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Trump aides fear voters will hold COVID-19 diagnosis against him: NYT

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  • President Donald Trump’s aides fear that his coronavirus diagnosis could harm his reelection chances, The New York Times reported.
  • Trump spent months ignoring coronavirus guidelines and downplaying the disease, something Republican strategists are worried voters will hold against Trump while he is in hospital.
  • Trump was already behind in the polls and had been trying to move the conversation away from the US handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Some Republican strategists hope the diagnosis could increase sympathy for Trump, and that him being quieter in his rhetoric could also provide a boost.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump’s aides fear that voters could hold his COVID-19 diagnosis against him, and are concerned that it will lead to more in-depth questioning of his response to the pandemic, The New York Times reported.

The Times reported that Trump’s advisers think the diagnosis will remind voters of Trump’s actions during the pandemic and how he belittled the threat.

This included not wearing a mask, not correctly following guidance himself, and offering repeated statements that downplayed the virus’s dangers and claimed the outbreak would soon end, without any evidence.

One advisor warned that this was now a political “disaster.”

Republicans also worry that Trump could end up spending a long period in hospital, and was afraid of what kind of image that creates at a time when many Americans are already casting their vote, according to the Times.

Trump said on Friday morning that he and First Lady Melania Trump had tested positive, with the White House physician giving a confirmation soon after. 

The news’s aftermath has only added to the political disarray: Trump was taken to Walter Reed Medical Center. A host of other Trump allies and political figures, including campaign staff, and Republican senators, tested positive since.

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President Donald Trump disembarks from the Marine One helicopter followed by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows as he arrives at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after the White House announced that he “will be working from the presidential offices at Walter Reed for the next few days” after testing positive for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Joshua Roberts/Reuters


Vice President Mike Pence tested negative, as did Joe Biden, the former vice president and Trump’s Democratic challenger in the November presidential election, which offers a sense of stability.

But Trump’s diagnosis raises questions about everything from the election, to his Supreme Court pick, to his health, and throws his response to the coronavirus pandemic under an even harsher spotlight than it was before.

As Business Insider’s Walt Hickey previously reported, Trump’s diagnosis has the power to imperil his campaign, which was already down in national and state polling as well as election forecast models.

It refocuses the election debate to be around his handling of the virus — an area for which he earns low marks from voters, from which he had tried to move the conversation away.

Democrats have targetted much of their campaign on this — criticizing Trump’s handling of the virus.

The US has more deaths and cases than any other country: More than 208,000 people have died of the virus, and more than 7.3 million people have been diagnosed.

The Democratic party has not yet used Trump’s diagnosis to attack him.

A Democratic official told the Times that Biden’s campaign moved to take down a TV ad focused on criticizing Trump for his coronavirus response. 

trump biden debate

Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participate in the first 2020 presidential campaign debate held on the campus of the Cleveland Clinic at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., September 29, 2020.

Olivier Douliery/Pool via Reuters


But some think that him testing positive harms his image and could put off some supporters.

Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster, told the Times:

“Trump is now in the position of becoming exhibit No. 1 for the failure of his leadership on coronavirus, and he runs the risk that his supporters will feel misled by his dismissive-ness of the virus and the need for precautions.”

The Times also noted that Trump had repeatedly tried to paint Biden as old and unable to lead — a message that is undermined if Trump is unwell and Biden remains healthy. 

But Democrats are cautious about how things will play out, the Times reported, as there are so many unclear factors, including the possibility that Trump will not be able to campaign.

The diagnosis brings some hope to Republicans, the Times reported: It could generate sympathy for Trump, and could make him quieter and stop some of his more controversial rhetoric, which turns off many voters.

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President Donald Trump and Judge Amy Coney Barrett in the Rose Garden at the White House on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. People marked in red have since tested positive for COVID-19.

Alex Brandon/AP Photo


But the Times said that “even the most optimistic Republican” ultimately think sympathy doesn’t automatically turn into actual votes.

Alex Castellanos, a longtime Republican strategist, was hopeful about what a more silent Trump could offer: “Peace and calm helps him.”

“He is the polarizing element, not the direction he would like to take the country.”

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