Will COVID-19 be President Trump’s savior?

While President Trump may not win, he’s demonstrated the ability to lose the election. In the last week, the President has done his best to alienate voters outside his base. His refusing to offer a rebuttal to his tax returns, coming unhinged in the debate, and doubling down on his implicit support of white supremacy all played well with his base. But his base consists of zealots. By definition, they don’t need further incitement. More importantly, his base is around 45%, just shy of what he needs to win—making his alienation of undecided voters even more untenable. Also, it makes Joe Biden’s job easier. “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”

The President has always needed keeping from himself. A positive COVID-19 test may succeed where numerous chiefs of staff and cabinet members have failed. Ten days away from the campaign trail solves numerous problematic issues for the President. Unable to control the virus’ narrative, the diagnosis now places him squarely at the narrative’s sympathetic center. No longer is anyone discussing his insults of Veterans and Christians. President Trump has never changed his style. He would be unwilling to do so for the second debate. One of the options under discussion is muting the President’s microphone if he fails to conform to debate rules. Not a good look for anyone, much less a sitting President. The quarantine period now makes the second debate unlikely. Which, in turn, makes the chances of a third debate remote.

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He is conceding at least ten days of campaigning to his opponent, Joe Biden. Never advisable a month before the election. The incubation time for COVID-19 is between 2-14 days.  Biden was in the presence of the President three days ago. Meaning, regardless of Biden testing negative today, having been exposed he is also subject to the quarantine CDC guidelines. How long before the Trump campaign raises this issue?

Overall, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has done an excellent job of blaming the failed stimulus talks on the President and Republicans. The President’s unavailability will shift pressure to Pelosi to take the White House’s latest offer. Pelosi should consider making the deal. She’s received concessions on all significant points, state and local aid, and unemployment enhancement, to name two. The people who need help need it now. Waiting until after the election will mean passing a bill in February.  Any assistance would take until March or April to materialize.  At that point, Congress would be “Throwin’ us trunks as we’re starting to drown.”

The President’s handling of the COVID crisis has been a significant weakness of his re-election effort. His illness, assuming he recovers, allows him to do one of two things, both helpful. He can play his contracting the virus as a “come to Jesus moment” and repent for earlier mistakes. Alternatively, assuming he has a swift recovery, he can personally re-assert the virus is “no more than a bad flu.” Either way, he is likely to gain votes.

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Finally, what will amount to a break in campaigning will allow the Trump re-election effort to focus on raising much-needed money. Regardless of arguments for and against, elections are won and lost over the airwaves in the final weeks

In retrospect, Trump’s flouting of the recommended mask and social distancing guidelines resulted in a predictable October surprise. Now ironically, again assuming the President recovers, COVID-19, once seen as his nemesis, may prove to be his ultimate savior.

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