Consider this: President Trump just announced that he will head home to the White House on Monday night. There is no way in which this represents a rational move. But now, with Republicans hitched to an infected Trump, they have to hope that it doesn’t backfire, say, by requiring Trump to return to the hospital after a downturn.
And consider this: Because of Trump’s recklessness, we’re only just beginning to see how far the virus is spreading among Republicans. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany just announced that she has tested positive, bringing the total number of senior Republican officials and lawmakers who have recently announced contracting the virus to over a dozen.
With Republicans tied to Trump’s utter contempt for social distancing and his cultlike command that all Republicans treat the virus as largely a nonissue, they have to hope it won’t spread much deeper into their own ranks.
As it is, Trump’s announcement last Friday that he had tested positive already looked to be putting him and numerous down-ballot Republicans in deep trouble. It took him off the campaign trail for an unknown length of time after his already-disastrous debate. Trump trails Democratic nominee Joe Biden by eight points in national polling averages, and there is not a single battleground state where he has a lead.
As one GOP strategist told Politico: “The polls have dropped all last week everywhere, it just feels like the end is near.”
Now the madness is only intensifying. And with it, so is the uncertainty.
Republicans always feared this day would come, when Trump would become not just an erratic, divisive president but someone whose manifest unfitness for office would result in full-blown catastrophe.
They decided they had no choice but to stand behind him, and convinced themselves that it might work out well. It would be a crazy four years, but maybe Trump would grow into the job, and maybe retaining the support of a dwindling constituency would be enough to squeak out another election win or two.
Plenty of them went further and eagerly embraced Trump and Trumpism, too, while actively working to insulate him from accountability for all of his degradations. Now a new possibility has emerged: that this election could be not just bad for Republicans, but positively cataclysmic.
In the Senate, Republicans are working to hold on to their 53-47 advantage. When this election season began, only two seats looked very likely to flip: those of Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama and Republican Cory Gardner in Colorado.
But today, one seat after another has moved in the Democrats’ direction. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine trails in every poll, as does Sen. Thom Tillis (who has tested positive) in North Carolina and Sen. Martha McSally in Arizona, where a new poll from the New York Times and Siena College finds Trump trailing by eight points and McSally by 11 points.
Other races that weren’t supposed to be competitive now are. Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa is now trailing; that seat was considered a long shot for Democrats just a few months ago. GOP-held seats in Montana and Georgia could easily fall.
No incumbent exemplifies the current position of the GOP more than Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.). Four years ago, Graham was unrestrained in his contempt for Trump, calling him “unfit” and a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.”
But when Trump’s takeover of the party became inevitable, Graham reinvented himself as one of Trump’s most loyal advocates. The rewards were clear: regular conversations and frequent golf games with the president, and avoiding the wrath of his conservative constituency.
But now Graham is on the ropes. This week he was eviscerated in a debate by his Democratic opponent, Jaime Harrison. Polls now show the race an apparent dead heat. Graham has been reduced to going on Fox News to beg for money. All this after winning his last reelection race by 15 points.
With one month left to go, the madness could get much worse.
Trump is going home, claiming he feels a lot better. But Trump is now on steroids to control inflammation, and as Sanjay Gupta just said on CNN, this may be making him “artificially feel better than he actually is,” by “treating very much the symptoms, not the disease.”
As Gupta continued, this creates the risk of a “bounce” in a few days. “You want to be in a hospital at that point,” Gupta says.
Which raises the possibility of a return — notably, at a news conference Monday, Trump’s doctor, Sean Conley, refused to say whether Trump’s lungs have been damaged — and that would compound the political damage considerably.
Meanwhile, Conley also refused to say when Trump last tested negative. That has implications for how far Trump’s recklessness could end up spreading the disease. Officials in Washington fear that Trump’s potential super-spreader event last weekend — at which he introduced his Supreme Court nominee — may have spread more cases into D.C. than it first appeared.
And local officials in Ohio and in Minnesota have already said they’re struggling to contact-trace potential spread from Trump’s appearances in both states (the debate in Ohio; campaign stops in Minnesota) last week. With Trump’s doctor concealing basic information about his testing timetable, this could metastasize into a bigger scandal very quickly.
If Trump is the virus infecting the GOP, no one yet knows how far it will spread or how high the political body count will mount.