News analysis

Trump's Covid-19 diagnosis may win him some sympathy, but is a double-edged sword


WASHINGTON - That US President Donald Trump has been hospitalised with Covid-19 has changed the conversation of the week to the pandemic, which continues to ravage America.

For him, that is a double-edged sword.

However, much as the President tries to blame China and play up his early ban on travellers from China, the coronavirus is a sore point, a vulnerability.

He is already taking blame for bringing this upon himself while putting others at risk - tempting fate by mingling with aides and advisers, sometimes without mask, and holding events where people mingle without masks, which while relatively small still entail risk. The list of violations of recommended protocols is a long one.

To top it all, in Cleveland on Tuesday he mocked former vice-president Joe Biden for wearing a mask.

"Trump's approval on his handling of the pandemic was already dismal. Now attention will be refocused on his personal recklessness that put others at risk," wrote political analyst Taegan Goddard, founder of the newsletter Political Wire. "The video clips of Trump downplaying the pandemic are endless."

There is thus plenty of ammunition to use against him, and this episode calls attention to his failures.

It also has a wider silver lining though - refocusing much needed attention on the pandemic, which serves as a wake-up call to the complacent.

Covid-19 cases are ticking up again. Last week Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said: "We're looking at 40,000 new cases per day. That's unacceptable and that is what we've got to get down before we go into the more problematic winter."

US President Donald Trump exits Marine One while arriving to Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre in Bethesda, Maryland, on Oct 2, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Meanwhile, allegations - which he has rejected - that the President has paid little or no income tax; that he derided America's war dead; that the First Lady in a tape recording derided Christmas; and his debate performance, have all been booted from the news cycle.

The Trump campaign is now busy making alternative arrangements to move the President's campaigning online. On the cards are phone and video calls.

Also on the cards is making Vice-President Mike Pence step up campaigning (he is due to face Senator Kamala Harris in their only debate encounter on Oct 7, and they will be 3.6m apart) to keep up the momentum.

But much is predicated on an unknown - the condition of the President.

If he emerges unscathed, he will be emboldened and his heroic image with his devoted base which sees him as a sort of gladiatorial figure, will only be reinforced.

This may not get him any significant wave of sympathy votes from beyond his base, but it will not hurt him in the polls, in which he has been consistently, albeit narrowly, behind Mr Biden.

Separately, poll data cruncher Nate Silver of the Five Thirty Eight website said: "At a very basic, square-one level, Covid-19 is a huge liability for the President, and so placing more focus on Covid-19 probably isn't great for him.

"But... could Trump getting Covid-19 change his messaging around the virus and pandemic? Maybe. But this is Donald Trump... he's not inclined to be overly disciplined or deferential to scientists, etcetera. He's pretty unpredictable, and we don't yet know a lot about how serious his symptoms are."

Five Thirty eight senior writer Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux said: "I think what happens with public opinion really depends on how sick Trump gets.

"A big part of the reason Republicans are not as into Covid-19 restrictions is that they are much, much less likely to view the virus as a personal health threat to them. Research has indicated that Trump downplaying the virus is probably a significant driver of that."

It could play out at least two ways, she added.

"Trump gets moderately or very sick and this does prompt Republicans to think... this actually is serious and if it could happen to Trump it could happen to me.

"Trump remains mostly asymptomatic and it bolsters the idea that this is actually not such a big deal."

Film-maker Michael Moore, who in 2016 predicted that Mr Trump would win, wrote on Facebook on Friday: "He's losing the election. And he knows it. It's not 2016. He was hated in 2016, but he's hated even more now."

But Democrats, liberals, the media and others have always been wrong to simply treat President Trump as a buffoon, he wrote.

"He's also canny. He's clever... he knows being sick tends to gain one sympathy. He's not above weaponising this."

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