Friday, October 02, 2020


The president announced on Twitter last night that he and the first lady have tested positive for the coronavirus, shortly after we learned about a positive test for Trump's close aide Hope Hicks, who accompanied the president to Tuesday's debate.

We were told about the president's positive test, which means I was wrong in March when I said that we were unlikely to be informed if Trump tested positive. I assumed Trump wouldn't want us to know because he wouldn't want to be seen as weak -- he appears to believe that having any infirmity is a sign of weakness, even infirmities that are relatively insignificant, or are common in someone his age. He's compelled two doctors in the past to describe his health as simply superior to that of other mere mortals.

But now there's speculation that Trump didn't test positive and is claiming infection for some reason -- to change the election narrative? To garner sympathy? To get out of the last two debates? I don't believe that -- but I've had the thought that Trump would benefit politically from a positive test. In May I wrote,
If Trump didn't become particularly sick, it would reinforce his voters' belief that COVID-19 is no worse than the flu. And if he did become sick and survived, he'd be treated as the superhero his voter base thinks he is, by the mainstream media as well as by his fans.
I think Trump will survive -- he's in his seventies and isn't in great health, but most people in their seventies aren't in great health. Trump, unlike many Americans with the virus, will get excellent health care. The CDC says that 5.4% of people in his age group who contract the virus die -- a high percentage, but far from a majority. So I think he'll pull through.

The New York Times believes this could hurt him politically:
Even if Mr. Trump does not become seriously ill, the positive test could prove devastating to his political fortunes given his months of playing down the enormity of the pandemic even as the virus was still ravaging the country and killing about 1,000 Americans every day. He has repeatedly predicted the virus was “going to disappear,” asserted that it was under control and insisted that the country was “rounding the corner” to the end of the crisis. He has scorned the advice of scientists, saying they were mistaken about the severity of the situation.
I think some people will have the reaction that he wasn't being careful and brought it on himself, but I think many Americans will think, Well, I may not like the man, but he is a human being, and I don't wish that on anyone. I believe his poll numbers will go up.

The media will be less inclined to publish scandal stories about the president and his circle. Just last night, before the announcement of the positive tests, we had a story about embarrassing audio recordings of the first lady and we had a story about alleged workplace harassment by Kimberly Guilfoyle, Donald Trump Jr.'s girlfriend and a top Trump campaign official. We probably won't see as many stories like that, at least in the immediate future.

Of course, the Trump campaign may prove to be a superspreader event. That won't garner sympathy.

I'm worried about Joe Biden. He was socially distanced from Trump during the debate, but that only reduces the risk -- it doesn't eliminate it altogether. There have been reports of widespread transmission at choir practices where people practiced social distancing but left windows closed. Singing propels the virus into the air. So does shouting. There was a lot of shouting on Tuesday night.

So what happens if we lose one of our presidential candidates? This is another possibility that our Constitution and election laws don't handle very well. Rick Hasen's Election Law Blog has posted excerpts from a discussion of the subject. Short answer: It's up to the Democratic and Republican National Committees to choose replacement candidates. But then:
... the parties would ... have to replace the name of their dead candidate on each state’s ballot with that of the new candidate. Depending on when this happens, that might not be simple. Different states have different deadlines for when the parties must certify their candidates for the ballot. In 2016, most were in August and September. If states do not have laws that permit changing the candidate’s name after that date, courts would probably have to be brought in.
Hasen adds:
The problem here is that ballots are already out and millions of people have already voted. At this point it seems impossible for candidates to come up with a new name to replace a name on the ballot without starting the whole election process over, which is not possible in the 30+ days before election day. Congress could pass a bill delaying the election but I find it hard to believe it would do so.

While things are not certain, what’s most likely that the election would take place on time with the deceased or incapacitated candidate’s name on the ballot, and then there would be a question if legislatures would allow presidential electors of each state to vote for someone other than the deceased candidate. Only some state laws provide for this eventuality. (Update: Some states provide that the votes for a named replacement are counted.) Or perhaps the legislatures would seek to appoint electors directly. This could lead to a whole lot of mischief....
I'm guessing that the parties would choose their running mates as substitute candidates. I don't know how Pence vs. Biden, Harris vs. Trump, or Pence vs. Harris would play out. (Though if Biden was infected by Trump or a member of his unmasked retinue, I think that would garner a lot of sympathy for the Democrats.)

Meanwhile, we haven't even seen the conspiracy theories yet. As I noted in May, when Ivanka Trump's personal assistant tested positive, many Gateway Pundit commenters speculated that Democrats and the Deep State were trying to kill Trump and his circle with the virus. I don't know how this squares with the theory that the virus is no worse that the flu and is 100% treatable with a hydoxychloroquine drug cocktail, but we'll get every possible conspiracy theory permutation now. It's going to be an exhausting October.

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