It wouldn’t be 2020 if the US election hadn’t managed to pack at least one more twist before American voters go to the polls next month. Thus, Donald Trump has been diagnosed with Covid-19. With scarcely 30 days to go, this puts the Republicans in a tricky spot.
As this morning’s Daily Mail points out, they still have time to replace the President as their nominee should they choose to do so. But with Trump unlikely to withdraw voluntarily, a wait to see whether or not he recovers could start running that clock down quite quickly. And as a 74-year-old, the President is amongst those at greater risk of serious complications.
In the event that a replacement is needed, the obvious candidate is Mike Pence, the Vice-President, who is also the man who could constitutionally assume Trump’s powers under the 25th Amendment in the event that the latter were truly incapacitated. Pence is a much more conventional Republican politician than his boss, which may help to win over voters specifically put off by Trump’s persona but could also undermine is cut-through to the new voters the GOP picked up in 2016.
Even if Trump makes a full recovery, his convalescence will take him away from the front line of the campaign and likely require the re-arranging or even the cancellation of the remaining debates (although judging by the first one, this may be no great loss to American democracy).
Some of the President’s opponents are worried that such personal hardship might win him a sympathy vote. It might, but as Matt Singh has pointed out, it didn’t really move the dial for Boris Johnson and the Prime Minister is, even his critics must concede, a more naturally sympathetic figure than his opposite number in Washington.
Over the four years of his presidency, Trump has failed to turn his conventional-wisdom-defying victory into a stable new electoral coalition for the Republicans. Even then, the benefits of incumbency and US economic performance would likely have carried him to a second term if it had not been for his gross mismanagement of the pandemic (something worth bearing in mind before trying to claim he’s a ‘fascist’: there is few crisie better suited to exploitation by actual Fascists than a pandemic).
So this latest news will likely serve to focus minds even more on the looming question of what a post-Trump Republican Party looks like. At least as long as it doesn’t distract them from the one cause which still unites them: nominating a new Supreme Court justice.