Coronavirus: How Trump might weaponise the pandemic to boost his re-election bid


WE live in uncertain times, so they say.

When Donald Trump stormed to victory in 2016 to the surprise of all but the most astute pundits, this dictum was invoked.

The same was true when the UK voted to leave the European Union earlier that year, leading to four long years of soul crushing brinkmanship between the two blocs. Again, uncertainty was the recurring theme.

Once more, the coronavirus pandemic has seen the globe gripped with fear and anxiety, and led to mobilisation of unprecedented scale and manner.

Screenshot 2020-04-24 at 11.39.05
Image: Pixabay

With this in mind, to attempt any form of prognostication regarding the upcoming US presidential election feels like a losing game.

Even just beyond the starting line, the sheer mess that was the Democratic race saw favour swing from one certainty to another – one day Biden was the shoo in, next his campaign was dead and Sanders was a dead cert, only for Biden to rise from the ashes and run home with the nomination.

That such misplaced levels of confidence of predictions from the pundit class will resume during the general election seems inevitable.

If there is one certainty, however, it would be that the spectre of Covid-19 will dominate proceedings. What is less certain is how.

Under normal circumstances, the level of economic downturn and sharp rise in unemployment would be catastrophic for an incumbent president’s chances. Add to that the sheer level of incompetence that the Trump administration has shown, one would be forgiven for thinking that he stood no chance in November.

It is more than possible that this scenario could play out. The frustration of the American people could result in a backlash that would see Trump become the first incumbent president to fail at re-election since George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton in 1992.

But in 2016, Trump proved himself to be a master at deflecting blame and controversy.

To him and his supporters, Mexicans and Muslims were to blame for crime and national security issues. It was the Chinese who were stealing American manufacturing jobs and destroying their industry. And, of course, it was the failure of the Obama administration – and by extension Hillary Clinton – to address and of these ‘crises’.

While these statements presented a distortion – and frequently an outright negation – of reality, they achieved what they needed to for Trump to win.

When footage emerged of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women, what did he do to respond? Turn the spotlight on Hillary Clinton and the allegations against her husband.

Since taking office, Trump has repeatedly found ways to make nothing appear to be his fault. Blame China. Blame North Korea. Blame Iran. Blame the Democrats. We’ve heard it all before.

Coronavirus will be no exception.

The economic fallout from the pandemic has already been severe. It will likely only get worse.

This could be the undoing of Trump. But the record shows that he could turn this around. It could be an opportunity for the latest chapter in his blame game.

We’ve seen this already with his insistence on referring to the pandemic as ‘Chinese coronavirus’. While pedants will point out that other diseases were named after locations (Spanish flu, to name one), the dog whistle that Trump is deploying is clear.

Anything that goes wrong will be the fault of China. It will be the fault of too many immigrants flooding into the United States.

The potential disaster that the virus is unleashing could be an absolute gift to Trump and the racialised politics on which he bases his demagoguery.

It need not be added that his base of support will buy it.

And if the effort to combat Covid-19 goes well in the States? Who will take the credit?

In this scenario, Trump will be the saviour of the world. He will brag ad infinitum that it was his administration that saw off this grave threat that could have taken the lives of millions more Americans.

If there is one thing that Trump knows how to do well, it is selling himself and promoting his brand. Even before he waded into the swamp of politics, this was his life and work.

One way or another, Trump could find a way of spinning any outcome of the pandemic to his favour. Biden and the Democrats will attempt to hit hard at Trump and his incompetent handling of the crisis.

But since when has incompetence stopped him before?


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