Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis wipes out half of the most important resource his campaign has: time

President Donald Trump touring a Honeywell factory producing N95 masks in Phoenix. Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Image
  • President Donald Trump was down 8 points in an average of national polls when he tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Trump trails Joe Biden by just over 2 points in Florida and just under 6 points in Pennsylvania, two states essential for his reelection effort.
  • Those are surmountable point differentials, but contracting the coronavirus jeopardizes his ability to campaign.
  • Sticking to the recommended protocol, the president would be off the trail for 10 days and possibly longer at a critical time.
  • Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis and inability to safely campaign in key states put his reelection in peril by using up time, of which he has precious little.
  • Learn more about the race for a coronavirus vaccine in our live event on October 5. Sign up here.

Early Friday morning President Donald Trump confirmed that he, along with the first lady, Melania Trump, had tested positive for the coronavirus his administration has struggled to contain all year.

Besides any health ramifications, the COVID-19 diagnosis — on the first day of most important month of the US general election — seriously imperils a campaign already down in national and state polling as well as election forecast models.

Besides the obvious — the disastrous optics of the president contracting the very virus his administration has struggled to contain — the most significant blow to the Trump reelection effort will be his forced absence from the campaign trail.

As of Friday, Election Day was 32 days away. If the final results align with current polling, the president would not be able to compile a winning map.

Trump is down, but had time to turn it around

As it stands, according to the FiveThirtyEight election forecast, the president is a serious underdog. The model indicates that the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, has about an 80% chance of winning given his position in the polls and the time left on the clock.

The president is down about 7 points in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin; 4 points in Arizona; 2 points in Florida; and 1 point in North Carolina.

Overall, Trump is down 8 points nationwide.

But despite Biden’s broad lead, his victory is far from certain, in no small part because a lot can happen in a month.

Now, he may not

None of the state gaps are insurmountable. But to close them, the president would need to change the race.

Before his positive test, he might have accomplished that through personally campaigning. He could retake control of an election narrative that recently has been particularly difficult for him, with the most significant news centering on an aggressive debate performance, an exposé into his taxes, and the number of known US coronavirus deaths passing 200,000.

He might have returned in the second presidential debate and, on national television, course corrected from his earlier performance.

Now, those options are limited.

The president, while potentially contagious with a deadly pathogen, will be confined to the White House for the foreseeable future, sacrificing essential campaigning time.

The idea of taking control of the narrative — perhaps by highlighting what will most likely be an enormous quarter-over-quarter rise in gross domestic product, an economic story that plays into his perceived strengths — is hard to envision given he has caught the virus that has most directly undermined his reelection bid.

Trump’s approval rating on the economy is 10 points higher than his approval rating on the virus.

And any chance of a debate rematch is imperiled by Biden’s likely reluctance to stand next to a potentially contagious man for an hour and a half of spirited discussion.

The election is already happening

October is when candidates make their final appeals to the American people.

At least 2.2 million people have already voted. Trump’s 32-day path to Election Day was already fraught with difficulty and required a fundamental shift in the race in his direction, and his diagnosis further imperils that.

Trump wanted to tour the country, hold rallies, highlight an economic recovery, and argue he had successfully contained the coronavirus.

But now for 10 to 14 days, minimum, he will most likely instead be confined at home, kept from voters, drawing even more attention to the pandemic from which he has sought to avert voters’ gaze.