Politics

Will Donald Trump’s COVID Diagnosis Change His Election Prospects?

It will at least distract attention from Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation process.

A group of smiling people, including children in the back, walk down a corridor.
President Donald Trump and Judge Amy Coney Barrett walk to the Rose Garden of the White House on Saturday. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

On Friday morning, Emily Bazelon, John Dickerson, and David Plotz recorded an emergency episode of the Political Gabfest for Slate Plus members, chewing over the news of President Donald Trump’s COVID diagnosis. This partial transcript of their conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Emily Bazelon: I, of course, wish the president and the first lady and Hope Hicks a speedy recovery, but I want to talk a little bit about the political implications. If Trump has a mild case, if he shakes it off, emerges victorious over this virus, and goes on to gather momentum and strength from that? Then he shows up at debates and says, “I’m fine, everything’s fine”? If he gets really sick, that’s a totally different fork in the road. And it’s hard to say what’s going to happen until we know what course the virus takes.

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David Plotz: Do you really believe, Emily, that if the president has a mild case and shakes it off, that is a vote-altering event in this election? Do you think there’s this reservoir of people who will say, “You know what? I wasn’t going to vote for him, but now that he has recovered from COVID, I think maybe I should go out and vote for him”?

Bazelon: What if being quiet for a couple of weeks is helpful to him? When he recedes from the field, he’s usually better off. So what if he now has a really good excuse for missing the next debate, maybe both of the upcoming debates, and he becomes a more mild presence in American life? Could that be helpful to him in terms of the election?

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John Dickerson: To the extent that this keeps not only an issue on which he is doing very badly—his handling of coronavirus—front and center in the polls. And the way in which he handled his own experience with it—including on Friday when chief of staff Mark Meadows, who had just been in with the infected patient No. 1, and then went out to brief reporters without a mask, explaining, well, I was tested, thereby showing ignorance about the way testing and the transmission of the virus works, this many months into a pandemic—only repeats the constant, unrelenting downplaying and misinformation from the single place you’re supposed to get the best information. So to the extent that this compounds and turns into neon all of the underlying mistakes from the administration, I’m not sure that that’s great while voting is going on. So, it’s unclear, but I don’t think this is something that the White House wants at the center of the conversation. This keeps it there.

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Bazelon: Now, we’re all going to be in coronavirus land as opposed to the land of Amy Coney Barrett. She’ll show up when she has her hearings in a couple of weeks. The distractions, though, are going to be harder for the White House to get on center stage.

Dickerson: You just hope that people don’t become their worst selves in wishing ill on the president or making light of it. Not only is that ghoulish on its own terms, but we’re all connected. We all know people who have died or are suffering or whose family members have died. And when you express glee, you’re mucking around with lots of other people.

The rest of this emergency episode of the Political Gabfest is available exclusively to Slate Plus members. Slate Plus members help support Slate’s ongoing news and politics coverage, and they get access to bonus segments and exclusive episodes from Political Gabfest, Trumpcast, Amicus, and more. Sign up now to keep up with all the news and analysis to Election Day and beyond.

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