Oct 2, 2020 - Politics & Policy

The president is infected

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Trump, who had talked and acted like he was medically invincible, tweeted just before 1am that he and First Lady Melania Trump had tested positive for coronavirus.

Why it matters: The shocking announcement has personal, political, medical, financial and national security ramifications. Election Day is 32 days away. Markets hate uncertainty, and we now have the biggest X factor in the world.

  • The "plague" — as Trump, 74, called it again at Tuesday's debate — that has disrupted the world for more than seven months has now hit the most prominent patient of all.
  • Stock futures plunged after Trump tweeted the news. Market watchers warned of a potentially deep selloff, with an unknown extent of the spread at the top of the American government.

One administration official echoed a concern of many — which is that while the officials of the West Wing are regularly tested, these tests aren't infallible.

  • These officials take virtually no other precautions.
  • In fact, if you're too fastidious about social distancing and mask wearing in Trump's orbit, you can be mocked for it.

The story began unfolding late last night as Trump tweeted confirmation of the news that Hope Hicks, the West Wing aide who's closest to him outside the family, had "tested positive for Covid 19. Terrible! The First Lady and I are waiting for our test results. In the meantime, we will begin our quarantine process!"

  • At the debate, Joe Biden said Trump has "been totally irresponsible the way in which he has handled the social distancing and people wearing masks, basically encouraged them not to. He's a fool on this."

Trump has pointedly flouted his own experts' advice about the coronavirus, and said at an Ohio rally just two weeks ago that it "affects virtually nobody" besides the elderly.

  • Trump has shown disdain for masks at every turn, despite the evidence that they help inhibit transmission of the airborne virus. White House and Trump campaign aides rarely wear them, as the practice became so political that packed-together supporters at recent rallies in New Hampshire and Ohio booed the mere mention of masks.
  • Several times, Trump scolded reporters who were wearing masks when asking him questions, saying he couldn't understand them.

What we know: Hicks began feeling mild symptoms during the Air Force One ride home from a rally in Minnesota on Wednesday evening, and was isolated from other passengers, AP reports.

  • Hicks had been with Trump and other senior staff aboard Marine One and Air Force One en route to that rally. She had accompanied him to Tuesday’s presidential debate in Cleveland, along with members of the Trump family. They didn't wear masks during the debate, in violation of the venue rules.

Vice President Mike Pence, who was in Georgia on Wednesday and Iowa yesterday, gets tested every day. He tweeted "love and prayers" to the Trumps.

  • Pence's travel schedule this week appears to have kept him away from the president.
  • But Pence's team has not yet issued a statement providing more information beyond the vice president’s tweet. 

The politics: In late-night and early-morning texts, several Trump confidants privately fretted about what this diagnosis would mean for his re-election.

  • Trump and his team have tried relentlessly to shift the election conversation away from COVID and health care — two topics they know Trump polls badly on — and toward the more favorable ground of the economy and law and order.
  • Trump's diagnosis will ensure that COVID is the 24/7 story from here until Election Day.

An influential adviser texted this shortly after 5am: "Hard to know but likely hurts Trump as it makes COVID the big issue and points to the failure of his deep denial approach."

  • "I doubt it moves many voters either way. I think Trump has a very narrow path to 270. I have his best map at a 269 tie. I think that is a low probability map."
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