So, President Trump and First Lady have COVID. What does that mean? In human terms, mild discomfort, worry stress, likely not much more. In political terms, possibly a lot. Blessings sometimes come well disguised – this could be one.
In human terms, the President and First Lady should be fine. At 74, the President has between a 95.1 and 97.3 chance of quick recovery; at 50, the First Lady’s recovery chances are 99.2 to 99.5 percent. Moreover, since 94 percent of all COVID mortality is dual cause – that is, tied to an underlying condition – and neither have appear to have one, they should be fine. See, e.g., https://www.statista.com/statistics/1105431/covid-case-fatality-rates-us-by-age-group/; https://fox8.com/news/coronavirus/new-cdc-report-shows-94-of-covid-19-deaths-in-us-had-underlying-medical-conditions/.
In political terms, waters are suddenly boiling. We went from shooting rapids to a rip tide. The New York Times suggests Trump may come off the ballot, wishful thinking but clarifies their bias. Democrats seem split between celebrating, agitating, and being artificially somber, suddenly in unison prayerful.
Speaker Pelosi just got tested for COVID to be “ready,” comically preparing for a “saner approach,” under headlines saying she is “third in line to the presidency.” She managed to ding the White House for “inadequate testing,” call this news “tragic,” pin fault on the President, offer nonsensical advice like “none of us is safe until …everybody is safe,” perhaps channeling her inner Martin Luther King, who said “no one is free until we are all free,” and then – in an impressive pivot– declared she is fervently “praying” for the President. Well, let us hope so.
Of course, this is the same Speaker who said she was praying for the President – as she moved to impeach him. Not to question, but she also pasted her “prayers” across the media. Saying she needed to “open this president’s heart to the goodness of the American people,” as if this unwavering advocate for unborn children, wounded veterans, safer cities, more coronavirus relief, individual liberty, equal opportunity, national security, and economic success across all demographics – was unaware of America’s goodness, or indifferent to promoting it.
Where does one begin? Suddenly, in what seems an 11th hour epiphany, Democrats and media personalities are everywhere “praying” for the President, somehow forgetting they just attacked the President’s Supreme Court nominee – Amy Coney Barret – for her faith, telling her “the dogma lives loudly within you.” See, https://www.foxnews.com/politics/amy-coney-barrett-dems-2017-catholic-faith.
So, let us unpack all this. First, if from the heart and sincere, prayers for the President and First Lady are always a good thing. If insincere, these references are – in their own way – a good thing. They remind us to pray, and reveal Democrats and media know, after all, that three-quarters of Americans pray. More than half pray daily, another 21 percent weekly or monthly. See, e.g. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/05/04/5-facts-about-prayer/.
But let us get to the politics. Assuming a fast recovery, what could the President’s COVID diagnosis mean for this election? A lot. Consider the implications, not just for the next two weeks, but for the final two weeks of the campaign.
Over the next two weeks, President in quarantine, four things will happen. First, his health – as with any threat to any president’s health – will dominate the news. Succession talk will come and go, but mostly this story will lead – boxing out other stories, which might have led.
Second, any positive developments, including work done and media engagements, will attest to his vitality and can-do. Ironically, his strength as a man, attitude toward adversity, and commitment to overcoming obstacles, will reaffirm larger themes and inspire many Americans.
Third, while some may wish him ill, most will not. Trump’s human vulnerability – seldom on display – will produce empathy. The media has given the virus monstrous dimensions. If only commiserating with his human worry, many of Americans will empathize.
Fourth, political attacks on the President – historically vicious, untruthful, and unremitting – will look worse now. While not likely to slow, even for the ailing president, they will hit with a thud, no echo. Bashing ads, canned weeks ago, will have less bite, may even engender resentment.
But the real impact will be in those final two weeks. Recovered, Trump will hit the campaign trail with energy – rested, razor sharp, zero risk of COVID, antibodies high. He will have gone through another testing and come out the other side.
Beyond experience, he will have an intangible advantage. Trump will have a battle scar that Biden does not. When the former Vice President or his giggly, young running mate talk of the virus in dark, stark, fear-fanning terms, all the punch will be gone. Trump will stand before them, alive and smiling, living proof that older Americans can take it, face it, and beat it.
The shift will be subtle, but to Trump the disease will no longer be a mystery, bogeyman, undefined variable. Nor will it be possible for Biden to make it one. To Trump, it will be real. And the American voters will know it is real to him. Trump’s survival – and his attitude in overcoming the disease – will be a powerful, unspoken fact. Like it or not, Trump’s firsthand knowledge will rob Democrat sails of wind. Not only did he survive, he got stronger.
Finally, all this belies a simple fact. Good people – and most Americans are good people – do not want to see others suffer sickness, wound, or worry. Said Walt Whitman, “I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person.” Empathy is like way. Trump will know this virus, adding empathy. Americans will know he knows, adding empathy. Blessings sometimes come well disguised – this could be one.