Editor’s note: We endeavor to bring you the top voices on current events representing a range of perspectives. Below is a column arguing that President Donald Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis will make him more sympathetic and may help him on Election Day. You can find a counterpoint here, where Charles Kolb, former Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy under George H.W. Bush, argues that the president’s boasts about his own recovery will make him seem less sympathetic and hurt him in the election.
will not help him in the coming election. You can find a counterpoint here, where Republican media strategist Adam Goodman argues that the president’s diagnosis will make him more sympathetic and may help him on Election Day.
We know it but fear to think it, we fear it but refuse to dwell on it, we conceal it for fear of revealing it.
For more than a week, the President of the United States came face to face with his own mortality, with a disease that doesn’t bother to check one’s stature or zip code before threatening to alter or end one’s life.
As tough as this president is, as resolute as he remains in commanding the world’s greatest democracy and economy and military, you could sense he has changed, that his brush with mortality has taught him lessons one can neither prepare for nor fully articulate.
Its impact on the presidential election has already been evident and profound. The debates have moved from stages separating the candidates by social distanced feet to potential virtual ones where combatants will share a broadcast band instead of a performing theatre.
Negative ads were publicly pulled by his opponents (while the nastiness continued from outside groups hammering the ailing President without remorse or regret). Words of commiseration were offered by the loyal opposition, yet the campaign risked insensitivity by canceling no events, and the media risked blowback by immediately pouncing on the president and his team for willfully ignoring safety protocols.
So does this help or hurt the President? Could it change the trajectory of the race, or reinforce it? It could, perhaps deeply, if the president allows his heart to overrule his mind, if he uses it not to score political advantage but to connect with the more than 7.4-million Americans afflicted by the killer virus.
The president, honed as a streetwise New Yorker, and faced with an opportunity to commiserate and empathize, has taken to doing both.
The final word is his final tweet being airlifted to Walter Reed Hospital said it all: “LOVE.”
Gone was his combativeness in squaring off against those out to advance themselves by continually haranguing, harassing and impeaching. Holstered was his relentlessness in taking on those determined to take America on and out, from China’s manipulation and cheating, to those usurping a protest to loot and burn, threaten and scar innocents in their path.
Then the president continued massaging his message while convalescing his body, announcing the other day he would strive to make Regeneron and other promising therapeutics not only available to other patients, but free.
Finally, the president reversed course on the much-needed stimulus package, promising to send $1200 checks directly to Americans, billions more to save the ailing airline industry and give renewed life to the Paycheck Protection Program.
The history of presidents facing life-threatening illness, and hiding it from public interrogation, is well-documented.
George Washington, who allegedly had a thing about felling cherry trees, was nearly felled by a succession of ailments from diphtheria and
Grover Cleveland hid a cancerous mouth tumor by having it removed on a friend’s yacht, out of view, so none were the wiser (other than his incisor).
Woodrow Wilson caught the flu during the 1918 influenza pandemic, passing it off as nothing but a cold.
And of course FDR used a sympathetic press to cover the polio that was ravaging his body while he rallied the body politic to muscle up to save the world.
This president should take heart. When someone, anyone, is fighting for survival the naysayers grow more tepid and the village square executioners more rare.
Leadership is never about what’s promised before the squall, but what can be delivered in the eye of the storm.
Bearing COVID-19 has already made this president more sympathetic, approachable and real. While we thirst for leaders who offer any or all of that, Trump quietly moves one step closer to another Election Day surprise.
And you know how America loves a good ‘ol fashioned comeback.
Adam Goodman is a national Republican media strategist and columnist. He is a partner at Ballard Partners in Washington, D.C., and the first Edward R. Murrow Senior Fellow at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. Follow him on Twitter @adamgoodman3.