How Trump's COVID-19 diagnosis could change the U.S. election
TORONTO -- U.S. President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis 32 days before the U.S. election has the potential to radically shake up a race that, until now, has been considered relatively stable.
Trump was flown via private helicopter Friday to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where the White House says he will spend a “few days” as a precaution as he is experiencing mild symptoms of the virus.
What this means for the state of the U.S. election is largely uncertain, but there are already a few signs of how Trump’s diagnosis is changing the race.
RENEWED FOCUS ON COVID-19
Most obviously, Trump’s diagnosis thrusts COVID-19 back into centre stage after the issue was just one of several covered at Tuesday’s presidential debate. Democratic challenger Joe Biden used the stage as a chance to pin the more than 208,000 U.S. deaths on Trump, while Trump mocked Biden for wearing a mask “every time you see him.”
Biden has consistently tried to frame the election as a referendum on Trump’s response to the virus while Trump has focused on a “law and order” message against ongoing anti-racism protests across the country.
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Renewed attention on the pandemic isn’t great news for Trump. Polls show that most Americans don’t like how Trump has handled the pandemic, with tracking by FiveThirtyEight showing that 56.5 per cent of respondents disapprove. However, the issue appears to follow party lines, with 82 per cent of Republicans approving of Trump’s response compared with just 8.6 per cent of Democrats. A minority of Independents approve, at 35 per cent.
The U.S. leads the world in COVID-19 cases and deaths, and several Midwestern states such as Wisconsin, North Dakota and Iowa are seeing their own surges.
DEBATES UP IN THE AIR
Then there’s the question of the debates. The next presidential debate in Miami is 13 days away, on Oct. 15, and is meant to be a town-hall style with questions from audience members.
But whether or not Trump will be well enough to attend depends on his symptoms. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends that people who test positive for COVID-19 should stay in isolation for at least 10 days after their symptoms appear. They should not leave isolation until at least 24 hours has passed fever-free without help from medication. Other symptoms should also be improving by the time a person leaves isolation.
Doing the math, that leaves Trump just three days wiggle room to get better, assuming he has the fastest recovery possible. However, concerns have been raised about whether Trump could have complications, due to the fact that he is medically obese. Trump’s advisors have said the president is receiving top-level care and is in good spirits.
Trump himself released a video prior to leaving the White House for the hospital, saying: “I think I’m doing very well, but we’re going to make sure that things work out.”
The vice-presidential debate between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence is still on for next Wednesday. The third presidential debate is scheduled on Oct. 22.
TRUMP LOSES HIS RALLIES
Another major change: Trump won’t be able to host rallies in the pivotal final weeks of the race. Trump has always relied on large gatherings of MAGA-clad supporters to rev up his base, and without the president to attend those events, his campaign will have to pivot to another strategy.
Up until his diagnosis, Trump was still holding large rallies, sometimes to the consternation of state governors who accused the president of flouting public health rules.
After Trump fell ill, his campaign announced that all events for the foreseeable future will either be virtual or postponed.
While Trump is forced to sit on the sidelines, Biden is continuing his own campaign stops and does not plan to cancel pre-planned events, according to several media reports. On Friday, Biden carried on with a speaking event with union workers in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, tested negative for the virus on Friday.
Bernie Sanders is also hitting the campaign trail in support of Biden as he works to excite his supporters in New Hampshire and Michigan. A campaign spokesperson told The Associated Press that Sanders’s events will be outdoors and practice physical distancing.
ATTACK ADS PAUSED (AGAINST TRUMP)
Biden’s campaign is taking down attack ads against Trump in the aftermath of the president’s diagnosis, according to reporting from The Associated Press. An official told AP that the decision came from Biden before it was known that Trump was headed to hospital.
Biden tweeted Friday that “this cannot be a partisan moment” and reiterated his best wishes for the president at a campaign event.
“My wife Jill and I prayed that they'll make a quick and full recovery. This is not a matter of politics. It's a bracing reminder to all of us that we have to take this virus seriously,” Biden said.
Instead of ads targeting Trump’s character, Biden’s campaign will now try to shift to an uplifting message in the final stretch of the race. However, it could take several days before the attack ads, which are planned well in advance, are removed from circulation.
So far, there is no indication that Trump campaign has taken down ads that personally attack Biden.
A DELAYED ELECTION?
Back in July, Trump floated the idea of delaying the election due to the pandemic as he simultaneously cast doubt on the validity of mail-in voting. His COVID-19 diagnosis could renew questions as to whether or not the election could or should be delayed.
By U.S. law, the vote must take place every four years in November on the first Tuesday after the first Monday. Changing that date would require the passage of a new law through Congress, which isn’t likely to pass considering that the Democrats control the House.
WHAT IF HE DIES?
For the record, there is no indication that Trump’s medical condition is dire, and he was seen walking on his own today to his Marine One helicopter.
If Trump’s condition were to worsen and he died, the Republican Party would need to decide whether it should unilaterally select its own replacement or bring back the national convention that selected Trump as nominee, and give them another chance to decide. Then, states would choose whether or not they wanted to accept the proposed changes.
A president has never died in the lead-up to an election. Back in 1912, Republican vice-presidential candidate James Sherman died of Bright’s disease six days before the election, leaving William Howard Taft without a running mate. Sherman was not replaced on the ballot, and the Republicans lost.
With files from CTV News’ Richard Madan in Washington, D.C. and The Associated Press