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Trump diagnosis changes pandemic politics

Corey Friedman on

A month before Election Day, President Donald Trump's largest liability could become an asset.

In an early Friday tweet, the president said he and first lady Melania Trump had tested positive for COVID-19 and would immediately enter quarantine. Opponents couldn't contain their ghoulish glee.

The White House "has plenty of disinfectant you can ingest," Bishop Talbert Swan suggested on Twitter. And that's among the milder put-downs lobbed at the first family. Many are too vulgar to print in a family newspaper.

Jenna Wadsworth, a Democratic candidate for state agriculture commissioner in North Carolina, courted controversy with a flippant video message celebrating Trump's misfortune.

"On a scale of 1-10," Wadsworth asked, "is this your favorite or most favorite October surprise in the history of electoral politics?" She deleted the video from her social media accounts, but opponents saved copies.

Online dictionary searches for the German word "schadenfreude" -- "enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others" -- increased by 30,500% within 12 hours of Trump revealing his diagnosis, according to Merriam-Webster.

 

For Trump critics, the sense of irony was irresistible. The president's muddled messaging on masks and goading of governors to end coronavirus lockdowns eroded confidence in his administration's response to the pandemic.

A Quinnipiac poll released late last month showed 57% of likely voters don't believe Trump has been truthful about the virus. Just 37% of respondents considered the president to be a trustworthy source of public health information on COVID-19.

Trump's status as a coronavirus survivor could only increase his credibility, whether the brush with danger makes him a better pitchman for precautions like face coverings and social distancing, or whether he uses his recovery as a symbol of resilience and a metaphor for the nation.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden hammered Trump on the federal virus response during the candidates' first debate in Cleveland, thundering that "a lot of people died, and a lot more are going to die unless he gets a lot smarter a lot quicker."

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