a blog, newsletter, and kaleidoscope notebook about politics, the media, and culture
by tom bunting, a Real Journalist

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The Trump reelection campaign finds a new low

October 3, 2020 1:13 PM
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The Trump reelection campaign finds a new low

Let’s assume the President survives.

Despite how things may currently appear, Trump recovering from coronavirus seems like the likely option. As President of the United States, he has access to a level of medical care beyond anyone else in the world. The mortality rate for a coronavirus patient in his age range is around 8.6%. (Not adjusting for his risk factors or his better medical access.)

So say he lives. Then what?

Last weekend—which feels like approximately two years ago—police arrived at a very large house in South Florida. They found a woman bearing what officers described as bruises on her arm. She said that her husband “drinks and suffers from PTSD,“ and that she was worried he was going to hurt himself. He owned ten guns.

When police eventually restrained the man—shirtless and holding a beer—they identified him as Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager until his abrupt ouster in July. Parscale had risen through the ranks in the chaos of the 2016 general election campaign, running an ambitious and cutthroat digital operation that many (including Parscale) credit for Trump’s shocking victory. He was elevated to campaign manager for Trump’s reelection campaign in 2018, despite lacking any political experience before 2016. He spent his two years in charge building a hugely expensiveand hyper-self-confident operation that utterly failed to make use of Trump’s incumbency advantage. Along the way, he became immensely wealthy and increasingly famous, receiving numerous profiles that—even at their most critical—acknowledged the genius of his digital maneuvering. Long-simmering tension between Trump and Parscale came to ahead after a sparsely attended rally in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. Questions have been raised in the following months about the legality of Parscale’s enormous compensation as a campaign manager. He reportedly told friends prior to his arrest that he was under federal investigation.

So that’s one Trumpworld leader down. Parscale’s replacement, the Chris Christie wash-up Bill Stepien, is sick with coronavirus. That’s another. Hope Hicks, Trump’s close advisor, and communications specialist, also tested positive. Add her to the list. And while you’re at it, might as well throw Kellyanne Conway on there, since she’s sick and was campaign manager during the last stretch of the 2016 campaign. Trump and his inner-circle were on the heels of a busy week of travel when symptoms began to appear, leaving possible trails of infection in the Senate, White House, the tristate area donor base, and the Trump campaign headquarters in Virginia. There are likely more positive tests to come.

It’s stating the obvious to say that staff on political campaigns do not want their core leadership (and a good chunk of the substitute ranks) to be arrested or incapacitated with a deadly disease. Similarly obvious is that the Trump campaigns have always lived on the edge of disaster. Yet what is so striking about this moment is how thoroughly ruinous it appears to be to Trump’s reelection prospects. Not only is an outbreak of the disease he consistently ignored sweeping through his ranks, not only is his former campaign manager and digital guru in custody, but he is also in the hospital in an unclear state. At no point in the 2016 election, even in the swamp of the Access Hollywood fallout, were things this dire.

The theory of the Trump candidacy, from the beginning, is that Trump is his own greatest leader. How many times have we heard Trumpworld staffers say that Trump is always the de facto campaign manager? There are few things the President is objectively talented at; wiggling out of seemingly catastrophic situations through the correct combination of shamelessness and audaciousness is undoubtedly one of them.

Now, nearly 30 days to the election, the leader is gone, at least for the time being. It seems unlikely that a 74-year-old obese man will be able to fully recover from coronavirus in less than a month. Many of the people closest to Trump, the Death Star builders and the 2016 veterans, are also otherwise incapacitated.

What is left?