By ADAM GRAVELY
He dubbed it “a blessing from God”. He said he now has a “protective glow” of immunity. And less than two weeks after being diagnosed with Covid-19, he even offered to kiss his supporters. Yet Donald Trump’s infection with coronavirus has left him in a precarious position, both electorally and personally with regards to his own health.
It has been a dramatic two weeks for the United States. On 1st October, the White House confirmed that President Trump and his wife, First Lady Melania Trump, were diagnosed with Covid-19 (or to give it the full medical term, the SARS-CoV-2 virus). A day later, the President was airlifted by Marine One to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, for further monitoring.
Addressing the world in a video update on Twitter, the 45th President of the United States sounded like a man who had come to appreciate the threat posed by the virus. "It's been a very interesting journey. I learnt a lot about Covid, I learnt it by really going to school.” People watching could be forgiven in thinking their Commander-in-Chief was about to get serious in taking the fight to the infection.
However, his journey of self-discovery seems to be well-and-truly over. Now back at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Mr Trump has been keen to show his supporters how powerful he is. He has already held rallies in Florida and Iowa. Social distancing was a myth and the few masks that were being worn were emblazoned with the Republican candidate’s name. Mr Trump might have missed a trick; a stadium full of these masks would put them on track to rival the iconic ‘Make America Great Again’ (MAGA) hats. Yet, Trump is back to walking around without a mask and boasting of his ‘immunity’ despite increasing cases of reinfection.
Mr Trump might be bounding about the campaign trail as someone who has never felt better. However, his recovery from the virus is still at a critical point. Across the pond in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson had a well-documented battle which resulted in a stay in intensive care. In his case, his sudden admission to hospital came a week after what looked like an improvement in his condition, resulting in a decline which he has said left him close to death. It cannot be ruled out that we might see a reversal in the President’s improvement.
In an interview with Sky News, Dr Trevor McCrisken, Associate Professor in Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick, said that the question of health does usually arise a few weeks before election day. “If candidates look like they are flagging, criticisms can be made, and questions raised about whether they would be able to cope in the office”. At 74 years old and above the ideal weight for his height and age, Mr Trump falls into the high-risk category. There will be many people keeping a close eye on the President in the coming days and weeks. They will also be keeping an eye on Vice President Mike Pence. Should the President’s health deteriorate, there will be pressure on the administration to invoke the 25th Amendment, a measure popularised on Aaron Sorkin’s TV drama, The West Wing. Such a transfer the powers of the Oval Office to Trump’s number two would see Mr Pence become acting President.
The Trump Campaign will understandably be keen to avoid this. Any sign that the incumbent President is no longer up to his job could be the end of Trump’s seemingly already waning electoral chances. Add to the mix the spiralling state of the virus in the US whereby over 8 million people infected and over 220,000 deaths (both around 20% of the world total), the competency of the President and the Republican Party is very much in question.
Some Senators, in a bid to stop themselves sinking in November, have publicly distanced themselves from their boss. Even Trump loyalist Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader, confessed to avoiding the White House because of safety concerns. “My impression was that their approach to how to handle this is different from mine and what I suggested that we do in the Senate, which is to wear a mask and practice social distancing”, he said.
With an average 10.6-point lead in the polls, the signs should point to certain victory for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Yet this is no ordinary election, with no ordinary candidate, and the Democrats made the mistake 4-years ago thinking they had it in the bag. With the President potentially about to cry ‘rigged’ over the ballot, we might be waiting for an outcome for several weeks. The result looks like it will end up in the Supreme Court, which is on the verge of a 6-3 Conservative Majority. Who knows how they will handle the mess?
One thing seems certain. The Democrats will be holding their breath until Joe Biden is sat behind the Resolute Desk and his predecessor is back on the golf course.