement. But Biden made the ‘mask’ his mascot and followed the rules. Their strategy has been to let Trump self-destruct for the most part.
Lurking in the background is the Trump strategy of discrediting the entire electoral process by discouraging people from sending the ballots by mail. He claims without much proof that the process is ridden with fraud. The courts have disagreed, but it’s an old Republican ploy to suppress voting.
Then there are calls by Trump and family to all ‘able-bodied’ men and women to gather at polling stations to keep a watch. That’s a call laden with possibilities for potential violence. Scores of former police officers are being enlisted for this enterprise. At the very least, voters may think twice about going to the polls.
Both parties also have teams of lawyers stationed and ready in several states with potential lawsuits to fight and fight back. The news of Trump’s infection with the coronavirus will likely increase the Republican tendency to take this election in directions more uncertain than imagined.
And that is not good news for America, or the world. But then, there hasn’t been any good news in 2020.
Views expressed are author’s own