Dan DePetris

Coronavirus is a disaster for Trump’s re-election campaign

Coronavirus is a disaster for Trump's re-election campaign
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If President Donald Trump at first dismissed coronavirus as a menacing-sounding version of the sniffles, he is certainly taking the virus seriously now. One in ten coronavirus victims are in the United States and it’s clear the fallout from the virus is going to get much worse before it gets better. 

‘I want America to understand: this week, it's going to get bad,’ the US surgeon general Dr Jerome Adams has said. Trump, who cares deeply about his legacy in US history as much as he cares about his public image, continues to watch as Wall Street falls down like a ton of bricks and as more depressing market indicators are published by America’s biggest financial firms. Investors appear unimpressed with the US coronavirus stimulus package. The Dow Jones is facing its worst month on month fall since the 1930s. Trump can no longer brag about the stock market as he has so often done in years past. The industrial index is at the same level today as it was when he first took the oath of office.

The economic projections for the next quarter are absolutely abysmal. JP Morgan’s chief economist predicts a 14 per cent contraction next quarter as a result of the virus. Morgan Stanley has gone further, writing to clients warning of a 30 per cent decrease in the US GDP over the next three months. James Bullard, the President of the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis, has thrown the 50 per cent figure in the public domain.

The numbers get uglier and uglier every day that shops remain closed and giant industries furlough additional workers to save whatever cash they have. Trump, who was going to base his re-election pitch to Americans this year on a booming US economy, recognises that the coronavirus is a political disaster for him. When big businesses see red, Trump sees red.

Trump is an impatient man. He is salivating at the prospect of a market rebound and is beginning to believe the advice of his public health experts is an obstacle to feeding his appetite. Social distancing is preventing people from getting back to work and stopping the economic metrics from rising to pre-coronavirus levels. When the 15 day stay-at-home guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expire this Sunday, Trump is going to have a decision to make: does he encourage Americans to reopen their shops and go back to their offices in order to keep the economy alive? Or does he play it conservatively and advise people to continue quarantining themselves?

If Trump had his way, tens of millions of Americans probably wouldn’t be stuck in their homes to begin with. Trump tipped his hand yesterday as to which way he is leaning, telling reporters at the White House that 'our country wasn’t built to be shut down... America will again and soon be open for business.' The federal government’s anaemic response to the coronavirus epidemic is evidence enough that Trump knows nothing whatsoever about public health or disaster management. The President long ago convinced himself that he knows what’s best at all times — professional medical advice from world-renowned scientists be damned. 

And right now, he sees an American economy is free-fall; a recession that could be even more damaging to the country than the one George W Bush and Barack Obama presided over; and Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, explaining to every American who tunes into his video chats that Trump is an existential threat to the health and well-being of the American Republic.

The responsible choice for Trump would be to follow Dr Anthony Fauci’s recommendation and preserve social distancing for at least another few weeks. After all, coronavirus can only survive if people cluster in groups, shake hands, and are otherwise social with one another like the good, old times.

Yet Trump has proven that the responsible choice is often the hardest one for him to make. It will be even harder when the world’s largest economy continues to tumble — and harder still when his name is soon on the ballot.