Here's what Trump's positive COVID-19 test means for the 2020 election campaign

Ledyard King and Rebecca Morin, USA TODAY
·5 min read

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump's positive COVID-19 test has upended the campaign schedule and strengthened a key message that Democratic challenger Joe Biden has been making: the virus is serious stuff.

For months, Trump has accused Biden of "hiding in his basement" while he resumed rallies and his campaign claimed it was knocking on a million doors a week.

Now the roles are reversed with Biden back on the trail, albeit in a socially distanced way, and Trump sidelined with the virus. And that could cost Trump heavily, said Dan Eberhart, an energy company executive and GOP fund-raiser.

"Trump is a high-energy president with a giant personality. Without his persona, the campaign is missing its energy source to run its (get-out-the-vote program) and cash machine," Eberhart wrote in an email to supporters Wednesday. "That’s a big disadvantage that limits Trump’s opportunities to get his message in front of viewers through paid media."

"Trump’s one advantage over Biden is that he generates lots of free earned media," Eberhart wrote. "He’s everywhere, all the time. Is he still going to be able to move the media like before if he’s quarantined? Probably not."

It's also unclear what will happen for the next presidential debate scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami as the president quarantines.

The Trump campaign has already cancelled a rally planned in Florida today.

Campaign manager Bill Stepien said previously announced events involving the president's participation are being moved on-line or postponed as are those involving members of the first family.

"All other campaign events will be considered on a case-by-case basis and we will make any relevant announcements in the days ahead," Stepien said in a statement

Aside from the Florida rally, the campaign had scheduled four others in the coming days: two in Wisconsin Saturday and two in Arizona (one Monday, the other Tuesday).

Vice President Mike Pence, who has tested negative for COVID-19, plans on resuming his scheduled campaign events, Stepien said.

More: President Trump has tested positive for COVID-19. What's the typical course of the illness?

Biden, meanwhile, is scheduled to visit Grand Rapids, Michigan Friday as part of a campaign stop. Biden, and his wife Jill, tested negative for COVID-19, Kevin O’Connor, the Biden's primary care physician, said in a statement distributed by the Biden campaign.

"I’m happy to report that Jill and I have tested negative for COVID," Biden wrote on Twitter. "Thank you to everyone for your messages of concern. I hope this serves as a reminder: wear a mask, keep social distance, and wash your hands."

After the news of Trump's test, Biden, along with his wife Jill, as well as staffers who attended Tuesday’s debate are being tested for COVID-19, according to NBC News.

Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, was tested Thursday for COVID-19, as part of the campaign's routine testing of principals, and tested negative.

During Tuesday's debate, Trump and Biden did not shake hands, came in from separate sides of the debate stage and their podiums were spaced out from each other. However, both candidates did not wear masks. Several people in the audience, such as First Lady Melania Trump, did not wear a mask while sitting in the audience during the 90 minute debate.

The Trump campaign also has canceled a planned fundraiser for 3:15 p.m. at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. His updated schedule shows just one event for today: a phone call at 12:15 on COVID support to vulnerable seniors.

And Eberhart said there are logistical concerns as well.

"Beyond the president’s own health concerns, this could really play havoc with his staff," he wrote. "All of the people he relies on daily could now be knocked out of commission by Covid. That puts a huge dent in his army. They are already cancelling events. The campaign has to figure out how to keep Trump in front of voters in these final weeks – not everyone is on Twitter. He’s also not able to appear at fundraisers, which hurts his ability to bring in big dollars."

But Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, a fierce Trump ally, said he he doesn't think the president's ability to help down-ticket Republicans will be hurt much.

More: President Donald Trump's coronavirus test result could alter his reelection campaign, undercut pandemic messaging

"He's done everything to help Republicans win and when the president comes in and supports a candidate, that makes a huge difference," Jordan said on FOX News' Fox Friends. "He will continue to do everything to help conservatives and Republicans across the country and continue to lead our party, just as he's done the last four years."

If he recovers quickly and is able to resume in-person campaigning, the COVID-19 diagnosis could undermine his messaging on the virus.

John Farmer, director of the Rutgers’ Eagleton Institute of Politics, said in a statement that he suspects that "campaign resources will be redirected to increased media presence and remote campaigning techniques will be developed" while the president is quarantining.

"Just as so many businesses and educational institutions have had to adapt to remoteness and have done so successfully, so the president's campaign will have to adapt," Farmer said. "I'm sure it will.”

The president has frequently mocked Biden and others for wearing a mask. He has rarely worn a mask in public and on several occasions has asked reporters to remove theirs in news conferences so he could better hear their questions.

Trump took Biden to task for the practice, which has been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public officials, during the first presidential debate in Cleveland earlier in the week.

More: Trump joins small group of world leaders who have tested positive for COVID-19

"I think masks are okay ... I have a mask right here," he said during the debate as he pulled a mask from his pocket.

Then the president poked fun at Biden: "I don’t wear a mask like him. Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from him and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen."

Contributing: Michael Collins, John Fritze

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 2020: What does Trump's positive COVID 19 test mean for the campaign?