I wrote earlier this week that the Trump campaign was being buried under a tsunami of bad news. Since then, the news has only gotten worse for the president and it doesn’t look as though things will be changing anytime soon.
The most obvious piece of bad news from today is the revelation that the president and First Lady have tested positive for COVID-19. Although I have frequently offered criticism of the president and his Coronavirus policy, I am not one of those who delight in this news. I pray that President and Mrs. Trump will have a mild case and recover swiftly.
President Trump’s infection does put him at a severe disadvantage for the last month of the campaign, however. It is likely that, with the president and much of his staff under quarantine, the remaining debates, rallies, and appearances will be canceled even if Mr. Trump never develops symptoms. The president’s disdain for masks and insistence on holding mass rallies made it likely that he would contract the virus, but the timing could scarcely have been worse.
Broad polling over the past six months has shown that voters don’t believe that Trump has handled the pandemic well. His diagnosis will not help matters and especially if the president’s case is severe, many voters will see it as confirmation that the Trump Administration did not take the Coronavirus crisis seriously enough. The diagnosis also raises concerns about the president’s long-term health.
If, God forbid, President Trump dies or becomes incapacitated before the election, the Republican National Committee could replace him with another candidate. Professor Richard Pildes, an election law expert at NYU, described in the Washington Post how the 168-member RNC would cast votes to select a new nominee with each state getting the same number of votes that they cast at the nominating convention. Vice President Mike Pence would be the obvious choice.
If Trump wins the election but is incapacitated, the Electoral College might choose another candidate. However, in this scenario, the Republican electors, who would constitute a majority, would probably select Mike Pence to succeed Trump.
Even before the news about the president’s battle with Coronavirus came out, his re-election campaign was in trouble. After Tuesday night’s debate debacle, the president seems poised to plunge in the polls. The first post-debate poll was released Thursday by Change Research and showed a 13-point lead for Biden while a new Georgia poll showed the Democrat up by two points in the Peach State. A handful of other polls released on Friday show Biden with a lead ranging from 8 to 10 points, indicating that the Democratic candidate has received a slight boost from the debate.
As Biden surges, Trump’s COVID quarantine means that he can’t hit the campaign trail to stem the tide. If the nation sees the president suffering from a severe case, his decline in the polls is likely to be accelerated.
The flip side, however, is that Trump’s enforced isolation may help his campaign. I’ve said for years that he would be more popular if he could simply shut up and stay out of the spotlight. A Coronavirus quarantine may help him do just that, but it may be too late.
The bad news does not end there, however. The CARES Act, which was passed in March, is expiring and the White House has not been able to reach an agreement with congressional Democrats to pass a new relief bill. Without new federal funding to keep employees on the payroll, the country will take another economic hit as businesses begin to lay off employees. The more than 30,000 airline employees who have received furlough notices are merely the tip of the iceberg.
The effects of these massive numbers of layoffs will likely cascade through the economy if Congress and the president cannot reach an agreement. Consumer spending will fall, which could lead to more layoffs in retail stores as well as manufacturing. Mortgages, rent, and other loans will go unpaid. Ultimately, the unemployment crisis could cause a collapse in real estate values.
It is difficult to say how quickly the economic crisis will spread, but, for a president already lagging in the polls, tens of thousands of newly unemployed workers is not a good sign. This is especially true if the newly unemployed view the president’s party as the obstacle to federal programs that would have kept their paychecks – or enhanced unemployment benefits – coming.
The president’s campaign has been in trouble for quite some time, but the new round of bad news is shifting the election from a Republican loss to a rout. At this point, it looks as though the swing states are gone and red states such as Georgia, Iowa, and Texas are within Joe Biden’s grasp. Meanwhile, quarantined in the White House, all President Trump can do is tweet about it.
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