How COVID-19 transformed the US presidential campaign

In mid-February, the chances of Donald Trump’s re-election looked pretty good. The American economy was doing very well. The Democratic Party was tearing itself apart. And then, the coronavirus epidemic began …
F ebruary 2020. There is a month. In other words, the equivalent of an eternity and a half in politics. The American economy is operating at full speed. The unemployment rate fell to 3.5%, unheard of since … 1969! On February 12, on the New York Stock Exchange, the Dow Jones came close to 30,000 points. Since the historic low in March 2009, the Index has increased by 451%! (1)

Should you order champagne? In the entourage of President Trump, we rub our hands. In the United States, the re-election of a president is not foreseen by scrutinizing the stars or the entrails of chicken. Rather by consulting the economic figures. (2) Casually, the last 11 presidents who sought a second term during a period of growth were re-elected … (3)

President Trump’s arrogance is matched only by the rooster who believes that his morning song causes the sunrise. “Since I won the election, the stock market has jumped several thousand points and all kinds of [good] things have started to happen,” he said. It will be the same in 2020. You have no choice but to vote for me, otherwise your pension plan and all [your investments] will collapse. Whether you hate me or not, you have no choice but to vote for me. ”(4)

LHC Group Inc. executive vice president Bruce Greenstein presents his elbow as U.S. President Donald Trump reaches out during a press conference on COVID-19 at the White House March 13, 2020.e
LHC Group Inc. executive vice president Bruce Greenstein presents his elbow as U.S. President Donald Trump reaches out during a press conference on COVID-19 at the White House March 13, 2020.e
AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON
The heartbreak of the Democrats do nothing to undermine presidential confidence. It looks like the favorite candidate, former vice president Joe Biden, has disintegrated. On February 11, in New Hampshire primary, Biden finished fifth, with 8.4% of the vote. The new leader, Bernie Sanders, wants to make the United States a Swedish socialist state. But at 79, the “revolutionary” seems fragile. Didn’t he have a heart attack in October? (5)

In mid-February, Donald Trump’s electoral machine looks like a brand-new racing car whose engine roars on the starting line. The president has just amassed a $ 200 million “war chest”. (6) He has already renamed Democrat Bernie Sanders “Crazy Bernie” or “Communist”. More subtle, you die. To top it off, two-thirds of voters predict his re-election. (7)

And that’s when the coronavirus epidemic started. Like lightning in a blue sky.

The fault of the “foreign” virus

At first, the president did not take the measure of the gravity of the crisis. He is boasting. He accuses the media of wanting to create a stock market panic to harm his chances of re-election. He even evokes a “democratic hoax”. He became angry with public health experts for their “alarmist” statements. “We have contained the epidemic,” triumphed economic adviser Larry Kudlow on … February 25. (8)

On March 8 and 9, as the crisis deepens, the president repeats that he is not worried. The proof: he still has time to play two rounds of golf! Should we cry, should we laugh? The reaction to the coronavirus becomes (briefly) a partisan affair. In early March, the virus worried 68% of Democrats, against only 32% of Republicans. (9)

The president’s allies add to the confusion. Radio host Rush Limbaugh, who has just received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, reiterates that coronavirus is “the same thing as a cold.” (10) On March 10, when Democrats begin to suspend public events, they are ridiculed by Trump 2020 campaign spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany. Madam says Joe Biden is looking for an excuse to stop her campaign. (11) She also suspects the media of wanting to prevent Donald Trump from holding assemblies. (12)

However, the crisis eventually becomes unavoidable. Across the country, there is a lack of screening tests. Hundreds of people confuse their symptoms with those of a cold or the flu, at the risk of infecting others. Fewer than 5,000 Americans were tested. Forty times less than in South Korea. (13)

After evoking a “foreign” virus, the president tries to take the initiative. (14) On March 11, he addresses the American people during a televised speech. But his speech riddled with error contributes to fueling panic. (15) The president notably suggests that European goods will no longer enter the United States, which is inaccurate.

