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The 2020 presidential election, already one of the most turbulent campaigns in modern American history, was thrown into even more uncertainty with the announcement late last week that President Trump had contracted the coronavirus.
The most pressing issue is, of course, the president’s health. But with less than a month left before Election Day, Trump’s diagnosis creates a long list of questions about how the remaining days of the race will play out.
Trump’s campaign announced it will hold events featuring Vice President Mike Pence while the president recovers. Trump sent out a flurry of election-focused messages on Twitter Monday morning after being mostly quiet for the previous few days. Joe Biden has continued campaigning after multiple negative tests. At the moment, the vice presidential debate between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris is scheduled to go forward on Wednesday. It’s unclear whether the final two presidential debates, which are scheduled for Oct. 15 and Oct. 22, will be held.
Why there’s debate
In a vacuum, getting sick wouldn’t necessarily be a major blow to a typical candidate. But Trump’s diagnosis comes at a time when he needs to make up a significant deficit in the polls with precious few days left before Nov. 3. Every day he spends in recovery and isolation is a day he can’t be on the campaign trail making his pitch to voters.
His illness also draws intense attention to his biggest political vulnerability: his administration’s pandemic response. The president and many of his closest Republican allies’ becoming infected both highlights what many Americans see as his failure to contain the outbreak and keeps a losing issue for the GOP at the center of the national conversation, pundits say. The White House response to Trump’s illness has been accused of putting optics ahead of safety and truthfulness, and may also undercut voters’ trust in the president.
Other experts say most of the public has already made up its mind about Trump, and this latest issue won’t shift many votes one way or the other. There’s also the possibility, some argue, that Trump could benefit from a boost in sympathy after facing such a dangerous virus.
Much of the impact of Trump’s illness will depend on how severe his symptoms become. His doctors say his condition has improved. But many patients don’t experience the most severe symptoms until 10 to 12 days after being diagnosed, health experts say.
The pandemic being at the center of conversation hurts Trump’s odds
“Trailing Biden with one month left in the 2020 race, Trump is now stuck in a position he’s spent months trying to avoid: Faced with an election that is all about the coronavirus pandemic, with no way to change the topic.” — Eric Bradner and Ryan Nobles, CNN
No one should count Trump out
“It must be said — as a matter of ritual, as much as anything else — that Mr. Trump’s instincts for political theatrics and racial division, and his determination to hold onto power, make it difficult to discount him entirely even at this late hour, and even as he confronts a personal medical emergency.” — Alexander Burns, New York Times
Trump will have a hard time gaining ground if he can’t campaign in person
“Trump needs to make some news and shake up the race further. The debates were his best chance to do that and the earned media and excitement his rallies generate were the second best chance. If he’s off the road for a week, or worse, two or more, that really kind of locks things in place where they are.” — Republican strategist Chris Wilson to Bloomberg
Voters may see Trump in a more sympathetic light
“Depending on how Trump behaves in the weeks ahead, the president could benefit from voter sympathy for his ailment, especially if Democrats overplay their hand and attack him for it.” — Editorial, Washington Examiner
Trump’s handling of his illness has shown voters they can’t trust him
“For any president, credibility in a crisis is paramount — the ability to rally Americans of every political persuasion around a commonly accepted understanding of the situation. For a president on the brink of an election, particularly one held in as tumultuous a year as 2020, it could be the difference between serving one term or two.” — Julie Pace, Associated Press
Being out of the spotlight may be good for Trump
“What if being quiet for a couple of weeks is helpful to him? When he recedes from the field, he’s usually better off. So what if he now has a really good excuse for missing the next debate, maybe both of the upcoming debates, and he becomes a more mild presence in American life? Could that be helpful to him in terms of the election?” — Emily Bazelon, Slate
Trump’s illness is unlikely to sway voters one way or the other
“The president testing positive for COVID-19 is obviously hugely significant, but it’s not revelatory. We already knew Trump was not taking the virus seriously enough. Now, we have a much more obvious manifestation of that fact, but nothing is really different. … So this matters, but I’m not sure it matters electorally in terms of shifting a lot of people’s votes.” — Perry Bacon Jr., FiveThirtyEight
Trump’s catching COVID-19 undermines his central campaign message
“There’s nothing positive about it. Politically speaking, there’s no upside for him because it fundamentally undermines his central re-election message, which is: The coronavirus is under control, we’ve turned the corner and the economy is re-emergent. … None of that is true — we haven’t turned the corner.” — MSNBC political analyst Rick Tyler to NBC News
The illness costs him time that he can’t spare
“Besides the obvious — the disastrous optics of the president contracting the very virus his administration has struggled to contain — the most significant blow to the Trump reelection effort will be his forced absence from the campaign trail.” — Walt Hickey, Business Insider
Any predictions of how this will affect the race are at best educated guesses
“Nothing remotely close to this has ever happened in a presidential campaign. It’s impossible to predict how voters react to it.” — GOP consultant Alex Conant to Wall Street Journal
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