How Trump could lose 2020 election because of coronavirus

'It could certainly impact the economy, and if it impacts the economy then it could certainly impact the coming election'

Clark Mindock
New York
Tuesday 25 February 2020 23:45
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Donald Trump says 'when it gets a little warmer' the coronavirus will 'miraculously go away'

As Donald Trump has continued to downplay the potential dangers posed by the coronavirus outbreak, the growing threat may include at least one prominent casualty: his own presidency.

That’s at least the reading from political and health experts in light of the recent dives taken in the financial sector, which dropped dramatically on Monday and then again on Tuesday after weeks in which investors appeared somewhat at-ease with a growing global health crisis.

During that time, Mr Trump has pushed aside any concerns that things would go south as well. “We have very few people with it,” he said in India this week. “I think that whole situation will start working out. Lot of talent, lot of brain power is being put behind it.”

But, with election day just over nine months away and an epidemic that officials with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say could easily disrupt the day-to-day lives of Americans, the threat to Mr Trump’s presidency could be much bigger than betrayed by the former businessman’s sanguine attitude. After years in which he has offered up a robust economy as the basic proof of his excellence as president, a bungled public health epidemic that sees prolonged economic difficulities could prove disastrous for his reputation at a key moment in his tenure.

“There’s always the concern about the economic impact of the virus, and also of the virus itself,” Alan Rowan, a public health official with Florida State University who helped with the state’s response to the SARS outbreak in 2003, told The Independent. “It could certainly impact the economy, and if it impacts the economy then it could certainly impact the coming election.”

When it comes to health outbreaks, there are a lot of unknowns. And, so far, while the coronavirus outbreak has stopped short of being called a pandemic — its footprint, so far, is mostly contained in China and nearby Asian countries — its sheer magnitude has caused many to worry.

In the US, there have been at least 53 confirmed cases, according to the CDC, which has led Mr Trump and Democrats in Congress to suggest billions in funding to deal with the epidemic. Of the 53, a majority are said to have come from the Diamond Princess cruise liner that was recently quarantined off the coast of Japan.

“We expect we will see community spread in this country,” said Dr Nancy Messonier, director of the CDC's National Centre for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “It's not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”

Already, the disease has shown signs that it will have an enormous footprint. While the SARS epidemic in 2003 reached just over 8,000 cases, the coronavirus has already impacted more than 73,000 people, as of a week ago.

By 9 February of this year, the death toll of the virus had already overtaken SARS, too, and has continued to climb since then. As concern has simultaneously spread globally, people have begun to buy up face masks and cancel their trips to Asia.

Meanwhile, as entire cities in China have seen restrictions to travel and business, so too have some 94 per cent of Fortune 1000 companies seen supply chain disruptions, according to a report. At the same time, stocks have dropped in global markets, with the S&P 500 marking its worst one-day slide in two years on Monday, then dropping about 3 per cent by Tuesday afternoon (the losses were enough to put the blue chip index firmly in the red for the year). And, Germany's DAX and Britain's FTSE 100 both also fell, by 2 per cent each on Tuesday, which came after European markets had their worst drop since 2016.

And, it’s that kind of disruption that could damage Mr Trump’s whole argument for re-election should things get bad enough, according to Kyle Kopko, a professor of political science at Elizabethtown University in Pennsylvania.

“Market reaction is definitely going to be a big predictor of election outcomes. Generally speaking, if the economy is dong well, that favours incumbent presidents,” he said. “That’s basic political science.”

Already, the Trump administration's response to the coronavirus threat has been criticised, by members of both the Republican and Democratic Party.

Trump official wrongly says coronavirus rate similar to flu

After the administration asked for $2.5bn in funding — of which just $1.25bn would be new spending — even some Senate Republicans criticised the amount as a "low ball" request.

"It could be an existential threat to a lot of people in this country," said Senator Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama. "So money should not be an object. We should try to contain and eradicate this as much as we can, both in the US and helping our friends all over the world."

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a candidate for the 2020 Democratic nomination, has also attacked the administration over the response.

"The Trump administration is absolutely bungling the response to coronavirus, putting our public health and our economy at risk," she wrote on Twitter. "This is why we need a real plan and an adult in charge."

Darry Sragow, an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California and a longtime democratic strategist, said that the heightened concern over coronavirus could be very damaging to Mr Trump if the economy takes a tumble. Already, he said, the news media is spending a considerable amount of time on the story — and any impact to the economy would make it all that much worse.

"He's using ... the strength of the markets to counter the argument that he's damaging the country. It's that simple," he said. "If the markets don't continue to support that argument, if the performance of the markets fail to support that argument, you'd have to think he would be in a much more vulnerable position."

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