The coronavirus crisis has blown up the 2020 election strategies for both President Donald Trump and his Democratic rivals.
The president so far has enjoyed a bump in his approval rating as an apparent result of his daily news conferences, which can sometimes spin out of control during live broadcasts but are then trimmed down for network news, but Democrats must turn the election into a referendum on his response to the outbreak, reported Politico.
“[Voters see him] at the podium in the White House, quote, in charge,” said Les Francis, a Democratic strategist and former deputy White House chief of staff for Jimmy Carter. “If those stick and they’re not countered effectively, he could get re-elected.”
Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and 2004 presidential candidate, said the COVID-19 crisis had sharpened the focus of the choice voters face.
“It was always going to be a referendum on Trump,” Dean said. “But the referendum was going to be about things like climate change and how you want to reform health care and all these other things. Now it’s only going to be about this one thing — whether Trump is competent and sane.”
“[He is] a deeply disturbed narcissist who is incapable of being a leader,” Dean added, “and that’s what the referendum is going to be on.”
Joe Biden, the presumed Democratic nominee at this point, has essentially been sidelined by fast-moving current of events, but he’s trying to counter Trump’s message with a podcast recorded from his hoome.
“[He] has no control over this at all,” said Democratic strategist Darry Sragow. “To me, it’s like you’re in a bar and a brawl breaks out. You’ve got to park your immediate instinct. You have no control over the immediate outcome of the brawl.”
The Democratic National Convention may be rescheduled from July 13-16 in case the outbreak still prevents large crowds from gathering, but that could also benefit Trump’s eventual rival strategically.
“If we have to cancel and Trump has a convention with 40,000 people screaming and yelling,” said DNC member Bob Mulholland, “that’s an advantage to Trump, because nobody saw us except some text they got, and then they watched Trump.”
Bumping the convention back to late August, when the Republican National Convention is also scheduled, could also keep the party’s message in the forefront of voters’ minds.
“It matters for this reason,” Mulholland added. “That Thursday night speech by our nominee could be seen by 50 to 60 million Americans, most of them who haven’t paid a minute of attention to the primary. That’s the conversation that takes us to winning.”
But much of the party’s traditional message — climate change, gun safety, health care reform and immigration reform — will likely be drowned out by the coronavirus crisis and Trump’s handling of it.
“None of that stuff is happening right now,” said one Democratic strategist who works on climate change messaging. “It looks tone deaf to not be focused on the thing that’s gripping and changing people’s lives in a once-in-a-lifetime way.”