The news that President Trump (and the First Lady) have COVID-19 throws the political landscape into unknown territory. Because he is 74 years old, male and obese, there’s a 34% chance that he might die. However, he will obviously – unlike you and me – receive the best possible medical care. His odds will be better.
Still, he might meet his maker in a development that makes even the most hardened atheist wonder if there’s someone Up There. And even if he doesn’t, he’s going to come out of this seriously physically weakened. I know from personal experience. So what happens next?
This is a development that everybody believed impossible: it weakens him with his base. Not only is his stance that COVID-19 is no big deal now lying in tatters, the mere fact that he is sick and incapacitated and quarantine makes him look like less of a big man in the eyes of his right-wing testosterone-obsessed supporters. They hate nothing more than weakness. Trump understands that a strongman has to be, well, strong.
If Trump dies before November 3, it falls to the GOP to choose a replacement nominee. The Republican National Committee could simply go with the path of least resistance, Mike Pence. But Pence himself may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus as well due to his close proximity to Trump. And the general consensus is that he doesn’t have what it takes to win a presidential election. If Trump dies, I think Joe Biden will win automatically. But the Republicans will do their best, and they would more likely turn to an also-ran like Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.
What if Trump and Pence are both incapacitated? Then we get acting president Nancy Pelosi.
Of course, the odds are that Trump will not die. He will probably recover, more slowly than anyone will ever know. He will never quite be the same guy and he will not live as long as he would have otherwise. If he is reelected after a recount crisis of epic proportions, the man we see in the Oval Office will be diminished. Ironically, he will be weak physically as well as mentally. Unless Biden himself prevails, we will end up with a Republican Joe Biden.
So this is the way America ends, not with a bang but a whimper.