How will COVID-19 election play out?
I’ve never seen a presidential election year like this one. No one has. There are plenty of issues that divide the major parties, but one issue that no one was talking about only a couple of months ago will dominate the presidential race.
How well did President Trump and his administration do in limiting the virus when it arrived, helping states battle it as it spread, and reviving the economy as the crisis passed?
There are arguably an infinite number of variables for how this plays out. But here are three scenarios.
By mid-spring the number of COVID-19 cases are in steep decline, and life starts to return to some semblance of normal as the vacation summer season approaches.
The economy begins to recover as quickly as it declined. Stocks remain on the upswing, retirement accounts are growing again. The $2.2 trillion economic relief bill, and perhaps subsequent emergency legislation, has proved successful in buffeting most businesses and individuals from fiscal calamity.
All the pent-up cash from long weeks stuck at home starts to get spent. Restaurants and shops reopen and rehire, the unemployment rate sinks rapidly. As fall and the election approaches, a return to the pre-pandemic economy is in full swing. Trump claims credit for leading the country through one of its most difficult periods.
Democratic candidate Joe Biden makes the argument things would not have gotten that bad to begin with if the Trump administration had handled the outbreak better at the start. He doesn’t get much political traction.
Though Trump loses by landslides in California, Oregon, Washington, New York, southern New England and other liberal bastions — for a second time denying him a popular vote victory — he again wins enough swing states to handily capture the electoral college vote. Republicans retain control of the Senate, while Democrats narrowly hold the House.
COVID-19 lingers on. Though some sections of the country start to reopen, hot spots and the need for social distancing continue. Even in areas where residents get the all clear, they remain reluctant to gather in large groups. With their bottom lines damaged and their debt increased during the crisis, they’re not spending.
Unemployment remains in double digits. Business failures are massive. Biden makes the case the president, who once said the coronavirus was no big deal, bungled the nation’s initial response and made matters far worse. Voters listen.
They are in no mood to hear Trump’s claim that he is a victim of things that happened outside his control, and that not for his great leadership it would have been worse. He tries to shift blame to a lack of preparation by the Obama administration, to the World Health Organization, to China. He fails.
Biden wins a decisive victory and Democrats control the House and Senate.
The economy slowly but surely recovers as the initial wave of the pandemic passes. Trump gets a boost by the news that the outlook is trending in the right direction. Polls show the political divisions remain very much as they were before COVID-19. The president has a solid floor of 45% support, but a low ceiling that he can’t seem to push into majority territory.
To get re-elected, Trump will have to thread the needle again and win in the right places to capture the electoral college. In those places, every vote will prove critical.
But as the days shorten and grow colder, the nation gets an October surprise, the dreaded return of the coronavirus with signs of regional outbreaks. Trump seeks to downplay the reports, noting that such an occurrence was expected, his administration is ready to respond.
Biden accuses Trump of repeating the sins of his past by again not taking the situation seriously enough.
With the election approaching and the outbreak increasing, Democrats express fears the epidemic will suppress votes in the more densely populated, harder hit urban centers, which tend to vote Democrat. They call for expanded use of absentee and mail-in ballots, and extended polling hours to accommodate long lines resulting from a shortage of willing poll workers.
Republicans resist, with both sides accusing the other of using the renewed crisis to their political advantage. Courts are asked to intercede.
The election is a close one. Both candidates claim victory, pointing to voting irregularities to make their case. A dispirited country grows more divided.
Russian president for life Vladimir Putin again denies his intelligence services meddled in the U.S. election. He contends a U.S. republic born of the 18th century has proved dysfunctional in the current one.
He is lying on the former point. But is arguably right on the latter.
Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.
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