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Trump's COVID-19 diagnosis clouds Washington, 2020 election

Congressman Pete King speaking at the Library of

Congressman Pete King speaking at the Library of Congress in Washington DC on March 13, 2018. Credit: PA Wire/PA Images/Niall Carson

Rep. Peter King didn’t want to bother President Donald Trump Friday morning, so he texted Ivanka to wish her father well.

But the news that both the president and first lady Melania Trump were diagnosed with the coronavirus was the main subject of conversation on Capitol Hill Friday, where people suddenly seemed more conscious of wearing masks and keeping their distance.

"We’re in the world of the unknown right now," King told The Point.

The "best-case scenario," King noted, is that Trump recovers quickly, and that his quick recovery becomes the story heading into the election.

"Then, when his quarantine is over, he goes out on the debate floor and looks like Superman … like he’s bullet-proof," King said of that best-case picture. "It would show he’s tough, he’s strong, he overcame the virus, he’s back and ready to fight."

Any other scenario would be difficult and worrisome for the president personally and politically, King noted.

The unprecedented nature of the president’s illness makes even the day-to-day difficult to predict or address, said King, who added that he is mostly worried about a possible national security incident in the days or weeks ahead.

"That’s the first concern I have," King said. "What happens if there’s a crisis? ... You need a president to be in good health."

But King said he expected key policy officials, and congressional leaders to handle whatever might come next.

"The idea is to be ready if something does happen," King said. "From what I gather, all the key people are engaged."

COVID-19 continues to be a focus at the polls

President Donald Trump has tried his best to make his reelection fight about pretty much anything but COVID-19, from the Supreme Court to "law and order."

But through it all, the coronavirus pandemic has loomed and his own diagnosis with the disease this week only brings the issue more front and center.

Polling shows that it was always a focus, and not a good one for the president.

A distillation of major polling data from the likes of Pew Research Center, NBC News-Wall Street Journal, and ABC News-Washington Post suggest that the top 2020 issues are the economy, COVID-19, health care, and racial justice and crime, says Bruce Gyory, a New York-based Democratic political consultant.

But those top three concerns "functionally" become the COVID-19 reaction, Gyory says, given their interrelations.

And many voters don’t see Trump positively on the COVID-19 front. A new Siena poll of New York State likely voters shows that more than twice as many disapprove of Trump’s handling of COVID-19 than approve — including big gaps among moderates and suburban voters. For some, the diagnosis could quickly come to symbolize all of Trump’s failures during the pandemic. "Here is someone who downplayed the virus, wrote off more than 200,000 American lives [‘It is what it is’], deceived the American people, and blamed everyone but himself," wrote New York State Democratic Party leader Jay Jacobs in an email.

Jacobs raised the possibility that Trump could have endangered others down the stretch of his campaign with his rallies.

It’s difficult to predict exactly what effect the bombshell news could have in this most extraordinary year. One New York Republican close to the Trump campaign noted that Boris Johnson and Jair Bolsonaro, both of whom were struck by the coronavirus, saw bumps in support afterward.

Some polling suggests a small boost for those leaders, though there were counterexamples and each country features its own factors, such as Bolsonaro downplaying the virus while delivering a popular infusion of economic aid.

Former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Steve Israel saw a few reasons to be cautious in assessments: the failure of the Access Hollywood tapes to be decisive in 2016, the fact that 90% of voters already have made up their minds, and the likelihood that there will be plenty of time for "10 more bombshells" going forward.

But for those 10% whose minds aren’t totally made up," Israel said, "Trump wants the narrative to be anything but COVID."

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