“We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately,” Trump tweeted. “We will get through this TOGETHER!”
Trump’s diagnosis promised to change the final month of the presidential campaign in profound and unforeseeable ways. In-person rallies, campaign meetings involving Trump, travel by staff, volunteer organization efforts and other mechanics of campaigning were instantly derailed as the White House scrambled to track the extent of the outbreak.
The status of major campaign events still on the horizon, including two additional presidential debates with Democratic challenger Joe Biden later this month, was thrown into doubt.
But over those practical matters hung the questions of whether Trump would fall ill, whether the sitting president would remain fit for office, and how his diagnosis with a dangerous and potentially fatal disease could alter supporters’ views of the disease – and of Trump.
In the extreme circumstance of presidential disability, Vice-President Mike Pence could be required to temporarily assume the powers of the office – and unforeseen campaign duties. A Pence spokesman announced on Friday morning that Pence and his wife had tested negative for Covid-19.
The Biden campaign issued a statement of support on Friday morning. “Jill and I send our thoughts to President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump for a swift recovery,” Biden said. “We will continue to pray for the health and safety of the president and his family.”
A Biden spokesman later said the Democratic candidate and his wife had both tested negative for Covid-19.
Whether Biden would change his campaign plans was another open question. After months of campaigning virtually and showing great caution over the virus, the Democratic nominee had just shifted to a series of in-person campaign events, and his campaign this week launched door-to-door canvassing across several battleground states, motivated by a need to compete with Trump’s active in-person campaigning.
Those efforts could now be mothballed, out of deference to the president’s health – or in consideration of how Trump’s diagnosis could change public attitudes about the safety of in-person campaign events, which Biden has largely avoided this year.
The biggest in-person event of the cycle, however, the first presidential debate, was only three days ago, raising a flurry of concern about the possibility that Biden, 77, had been exposed to the virus by Trump, 74, or someone in his entourage. Sitting in the audience inside the large debate hall, members of the Trump family, including the first lady, refused to wear a mask.
The discombobulation of the Trump campaign over the president’s diagnosis was on display on Friday morning with a campaign e-blast sent to donors asking them to meet Trump for an upcoming rally.
“Can you join President Trump?” the email read. “He’s heading to Houston, Texas next week and he specifically requested that we reach out to YOU to accompany him.”
Reverberations and potential political fallout from Trump’s diagnosis could have immense scope if additional members of the White House staff, or other elected officials, test positive.
The White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, who tested negative on Friday, has met repeatedly with supreme court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, who has been meeting with Republican senators in an attempt to fast-track her confirmation to the bench before the presidential election.
Barrett, who last met with Trump on Saturday, tested negative for coronavirus on Friday, the White House said. The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said her confirmation would proceed as planned.
“Full steam ahead with the fair, thorough, timely process that the nominee, the Court, and the country deserve,” McConnell tweeted.
But the effort to confirm Barrett could be significantly slowed by the news. The Senate judiciary committee planned to meet in-person to discuss the nomination, and the confirmation was thought to require a full vote with all senators physically present inside the Capitol Hill chamber.
Mike Lee, a senator from Utah and a judiciary committee member, announced on Friday that he had tested positive for coronavirus and would work from home.
More than 207,000 Americans have died of Covid-19, and the country is averaging about 43,000 new confirmed cases a day, with upticks in more than half of the 50 states.
The seriousness of Covid-19 cases ranges dramatically, and the president’s course of infection and treatment is unknown. But by having to cancel in-person rallies, Trump stands to lose his most reliable tool for building enthusiasm with his base of voters, and his personal favorite mode of campaigning.
The Trump campaign could also suffer badly if voters decipher his diagnosis as a failure of judgment. For months Trump has downplayed the virus, calling it a “hoax” and saying it would “disappear”.
An aggressively anti-mask culture, dictated by Trump, has for weeks prevailed at the White House, according to multiple insider accounts, with staff and visitors tacitly discouraged from wearing masks in meetings.
A typical incubation period of three to five days has been tracked in coronavirus cases before illness sets in, and asymptomatic carriers in many cases are not aware of their infections. Close Trump aide Hope Hicks tested positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday, one day before the president and first lady were diagnosed.
Even after Hicks’s positive diagnosis, Trump traveled to New Jersey for a campaign fundraiser, and the press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, convened a briefing inside the White House that afternoon.
The Hicks diagnosis was not announced until after Bloomberg reporter Jennifer Jacobs revealed the news. On Friday, Jacobs reported that “some of Trump’s closest aides sensed on Wednesday that the president was feeling poorly”.
In defiance of public health officials and over the objection of some state governors, Trump had planned a barnstorming tour of in-person events in key battleground states, including two events Saturday in Wisconsin.
At the debate, Trump mocked Biden for wearing a mask.
“I don’t wear masks like him. Every time you see him, he’s got a mask,” Trump said. “He could be speaking 200 feet away from people and he’ll be wearing the biggest mask you’ve ever seen.”
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