The coronavirus has achieved a feat that all the events of the past five years have failed to accomplish. Put the next presidential election in the background.
The coronavirus has achieved a feat that all the events of the past five years have failed to accomplish. Put the next presidential election in the background.
AFP PHOTO / ANDREW CABALLERO
No big deal. Donald Trump later gave himself a score of 10 out of 10 for his management of the crisis. (16)

Still a bit, and model student Trump would demand a star and a heart on his copy.

Me, Joe Biden the miraculous

Meanwhile, a veritable political earthquake has started to shake up the Democratic camp.

In mid-February, it will be remembered that the campaign of former vice-president Joe Biden looks like a fish floating with its stomach in the air, in the direction of the current. The money, the staff, the enthusiasm, everything is running out. The candidate must limit his trips, for lack of means. He has run out of money to run large-scale ads outside of social media. (17)

In desperation, Joe Biden bet everything on the South Carolina primary on February 29. In any case, he can no longer cross the country. Might as well deliver the ultimate combat in a State which it presents as its fortress. On the eve of the vote, he summed up the situation: “We have a choice. A great victory or a great defeat. All or nothing. ”(18)

Unexpectedly, Joe Biden won the South Carolina primary with more than 30 points ahead of his closest rival, Bernie Sanders. More than a surprise. A miracle. By the way, we note that he collects more than 60% of the black vote, a crucial electorate for the Party. (19) The tide is turning. Over the next three days, the Biden campaign raises more money than in the last three months of 2019. (20)

In the space of two weeks, the Democratic race is turning over like a glove. One after the other, the “moderate” candidates rallied to Biden, the one formerly nicknamed “Joe the gaffe”. On March 3, during Super Tuesday, he won 10 of the 14 primaries, including that of Texas. Thanks to the support of a rival, he triumphed even in the state of Minnesota. A shame, when you know that Biden did not campaign there and that he did not spend a penny on election advertising!

Joe Biden looks like the lucky guy who just guessed the result 285 times in a toss. And it continues. A few days later, the spread of the coronavirus gave the final blow to Bernie Sanders’ campaign. Politics suddenly becomes a virtual affair. Goodbye door to door, contacts with voters, public meetings. Poor Sanders is reduced to giving online interviews, next to his stove…

To see Bernie Sanders’ fireside discussion.

The general opinion is that the Democratic primary is over, although it will theoretically continue until June. On March 15, the two candidates participate in a final televised debate. Sign of the times, the public is absent and the protagonists stand two meters apart. (21) Instead of the traditional handshake, they greet each other by hitting their fists. A more “hygienic” gesture that would exchange 10 times less bacteria than the handshake. (22)

Bernie Sanders takes his last salvo. “Half the population lives from one pay check to the next. What will happen to them? he asks. Nothing to do. Joe Biden seems untouchable. In the space of a month, he passed from the status of political undead to that of Party champion, with the mission of defeating the “dragon” Donald Trump.

At times, the miraculous seems to have difficulty believing it himself …

In the space of a month, the coronavirus epidemic turned everything upside down. The economy is slowing down. Unemployment is exploding. The Dow Jones lost a third of its value.
In the space of a month, the coronavirus epidemic turned everything upside down. The economy is slowing down. Unemployment is exploding. The Dow Jones lost a third of its value.

Donald Trump’s Chernobyl?

In the space of a month, the coronavirus epidemic turned everything upside down. The economy is slowing down. Unemployment is exploding. The Dow Jones lost a third of its value. Growth is revised downwards. Remember that in America, the result of the presidential elections is not predicted by scrutinizing the stars or the entrails of chicken. Rather by looking at the economy figures. And we have to go back to 1924 to find a president re-elected during a period of economic slowdown… (23)

The coronavirus has achieved a feat that all the events of the past five years have failed to accomplish. Put the next presidential election in the background. (24) America is afraid. Suddenly, despite the billions of dollars injected into the economy, one wonders if the country is well equipped to face the epidemic. It is estimated that 47% of Americans have access to less than $ 400 to ward off a blow. (25) Not to mention the millions of workers who are not entitled to sick leave or who do not have health insurance.

