It was big news in the wee small hours and, for several hours, no one was quite sure how bad it would get.
How sick was the president? How long was the chain of infection? How would government continue to function?
Without a hint of an answer in the hours of darkness, there was a hint of panic and it took a “mild symptoms” medical bulletin by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to settle the horses.
The president had been pumping him for information about the economy, he said, and the country’s stimulus relief package. They are big issues for government and for his re-election campaign – a sign, of sorts, that it was business as usual on both counts.
Only it won’t be. By lunchtime we learned that all Trump campaign events would be postponed or conducted virtually. For a bear-pit campaigner selling ‘Brand Trump’, it’s a strategy shift he didn’t want.
Donald Trump has thrown himself aggressively into the public arena, albeit against health protection advice.
He can work a crowd and the crowd works for him – the stand-up comic routine, with some politics bolted on, creates a campaign energy and profile in targeted swing states.
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It gets him noticed in places where he needs to get the numbers up.
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White House isolation will reduce the lustre of Team Trump and will stall its campaign momentum.
Moreover, it’s the embodiment of the story sold by his opponents, of a president who has risked the health of Americans by disregarding the dangers of coronavirus.
It is only heightened by the continuation of Joe Biden’s campaign, a tortoise overtaking the hare on the campaign trail, face-covering in place.
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The man mocked by the president for “hiding” in his basement will, doubtless, argue “responsibility versus recklessness” – possibly in a televised Zoom debate if that’s what it comes to.
Vice President Mike Pence will fill a void on the Republican stump but might be too manicured for the Trump base.
Their campaign needs to fight back from a position behind in the opinion polls. It’s a fight that didn’t need to lose its bare-knuckle brawler.