The news that Donald Trump tested positive for coronavirus is resonating throughout the world, because he is the U.S. president, because the U.S. is entering the last month of an unusually bitter presidential campaign, and because he is Donald Trump.
The first, immediate question is whether his positive tests will translate into the kind of symptoms that could prevent him exercising his duties, transferring his powers, even on a short-term basis, to Vice President Mike Pence. Wishes for prompt recovery have begun to come from many capitals, and they will keep pouring in during the day even from leaders who have little to do with, or say to Trump.
But the real interrogation in all the world’s capitals will be whether the current president will and can remain in his job. The Trump presidency brought massive uncertainty to the conduct of the world’s affairs. Now the rest of the world is wondering about the U.S. president’s own future.
The second question raised by the presidential couple’s coronavirus infection is whether or not it will raise even higher the importance of the coronavirus pandemic, and Trump’s controversial management of it, as the central theme of the presidential campaign’s last weeks.
It will be all too easy for his Democratic adversaries to remind voters that Trump announced in the vicious presidential debate last Tuesday that the “end of the pandemic [was] in sight,” and that he mocked his rival Joe Biden for wearing masks in public. Trump was in fact going to travel in the next few days to Florida and Wisconsin for the types of rallies where his supporters make a point of showing how little care they have for protective measures or social distancing.
On the other hand, having a president struck by the virus will trigger an outpouring of sympathy among his supporters, which will soon show in the images and broadcasts of evangelical Christians throughout the nation praying for the American president. So it may be that schadenfreude might not prove the best possible course of action offered to Democrats in this particular context.
Then there is the question of Donald Trump being Donald Trump. How he will react to the disease, depending of course on the severity of symptoms, if any, will be crucial to his campaign’s last days.
He could well emerge from quarantine in good health, and then go on bragging about his triumph over adversity and his physical resilience, if only to point, as he has done for months, at his adversary’s frailty. Or if his condition is serious, he could also appear, for another few weeks, as the weakened president fallen victim to a pandemic he dismissed.