One day, politics will resume its rights. But when? Behind the scenes, on the Democratic side, one wonders if Joe Biden will succeed in mobilizing the supporters of Bernie Sanders, who dreamed of a “revolution”. The last time, in 2016, about 12% ended up supporting Donald Trump. (26) On the Republican side, strategists fear that the coronavirus dominates the news so much that it diverts attention from Joe Biden’s weaknesses or blunders (see other text).

Some of Donald Trump’s opponents claim victory. (27) The most excited assert that the epidemic constitutes the President’s “Chernobyl”, in reference to the nuclear disaster that contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1986. (28 ) “Trump’s presidency is over,” trumpets a columnist for The Atlantic magazine. (29) But these have a short memory. If the political landscape was completely changed in the space of a month, who could predict its appearance next November, the equivalent of an eternity and a half in politics?

Mr. “White from memory” against Mr. “Unstable”?

What could a presidential campaign between Joe Biden and Donald Trump look like? So far, their exchanges have not been flying very high. Small trip to the country of political cruelty, where all blows are allowed.

Democrat Joe Biden has previously described himself as a “blundering machine”. (30) And age doesn’t help matters. At 77, he sometimes searches for words. Its flow appears slower. Fatigue helping, moments of discomfort multiply. Last year, he forgot the name of … Barack Obama. (31) In September, in response to a question about racism, he launched into an incomprehensible monologue. “[…] Play the radio. Make sure the television – no, excuse me – make sure the register works at night. On the phone, make sure the kids hear the words. […] ”(32)

Doctor, is it serious? More recently, Joe Biden has done nothing to calm the concerns. One evening, he confused his sister and his wife, on a platform. Another time, he said that guns have claimed 150 million lives in the United States since 2007. There are countless days left when he confused Thursday and Tuesday. Nor those where he declares that he is running for the Senate, rather than the presidency. (33)

It was enough for columnists to rename the Democratic candidate “Dementia Joe” or “Joe-mentia”. (34) Without going so far, President Trump added his grain of salt. “An incredible thing happened on Tuesday, even if Joe Biden thought it was Thursday,” he had fun, the day after “Super Tuesday”. There is definitely something wrong with this guy. ” […] If he is elected, they will place him in residence and other people will govern the country in his place. ”(35)

“Cognitive decline”

Laughs best who laughs last. At 73, President Trump is not immune to low blows on his age. In December, 350 health care professionals wrote to Congress to express concern about his “cognitive decline.” (36) In a book called A Warning, an anonymous senior official claims to sound the alarm. “The president mumbles, he swears, he becomes confused, he gets carried away easily and he has more and more difficulty in synthesizing information. It’s nothing casual. It happens continuously, ”reads it. (37)

Almost everywhere, there are now video montages that bring together the “best” stutters from the president. We can hear him repeat “orange” several times instead of “origins”. We see him nicknamed the CEO of Apple, “Tim Apple”, instead of “Tim Cook”. A special mention to a long monologue during which he seems to be delirious about wind turbines, cancer and bird cemeteries … (38)

It must be said that by neglecting to provide credible medical reports, today’s candidates encourage all the fabrications. We are far from the year 2008, when the Republican John McCain had published a medical report of 1000 pages. Not to mention the 1950s, a time when doctors multiplied manic reports on President Dwight Eisenhower’s health, including the detailed functioning of his intestines. Not to be read during lunch. (39)

Can we go even lower? Apparently yes. Under the cover of anonymity, a democratic organizer predicts that the 2020 campaign will oppose “the nice little old man who suffers from Alzheimer’s against the nasty cushy child with dementia”. (40) In short, it promises. For now, the cruelty palm belongs to host Tucker Carlson, on Fox News, with this cruel joke. “Joe Biden has tried his whole life to be a presidential candidate. What a pity that he is no longer there to enjoy it. ” (41) Jean-Simon Gagné

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