Washington Wednesday – COVID-19 infects the campaign


NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Wednesday the 7th of October, 2020. Thanks for joining us for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. First up: an October surprise! 

Just as the presidential campaign was headed into the home stretch, President Trump contracted COVID-19. The virus had taken something of a backseat on the campaign trail after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The fight to fill her seat dominated campaign messaging—that is, until Friday. Now, the pandemic—and the Trump administration’s response to it—is once again the main topic of discussion.

EICHER: The president returned to the White House on Monday after spending three days in the hospital. And he reiterated his long-held view:

TRUMP: And I learned so much about coronavirus. And one thing’s for certain. Don’t let it dominate you. Don’t be afraid of it. You’re going to beat it. We have the best medical equipment. We have the best medicines. All developed recently. And you’re going to beat it.

During a townhall event broadcast Monday on NBC, Democrat challenger Joe Biden questioned the president’s approach.

BIDEN: I would hope that the president, having gone through what he went through and I’m glad he seems to be coming along pretty well, would communicate the right lesson to the American people. Masks matter. I hope no one walks away with a message thinking that it is not a problem. It’s a serious problem.

REICHARD: Joining us now to talk about the effect this may have on the campaign is Sean Evans. He’s a political science professor at Union University, a Christian college in Jackson, Tennessee.

Good morning, professor!

SEAN EVANS, GUEST: Good morning and thank you for having me.

REICHARD: We still don’t know details about President Trump’s condition, or the timeline for his recovery. But it’s accurate to say he won’t be returning to the campaign trail in the next week or so. How will this affect his bid for re-election?

EVANS: I don’t really think it’s going to affect it that much because most people have made up their mind about President Trump and nothing is going to change that. I think it can have an impact on the margins because Trump is being outspent by almost 2-to-1 in most of the swing states, and Trump was counting on the free media coverage of his rallies. And they have also organized most of their get out the vote activities around the rallies also. So, that could make a difference in the turnout in those key states.

REICHARD: Some people say the recent COVID outbreak among Republicans in government is proof the administration bungled its response to the pandemic. Of course, some of that is political haymaking. Yet 72 percent of people surveyed in a new ABC News/Ipsos poll said they believed the president “has not taken the risk of contracting the coronavirus seriously enough” and did not take “the appropriate precautions when it came to his personal health.”

Has that changed the narrative about the coronavirus and is it likely to have any effect on the way people vote?

EVANS: I believe that the only issue that Trump is favored over Biden on is handling the economy. So, anything that detracts from that focus for the Trump administration is bad news for him. And so the more the media covers COVID, the more that indicates that the public needs to judge the president based on his policies toward COVID. I think you might see that Trump will try to use his illness and his so-called quick recovery to suggest that COVID is not a threat and we need to continue to open up our country. But he might actually be better served by responding as a recent convert in saying we need to make these changes. I think people might be more willing to forgive some of his past things based on his personal experience.

REICHARD: What about the down-ballot races, particularly in the Senate. What effect do you think this might have on those contests?

EVANS: I think we have seen that as the country has become more polarized, there has been more straight ticket or party line voting. And so Trump’s low approval is a drag on Senate and House candidates. Now, it’s not really a surprise that he is a drag in Democratic leaning states like Colorado and Maine. But Trump’s behavior has also alienated many Republicans, which has ended up threatening Republican senators in Republican leaning states like Arizona, Iowa, Georgia, and North Carolina.

REICHARD: We don’t know for sure whether the president and Joe Biden will debate one another again between now and Election Day. If they don’t meet again, or have to postpone the next debate until very close to the election, who benefits most?

EVANS: I think canceling the debates benefits Biden the most because since he in the lead, he has the most to lose. And so if he’s in a debate and makes a gaffe, that could potentially change the course of the election. The other thing to keep in mind is that if it is moved later in the cycle, closer to Election Day, that can magnify the importance of any gaffe or mistake made by any other candidate because there’s less time for the candidate to recover.

REICHARD: Given that uncertainty, do you think tonight’s debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris becomes more significant?

EVANS: I think that the illness that Trump is suffering from and the fact that both candidates are in their 70s is a reminder that the vice presidential choice is a very important one—one that I think we sometimes overlook. But it’s also important for another reason and that’s talking about 2024 or 2028.

The debate is important for Mike Pence in two ways. First, he is auditioning to be a potential replacement for Donald Trump if something happens to him between now and the election. Two, he wants to be able to show that he can go toe-to-toe with Senator Harris who would be a strong contender to be the next Demoratic nominee after a Biden administration.

REICHARD: The vice president and Senator Harris have very different personal styles. What are you looking for in tonight’s matchup?

EVANS: Well, I think there’s several things we can expect. First, I think the tone is going to be much more civil than what we saw in the first debate. Second, you are going to see that Senator Harris is going to by and large avoid Pence and try to talk as much as possible about Trump because the Biden-Harris campaign want this to be a referendum on Trump. By the same token, the Trump campaign wants to make this a choice election. And so Mike Pence is going to point out how Senator Harris is much more liberal than Vice President Biden and he is going to suggest that the choice of Harris is to assuage the liberal base in the party and that the liberals are going to push Joe Biden further and further to the left in his administration. And, therefore, you need to choose Donald Trump and Mike Pence because they are not going to go to that ideological extreme.

REICHARD: Sean Evans is a political science professor at Union University, a Christian college in Tennessee. Thanks so much for joining us today!

EVANS: It’s my pleasure.


(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) Signs for the upcoming vice presidential debate outside Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah, Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, in Salt Lake City. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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