It’s not media hype to suggest President Trump’s positive test for the coronavirus thrust the presidential campaign into deep uncertainty.
Everything — literally everything — in the race for the foreseeable future will depend on the health of the president. COVID-19 can be a very serious disease especially for those who are elderly and obese, as the president is. Whether he can continue to campaign at all depends on his health.
Complicating matters is the fact that his administration has been the least transparent White House in decades about the president’s health. For now, the good news is that Trump staffers say he is only feeling mild symptoms. That said, Vice President Mike Pence reportedly stood in for the president on a call with governors Friday.
Questions pressing the administration about the exact and current state of the president’s health cannot happen often enough in the coming hours and days and the answers couldn’t be more important, not just for the presidential race, but in terms of national security as well.
Americans went through the day Friday with a lot of questions that simply cannot be answered right now. But here are three things we do know in terms of the race between Trump and former vice president Joe Biden:
1. Nearly everything stops
On Friday, the president was supposed to receive an intelligence briefing, rally supporters at his hotel in Washington, and then fly to Florida for a fund-raiser. Those events didn’t happen. Now, the White House says, he is at Walter Reed Medical Center “for the next few days.”
Over the weekend, Trump had rallies planned in Wisconsin, a state that his own White House task force on COVID-19 has labeled a “red zone” for the virus. Given that the president is now in what he called a quarantine, one has to assume those events will be canceled. And if the president follows basic health protocols, he could be off the campaign trail for at least two weeks and maybe for the rest of the campaign.
For months, the president has had a much more robust campaign schedule than Joe Biden. The former vice president’s aides said they limited traditional campaign events due to public health concerns. Following the news of Trump’s positive test, Biden was quickly tested himself for coronavirus and was found to be negative. He then hopped on a plane to attend a campaign event in Michigan Friday afternoon. Yes, Biden and Trump shared a stage on Tuesday night, but the campaigns reportedly used separate entrances and the candidates were never within 6 feet of each other.
Still, Biden’s health status becomes a bigger deal now and aides may feel the risk (or the public visual) of a lot of campaigning just may not be worth the reward of hitting swing states in person. And in terms of campaign strategy, Biden might just want to seize the opportunity to go back to his basement, given that is where he has been as his poll numbers showed a steady lead. There are fewer opportunities to make mistakes in the basement.
Even if Biden does do fewer events, it doesn’t mean everything will stop. Both campaigns are expected to invest heavily in television advertising. And if he feels up to it, we might be seeing a lot of campaigning by tweet from the president.
2. COVID takes center stage
If one watches the presidential race from a 30,000-foot level, the battle for the past few months has been Trump and his staff trying to make the daily news cycle about anything other than the coronavirus.
They fear that every day the discussion is about COVID-19, it is a reminder of how unseriously Trump took the disease. He even mocked Biden on the debate stage earlier this week, “I don’t wear masks like him. Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from them and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”
For the coming days, it is hard to imagine we are talking about anything other than the coronavirus. Yes, that is despite a Supreme Court nomination process underway.
3. The vice presidential debate just got more important
It is hard to recall a vice presidential debate that will be as serious as the one that happens on Wednesday.
Before, these debates were something of an interesting sideshow, where the presidential candidate proxies engage in a side debate that really isn’t about them.
This debate, however, will feature the running mates of the two oldest presidential nominees in American history. One of those candidates has a disease that has killed more than 205,000 Americans this year.
Instead of cheering on their side and clapping at zingers, Americans may tune in for a deeper examination of those on the stage, one of whom will be a heartbeat away from the presidency for the next four years.