WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – For most of 2020, the coronavirus cast a shadow over the presidential campaign between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, but Mr. Trump’s positive test result this week has pushed the virus directly into center stage for the final month of the campaign.
While we know that the president and first lady have gone into isolation and that initial results from Biden are negative, we don’t know a lot about how the White House will function and how the complexion of the race will change between now and November 3rd. Here are a few lingering unanswered questions that voters may want to keep an eye on:
What will happen to the debates?
If you thought Tuesday night’s debate felt uncomfortable and disjointed, imagine watching it over Zoom. That plan is not on the table yet, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
The president and former Vice President are not due to meet again on the debate stage until October 15th. Still, it’s unclear how such a live event might stay on schedule with the president now in isolation and members of the RNC and Trump inner circle testing positive.
The Commission on Presidential Debates had been examining rule changes following President Trump’s tactic of speaking over his opponent and Mr. Biden’s response insisting that his opponent “shut up” on Tuesday. At this point, a new plan has not been established. The New York Times reports that even next Tuesday’s Vice Presidential Debate has been thrown into limbo.
MSNBC reporter Sam Stein tweeted Friday that the campaign was moving planned live events to virtual offerings and that all previously announced events involving the first family were being temporarily postponed.
Will testing positive help or hurt President Trump in the polls?
Polling on the election has remained relatively steady since mid-summer, with poll aggregators suggesting Biden has a lead in the 6 to 7 percent range nationally, roughly double the margin Hillary Clinton enjoyed in polling on Election Day 2016.
Common political science wisdom suggests that a candidate experiencing a personal emergency or suffering is likely to benefit from public sympathy, but President Trump’s inconsistent and often dismissive statements around mask use and the threat posed by COVID-19 significantly complicates that prospect.
While so-called snap polls may give us some indication of how the public responds to the news relatively quickly, a noticeable change in national polling averages likely won’t be fully baked in until some time next week.
Will Trump’s inner circle take more security precautions in the future?
Fox News reports that First Lady Melania Trump and other members of the Trump family and inner circle refused to wear masks during Tuesday night’s debate, despite urging from doctors at the host Cleveland Clinic. It is not known when the First Lady may have contracted the virus, but disregard for mask guidance has become a hallmark for Trump’s entourage.
It remains to be seen how this positive case will shift policy and protocol around the Trump orbit, but Chief of Staff Mark Meadows did brief reporters on the president’s condition without wearing a mask on Friday morning. Meadows insisted that he was distant from the journalists and had tested negative. But the move highlights an administration hesitant to follow health guidelines imposed on many Americans. It remains to be seen how or if that culture will shift in the days ahead.
Who else may already have been exposed?
The process of contact tracing, or figuring out who else may have been exposed based on the prior interactions of those infected, will be a herculean task. In addition to the debate, President Trump traveled to a pair of fundraisers this week and held a Rose Garden press briefing on vaccine distribution. It’s not yet clear when the president became exposed, but the number of associates and event attendees testing positive is likely to rise in the days ahead.
A video of the Rose Garden ceremony for the Supreme Court Nomination of Amy Coney Barrett last Saturday, which was attended by the President and many other dignitaries, shows little mask use. In the clip below, Utah Senator Mike Lee can be seen speaking to people in close proximity and hugging attendees. Lee has since tested positive.
The president of Notre Dame University, who also attended the event without a mask, has also tested positive, according to the Washington Post.
How sick will the president get?
Perhaps the most significant question for both the election and the functioning of our nation is what lies ahead for the president’s personal health. Meadows indicated Friday that the president was experiencing mild symptoms, and the Maggie Haberman of the New York Times reports that Vice President Mike Pence led a conference call with governors Friday that had been scheduled for President Trump.
President Trump carries both age and weight risk factors that increase the potential perils of COVID-19. Should the infection prove debilitating in any way, succession protocols would come into play and the future of the 2020 Presidential Campaign would become even more cloudy.