Trump’s COVID diagnosis refocuses the campaign on the pandemic, a topic the president needed to avoid to catch up to Biden

President Donald Trump pretends to take a covid-19 test while holding a swab during his visit of the Puritan Medical Products facility in Guilford, Maine on June 5, 2020.
  • President Donald Trump is quarantining in the White House residence, left all but powerless to reset his reelection campaign around issues like the Supreme Court and the economy following his positive test result for COVID-19.
  • While some world leaders like British Prime Minister Boris Johnson saw a bump in approval from the public following a coronavirus diagnosis, it’s very doubtful Trump will beneify from a similar phenomneon.
  • In tracking polls on Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, the data analysis site FiveThirtyEight found just over 56% of Americans disapproved of his handling of the pandemic while 40% approved of it as of Oct. 1.
  • This seismic development means Trump will have a harder time than ever leaning on his net-positive ratings on handling the economy, and he is running out of time to turn the tides.
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Now quarantining in the White House residence, President Donald Trump’s efforts to refocus the campaign on the Supreme Court and the economy have crumbled following his positive test result for COVID-19.

He has consistently earned low marks from voters on his handling of the virus throughout the pandemic, and falling ill to it is unlikely to have any upside for his reelection.

Some world leaders, like British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, saw a bump in approval from the public following a diagnosis.

Yet given Trump’s penchant for painting any sensitivity to the virus as weakness — and his notion that getting sick is a sign of character flaws, particularly with his mocking of Hillary Clinton for contracting pneumonia in 2016 — leaves him in a precarious position.

Statements from politicians on both sides of the aisle have centered around wishing Trump and the first lady well and a speedy recovery, but the public has long soured on Trump and his handling of the virus.

In terms of a reaction within polling to the news, Trump is constrained in part by one of the fundamentals of the race: He is down in the polls. While he was enthusiastic about diverting the conversation away from the coronavirus to the economy, the diagnosis all but guarantees that the focus of the campaign for the next several weeks will be more on the lacking response to COVID-19 pandemic than it otherwise would had he not caught the virus.

The numbers are stark for the president here:

  • Polling analysis site FiveThirtyEight has tracked polls about Trump’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and have found that, as of October 1, just over 56% of Americans disapproved of his handling while 40% approved of it.
  • That means on issues pertaining to the coronavirus pandemic Trump appears to be about 16 points underwater, a figure that has held over the course of the summer and showed little sign of budging pre-diagnosis.
  • On the other hand, polling surrounding the president’s handling of the economy indicated that the view of his performance on that topic was net favourable: per RealClearPolitics average of polls, about 51% of respondents approve of his handling of the economy while 47% disapproved, a 4-point net favorability.
  • In late October, third quarter GDP numberswill be released and are expected to be significantly higher than the second quarter owing if only to the fact that large sections of the economy were shut down during the second quarter.
  • Trump would, ideally, like the conversation to be about that issue (where he’s perceived to have handled it favourable on net) than the pandemic (where he’s perceived to have handled it poorly on net).

Trump so far has “mild symptoms,” according to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and has not appeared on camera at all since disclosing his diagnosis around 1 a.m.

The Biden campaign has stuck with wishing the president well and so far refrained from launching an offensive on Trump’s test result underscoring how lightly he has taken the pandemic.

Trump is running out of time to reset the campaign, and while it’s unclear whether he will observe a full two week quarantine, he will nonetheless be sidelined to some degree for a good chunk of the remaining days before the Nov. 3 election.

In a race that has stayed largely stable for months, the chances of Trump turning the tides on the defining issue of the election are slim.