Politics in the pandemic

Published 6:27 pm Tuesday, April 14, 2020

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By Peter Funt

Donald Trump is running against himself.

Coronavirus has shut down just about everything, including the presidential campaign. With Bernie Sanders out of the way, former Vice President Joe Biden is holed up in his basement with little to do or say. His best chance — and, considering how the administration has botched things during the crisis, a good one — is that Trump will self-defeat.

Few Americans care to think about politics during this time of widespread suffering. Yet, subordination of the presidential campaign, along with other factors related to the pandemic, will certainly affect the election.

Conventional wisdom suggests that a prolonged health emergency and resulting economic collapse would be ruinous to Trump’s chances. Trump seems to realize his political vulnerability, which is why he has turned daily coronavirus briefings into a new incarnation of a Trump reality show.

Hogging the microphone as a national television audience looks on, the president rambles through a mixture of self-aggrandizement, exaggeration and outright distortion. As foolish as he often appears to critics — including many reporters in the briefing room – he is relying on the axiom: Any publicity is good publicity.

Trump’s approval rating has tracked closely with the amount of TV time he has commandeered. The Real Clear Politics polling average shows him with about 50 percent approval in handling the crisis, up sharply from a few weeks ago.

Biden, on the other hand, is stuck in a small TV studio, sending out messages that at the start looked eerily like hostage videos. He is fighting against the axiom: The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. It’s fine to say more coronavirus tests are needed, appropriate to say the nation should not be rushed back to work, understandable to defend the Obama Administration regarding pandemic preparedness. But that’s hardly a platform for a presidential campaign.

Biden faces a serious challenge in appearing relevant as the coronavirus outbreak continues. Consider: On April 2, PBS posted briefings by key political figures regarding the crisis. California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom got 40,000 views the first day; New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, 20,000; Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, 37,000; Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, 16,000. And how many views did Joe Biden get? Answer: 7,400.

Understandably, citizens want information from their state and local leaders; they don’t care much right now about national politics. But what impact will this communication gap have over the course of many months? During the Senate impeachment trial several Democratic candidates were forced off the campaign trail and found that it hurt to be silenced, even briefly.

It’s possible that no matter what Biden and Democrats do, and despite epic failures in Trump’s presidency prior to the coronavirus outbreak, November’s election will hinge on what happens with the health crisis and the economy. A warning about that came at a White House briefing from an unlikely source.

The president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, probably didn’t realize the significance of what he was saying when he told reporters: “What a lot of the voters are seeing now is that when you elect somebody to be a mayor or governor or president, you’re trying to think about who will be a competent manager during the time of crisis. This is a time of crisis and you’re seeing certain people are better managers than others.”

Considering Trump’s incompetence so far, it could be that come November he’ll not only be running against himself, he’ll be running on empty.

PETER FUNT is a writer and speaker. His book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com. A list of Funt’s upcoming live appearances is available at www.CandidCamera.com.