A little over a week ago, Republicans gathered at the White House Rose Garden as President Trump officially nominated Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
The moment gave Republicans momentum and potentially a much-needed campaign reset. Instead of Americans thinking about how badly Trump had handled the coronavirus crisis, which polls show they believe, maybe a rushed, even high-drama fight over a court nomination would change the subject.
Trump, in particular, may have felt that the late Saturday afternoon event in the Rose Garden would define the last month of the campaign.
It has, just not in the way that he hoped.
Beginning with his announcement early Friday morning that he had tested positive for the coronavirus along with his wife, First Lady Melania Trump, the Barrett nomination has been back-burner news.
Well, except for this part: a lot of people who were at the Rose Garden nomination ceremony have now tested positive for COVID-19. Among them: White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, University of Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins, Senators Thom Tillis and Mike Lee, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, former Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway and three journalists.
We don’t know the total number of people who tested positive after attending the 150-person event, where most did not wear masks. (The Washington Post reported Monday that two other White House communications staff have tested positive, but didn’t list their names; it was unclear if they were at the Rose Garden event.)
To be clear, we don’t know if the people who have tested positive picked up the virus at the Rose Garden event. The White House has reportedly been slow in conducting basic contact tracing that could illuminate how transmission happened.
But it’s clear that event hasn’t been the political pivot point Republicans had hoped.
Less than a week after the event, the president took a helicopter to Walter Reed Medical Center where he checked in as a patient. He left Monday evening.
Far from changing the subject away from coronavirus, now it is the only thing that matters in American politics, especially as it relates specifically to Trump’s health. Is he OK? Do the experimental drugs he is taking leave him able to perform his duties as president? When will he leave the hospital? Will he ever campaign again before the election? Does he benefit politically when this health scare is over?
These are the questions that are more relevant right now. It’s not: What does the new Supreme Court nominee believe about abortion?
Also relevant are the latest poll numbers showing Democrat Joe Biden’s lead over Trump growing nationally and in swing states like Pennsylvania, Florida, and Arizona.
Trump needs something to change the subject away from the coronavirus and to do it soon. But how many October surprises can there really be?