The Slatest

Getting COVID-19 Is Probably Not a Brilliant Ploy for Sympathy That Will Boost Trump’s Reelection Chances

An emergency Trump Vincibility Watch.

The White House is seen through a closed black gate on which a sign says "restricted area, do not enter."
The White House on Friday morning. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Trump Vincibility Watch is a subjective and speculative estimate of the likelihood that Donald Trump actually loses the 2020 election or, in other words, that he suffers the consequences of his actions for the first time in his life rather than wriggling out of yet another jam (see: the Mueller investigation, the Ukraine scandal, the 2016 popular vote, his six bankruptcies, and everything else).

What a week it’s been for the president!

• On Sunday night, the New York Times published a huge exposé about his tax returns, which show that he has urgent debt problems and avoids paying income taxes through potentially illegal means.

• On Tuesday night he delivered what has been described as the worst and least dignified presidential debate performance in American history, interrupting Joe Biden so often and so rudely to bring up subjects like Biden’s son’s cocaine addiction that even many of the Republican Party’s most aggressive figures found it distasteful. At one point, rather than taking a chance to denounce the “Proud Boys” white-nationalist street gang, he said they should “stand by,” as if suggesting they await his instruction, which was also received poorly even on the right wing.

• Early Friday morning, he announced that he and Melania Trump have contracted COVID-19, a disease that has killed 200,000 Americans and counting after Trump repeatedly dismissed it as a minor concern and resisted implementing public health measures that would have limited its spread. Trump has repeatedly ridiculed the idea of taking personal measures to avoid the disease—including mocking Biden, during the debate, for supposedly excessive mask use—and reports indicate that he held a fundraiser in close quarters with some 100 people on Thursday even after learning he may have been exposed to the virus by a top aide, and did not wear a mask. Trump reportedly has “minor symptoms,” which will likely prevent him from conducting campaign events for at least the next week or so.

• Later Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released a jobs report that, per CNBC, fell “far short of expectations.”

• FiveThirtyEight’s model currently gives Joe Biden an 80 percent chance of winning the presidency, the highest his odds have been since the site’s poll tracker launched in June.

It is perhaps the most prominent sign yet of how badly the 2016 election traumatized Democrats that many of them—perhaps even you!—reacted to all this by wondering, on social media and in person across the country, if the president’s positive COVID-19 test would help him in the polls, and if it was perhaps even announced as a ruse to gain sympathy for him or so that he could demonstrate how easy the disease was to “beat.”

Consider this: Roughly 57 percent of Americans believed, as of Friday morning, that Trump has handled the coronavirus pandemic badly, while only 40 percent believed he has handled it well. About the same ratio of people believe Biden would be better suited to manage the crisis than Trump. The “vast majority” of Americans believe it’s important to wear masks; according to a New York Times/Siena College poll, 40 percent of Republicans would support a nationwide mask mandate. To believe the president will benefit from having gotten COVID while ignoring health protocols, one would have to think it will make him more appealing to voters who have been (at the least) badly inconvenienced by the virus in their own lives, blame the president for its continued spread, believed until Friday morning that Joe Biden would be better at managing it than he is, and say it’s important to wear masks and observe social distancing guidelines. And that’s before you consider that Melania Trump, White House aide Hope Hicks, and Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel have already apparently tested positive as well, raising the possibility of a week-plus of news cycles about the White House being unable to control the disease even within the White House.

Finally, contrary to panicked claims on Twitter, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson did not surge in popularity when he tested positive in March; Johnson enjoyed only a slight bump in his favorability, which was already high due to the same “rally around the flag” effect that temporarily boosted Trump, and has since fallen to a level even lower than the American president’s.

Which is all to say: Nope. No way. Ghosts aren’t real, 2020 isn’t 2016, and Trump is still QUITE VINCIBLE.

A "Trump Vincibility Watch" graphic of six rows containing the letters T-R-U-M-P. The row that is highlighted reads "MP."
Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo/Slate. Photo by Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images.