With more than two million ballots already cast, the tumultuous 2020 presidential election season is closing in on its final weeks. Though this entire race has been unconventional owing to a multitude factors including the pandemic, two recent events have further jolted the unprecedented race.
On Sept. 29, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden faced off in the first of three presidential debates. Moderated by journalist Chris Wallace and held at Ohio University, President Trump’s performance was widely panned for his continuous interruption of both Biden and Wallace.
Trump also faced criticism for telling the far-right hate group the Proud Boys to stand by when asked to denounce the group. He then called for increased focus on left-wing groups. The White House later asserted that the president did denounce white supremacy, including the Proud Boys.
Initial polling conducted between Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal found Biden’s national polling lead had jumped to 14 points. Biden garnered support from 53 percent of registered voters whereas Trump retained the support of 39 percent of registered voters.
State-specific polling held after the debate in the swing states of Florida and Pennsylvania also show Biden leading. Surveys done by the New York Times and Siena College found the former Vice President, leading by 47 percent in Florida, up five points from previous polling. His lead increased in Pennsylvania from 42 percent to 49 percent.
On Oct. 1, President Trump informed the world in a tweet that he and first lady Melania Trump had tested positive for COVID-19 and would begin to isolate at the White House. The next day, he was moved to Walter Reed Hospital and began an experimental drug treatment created by Regeneron.
Since then numerous divergent statements have been released by White House officials regarding Trump’s health. An optimistic appraisal painted by the president’s physicians was undercut by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows who expressed concern about the president’s vitals.
Concerns about the information being shared with the public were reinforced on Oct. 4 when it emerged that Trump had experienced oxygen drops twice since the beginning of his infection and had taken the steroid dexamethasone in addition to remdesivir and the Regeneron antibody cocktail. Dexamethasone is typically reserved for patients with severe COVID-19 cases.
Meanwhile, there has been a scramble to figure out which other top campaign officials and lawmakers may be infected. So far a large number of Trump’s close advisors and allies, including Chair of the RNC Ronna McDaniels, senators Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), campaign manager Bill Stepien and informal Trump advisors Kellyanne Conway, Stephen Miller and former Governor Chris Christie (R-N.J.), have tested positive.
There are significant concerns that the White House reception for Judge Amy Coney Barrett may have been a super spreader event.
There are fears as well that Vice President Mike Pence or Biden may have been infected, though both men have tested negative.
President Trump’s positive diagnosis has profound implications for the rest of the 2020 campaign. As the Trump campaign scrambles to adjust its plans for the rest of the election season, Biden has continued campaigning in-person, though with smaller events than Trump’s rallies and with more stringent enforcement of COVID-19 protocols, such as social distancing.
The Biden campaign has announced that it will pull all of its negative ads targeting the president while the president and the First Lady battle COVID-19.
With one month left until the election, Trump has returned to the White House after hospitalization at Walter Reed Hospital. It is likely he will forgo the mass rallies that have characterized his campaign. Some of the last events of the election season have also been thrown into doubt including the second and third presidential debates, with Trump saying he will not participate in a virtual second debate.