WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – To say President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis sent shockwaves through the political world might be an understatement.
As the White House scrambled Friday to appear “business as usual” and mixed messages were delivered Saturday about the president’s physical health, there are a number of key questions about how government will function and how the complexion of the presidential race might change.
Here are a few lingering unanswered questions that voters may want to keep an eye on:
How sick will the president get?
Perhaps the most significant question for both the election and the functioning of our nation is what lies ahead for the president’s personal health.
It’s now been confirmed that Trump was administered supplemental oxygen at the White House hours after being diagnosed with COVID-19 and before being flown to a military hospital. A person familiar with Trump’s condition said Trump had been given oxygen at the White House. As well, Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, says the president went through a “very concerning” period Friday.
Meadows says the 48 hours will be critical in terms of his care.
Trump carries both age and weight risk factors that increase the potential perils of COVID-19. Should the infection prove debilitating in any way, succession protocols would come into play and the future of the 2020 Presidential Campaign would become even more cloudy.
Is the president’s condition worse than reported?
Initial reports Friday morning were that the president was suffering very mild symptoms. As the day continued, we learned his condition was slowly worsening.
“This is serious,” an adviser to the president told CNN on Friday evening noting Trump was very fatigued and having some trouble breathing.
CNN reported White House officials had “serious concerns about Trump’s health.”
“Our fear is that things can change quick,” the adviser said.
President Trump’s doctor on Saturday painted a rosy picture of the president’s health as he remained hospitalized. But that assessment was immediately contradicted by a person familiar with Trump’s condition, who said the president was administered supplemental oxygen on Friday at the White House.
While one might expect Trump’s official doctors to fly an optimistic banner, his trip to Walter Reed Medical Center certainly raised alarms and concern.
“I wouldn’t struggle to care for the President in the White House when you can take him to really a very, very secure facility with world-class staff,” Dr. Jonathan Reiner told CNN about Walter Reed during a Friday interview. “But you would only do that if you felt that his respiratory status was deteriorating.”
Navy Commander Dr. Sean Conley declined to say when Trump had last been tested before he was confirmed to have COVID-19 late Thursday. He initially suggested that Trump was 72 hours into the diagnosis, putting the confirmation of the infection to Wednesday. Conley later clarified that Trump was administered an accurate test for the virus on Thursday afternoon, after White House aide Hope Hicks was confirmed to be positive and Trump exhibited unspecified “clinical indications” of the virus.
Will testing positive help or hurt Trump in the polls?
Polling on the election has remained relatively steady since mid-summer, with poll aggregators suggesting Biden has a lead in the 6 to 7 percent range nationally, roughly double the margin Hillary Clinton enjoyed in polling on Election Day 2016.
Common political science wisdom suggests that a candidate experiencing a personal emergency or suffering is likely to benefit from public sympathy, but Trump’s inconsistent and often dismissive statements around mask use and the threat posed by COVID-19 significantly complicates that prospect.
While so-called snap polls may give us some indication of how the public responds to the news relatively quickly, a noticeable change in national polling averages likely won’t be fully baked in until some time next week.
What will happen to the debates?
If you thought Tuesday night’s debate felt uncomfortable and disjointed, imagine watching it over Zoom. That plan is not on the table yet, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
The president and former Vice President are not due to meet again on the debate stage until October 15th. Still, it’s unclear how such a live event might stay on schedule with the president now in isolation and members of the RNC and Trump inner circle testing positive.
The Commission on Presidential Debates had been examining rule changes following Trump’s tactic of speaking over his opponent and Biden’s response insisting that his opponent “shut up” on Tuesday. At this point, a new plan has not been established. The New York Times reports that even next Wednesday’s Vice Presidential Debate has been thrown into limbo.
MSNBC reporter Sam Stein tweeted Friday that the campaign was moving planned live events to virtual offerings and that all previously announced events involving the first family were being temporarily postponed.