It’s been 3 days since U.S President Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19 and people have been eagerly watching over the updates in his condition. Some have called this as an October surprise, which in U.S. political jargon, refers to an event that may influence the outcome of an upcoming election.
It could be deliberately planned or randomly occurring. But Trump’s illness is highly unlikely to be planned as nobody would expose themselves to a deadly virus, not even for an election. Considering Trump’s age (74 years old), it makes him more susceptible to developing acute symptoms and in the bleakest of possibilities could result in his death.
The developments in Trump’s condition and the momentary scare when it was reported, have brought concerns about Trump falling seriously ill due to the virus. Additionally, people are wondering - if his symptoms continue for a prolonged period of time, then how will the nation be governed? Before we delve into that possibility, let’s take a look at Trump’s journey through COVID-19 till now.
Trump’s journey through COVID-19 until now
Trump had announced the news of him testing positive on early Friday morning and initially, White House physician Dr. Sean Conley said the President "was doing well with only mild symptoms."
However, later in the morning, Trump got "high fever and his oxygen saturation was transiently dipping below 94%," Conley said. A normal blood oxygen saturation level is 95% or higher. After supplementary oxygen was provided, Trump was doing better. He was, Conley says, moving around the White House residence and had only mild symptoms.
In the afternoon, Trump received an antibody cocktail consisting of zinc, vitamin D, the heartburn drug famotidine, melatonin, and daily aspirin. To exercise greater caution, the President is taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for monitoring.
In the hospital, he begins a five-day course of the antiviral drug remdesivir. The treatment is intended to shorten recovery time for Covid-19 patients.
Trump experienced low oxygen levels again - "It dropped down to about 93%," Conley said on Sunday. "We watched it and it returned back up." Then, Trump was administered the corticosteroid drug dexamethasone, which has been shown to help patients with Covid-19 and is typically given to patients on supplemental oxygen or ventilation.
Despite his fluctuating symptoms, the U.S President tried to keep the spirits high and tweeted a video message saying that he is "starting to feel good."
Dr. Sean Dooley, one of the President's physicians, said that the President had remained without fever since Friday morning. Another doctor at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Brian Garibaldi said, "He's been up and around. Our plan for today is to have him to eat and drink, be up out of bed as much as possible to be mobile."
On an optimistic note, Garibaldi concluded by saying that Trump could be discharged on Monday if he "continues to look and feel as well as he does today."
Despite the concerns of his supporters and doctors, Trump was relatively calmer and cheerful about his recovery. He even briefly left the hospital to wave to his supporters in an SUV. In another new video, he described getting COVID as “a very interesting journey.” He also described having COVID as the real deal - "This is the real school. This isn’t the let’s read the book school and I get it. And I understand it."
What are the political consequences of Trump contracting the virus and what if he doesn’t recover from it?
Who will govern the American people? - a valid question when the world’s one of the most powerful leaders contracts an untreatable virus. An NPR podcast converses with John Fortier, who has studied and written about similar scenarios, to discuss the possibilities of Trump’s illness and of not recovering quick enough.
Fortier is the executive director of the Continuity of Government Commission, which was set up in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and also runs the government studies program at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
Fortier explains that there is a provision in the 25th Amendment where the U.S President can sign over the power of the presidency to the Vice President and take it back when he recovers. In the scenario that the President got too sick to even make that decision, the Cabinet has the authority to declare the vice president to take over.
What about the upcoming election?
The awaited U.S election is a month away and Trump, a presidential candidate has been compelled to quarantine himself. Fortier says that if he falls seriously ill and is unable to be on the ballot, it would be very difficult to replace him. However, if he recovers he could gain a slight edge over his rival candidate, Joe Biden.
If he makes a speedy recovery, it could be beneficial to his election campaign
Tim Lynch, associate professor in American Politics at the University of Melbourne, talks to ABC and says that Trump’s speedy recovery could make him a harder target to hit by his rival candidate. Due to his illness, he has chances of receiving sympathy votes by even anti-Trump individuals, according to Lynch.
As one of the most powerful people falls prey to the virus, it humanizes him and makes him appear as more humble and down-to-earth. On the flip-side, he could make people more cautious about going out and voting. Additionally, his whole campaign and image were built on the idea of him being physically active and sort of infallible to the virus compared to his rival candidate Biden, who he claims has lower cognitive and physical abilities.
So, contracting the virus could lead to Trump losing the key points of his campaign which was ridiculing people for wearing masks, and disapproving of lockdowns and shutdown of the economy. He had also been castigating the doomsayers of the virus and claiming that the virus will “go away”. But now that he’s COVID positive, that whole narrative has crumbled.
Overall, Lynch says that the illness is slightly more beneficial more Trump as long as he isn’t completely incapacitated due to sympathy votes. In the grim scenario that Donald Trump loses the battle with the virus and dies, it will most likely lead to Mike Pence replacing him as getting another candidate would be virtually improbable.
However, the President seems to be on the path to recovery and it would be interesting to see if his illness will attract sympathy votes.