The White House said Friday that President Donald Trump was suffering “mild symptoms” of COVID-19, as the virus that has killed more than 205,000 Americans spread to the highest reaches of the U.S. government just a month before the presidential election.
The announcement came in a Trump tweet about 1 a.m. after he had returned from an afternoon political fundraiser .
Local Republicans and Democrats expressed mixed degrees of sympathy but harbored little concern that the president’s diagnosis will affect November’s election one way or the other.
First Lady Melania Trump also tested positive, the president said, prompting concern that the White House or even Trump himself might have spread the virus further. The Trumps’ son Barron, who lives at the White House, tested negative.
Both Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris have tested negative, their campaign said. Vice President Mike Pence tested negative for the virus Friday morning and “remains in good health,” his spokesman said.
Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who was with him and many others on Saturday and has been on Capitol Hill meeting with lawmakers, also tested negative, the White House said.
“Any talk of this affecting President Trump or the election is all speculation at this point,” Cleburne Republican Elizabeth Victory said. “I think the president and first lady will be fine. They’ll get through this, be stronger for it and may well come out as role models from their handling of it. I think the rest of us should, as St. Padre Pio said, pray, hope and don’t worry.’”
Victory dismissed claims that Trump contracted the virus in part at least because he down played the threat of it early on and failed to exercise recommended safety precautions.
“Any wise person would have done what Trump did when the virus started,” Victory said. “Because no one knew at the time what we were dealing with and the president didn’t want to unduly alarm people. Those people arguing otherwise are Monday quarterbacking.”
Cleburne Democrat Jim Garvin, on the other hand, labeled the Trump’s diagnoses unfortunate but said they have no one to blame but themselves.
“Because they defy all logic,” Garvin said of the first couple. “If you defy logic, it’s going to come back to bite you in the rear end. It’s sad, but whenever stupidity reigns over intelligence we end up with our country in a very precarious position. Then you have 25 percent of the country following in his footsteps just as ignorant as him and defying logic. The tragedy is that had we united as a country at the beginning of this virus we might well have all this behind us by now. It breaks my heart to see how we’re so divided in this country over something as silly as face masks. But Trump loves this stuff and eats it up. His middle name is chaos.”
Victory agreed partially on the mask issue though likely from a different angle.
“Masks have become a bully pulpit for so many,” Victory said. “That’s something everyone has to decide for themselves. Whether this will change the presidents behavior toward those questions, I don’t know.”
Johnson County Democratic Party Chairwoman Linda Brown predicts no major change from the news.
“I don’t know that this affects the election one way or the other,” Brown said. “It’s almost cliche though that Trump made fun of people for wearing masks and now he has [COVID-19]. That’s tacky though. I don’t like to hit someone when they’re down and, of course, we feel bad for them.”
Johnson County Republican Party Chairwoman Robin Wilson also predicts no major effect on the election.
“I think most people, Republican, Democrat, have made their minds up who they’re going to vote for by now,” Wilson said.
Wilson also dismissed any notions that Trump brought it on himself.
“I’ve heard all that talk,” Wilson said. “Just childish, that’s not even a grown up response. That’s just stuff people put out there to stir controversy and start a gossip wave.”
Diagnosis aside, Wilson predicts Trump in a landslide come November.
“We’ve seen so many people coming in to register, new voters, and even more than we saw in 2016,” Wilson said. “They’re not looking at Trump the man. They’re looking at what he’s done the past three and a half years, which are good things and promises kept. They’re comparing that to the disarray of the other party.”
Wilson likewise dismisses polls pointing toward a Biden victory.
“I’ve never put stock in polls from Democrats or Republicans,” Wilson said. “They’re almost always only beneficial to the people who set them up.”
Texas Wesleyan University Associate Professor of Political Science Michelle Payne said the COVID diagnosis may benefit Trump despite the argument that most voters have already made up their minds.
“However, we know that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who became seriously ill, actually received a bump up in his ratings following his ordeal,” Payne said. “The Trump campaign might work towards that same end for President Trump, as there likely remains a population of voters open to persuasion.
Provided Trump’s COVID-19 case remains mild, the president could follow Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s example, Payne said.
“[Bolsonaro] continued to govern during his ordeal and used his “mild experience” to bolster his rhetoric,” Payne said. “It is not a far stretch of the imagination for President Trump to do the same. I see this as a real concern for all persons, regardless of partisan affiliation, a concern beyond the parameters of the election.
“On the other hand, if a voter’s biggest concern is the pandemic, their concerns might be alleviated if Trump can spin this unfortunate event to his advantage by showing a full recovery and tweeting the whole time his is recuperating.”
Dr. Matthew Wilson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University also sees several possible effects on Trump’s campaign.
“The argument is that most people already know how they’re going to vote, especially this late in the election,” Wilson said. “But, for most voters, that was also true a year ago. At this point, with or without COVID, there’s a relatively small number of persuadable voters, maybe 5-7 percent. It might, however, affect mobilization efforts towards those voters who may stay at home instead of voting. Those people who know who they’d vote for but who may or may not actually show up to vote.
“But what this also does is cut into Trump’s preferred rhythm of big, loud boisterous rallies and dampen that. It also puts COVID back center stage, which is not something Trump is strong on vis-a-vis Biden. He’d rather be focusing on the economy, law and order and those type issues.”
Hours before Trump announced he had contracted the virus, the White House said a top aide who had traveled with him during the week had tested positive.
“Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately,” Trump tweeted just before 1 a.m. “We will get through this TOGETHER!”
While House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Friday tried to assure the public that Trump was conducting business as usual, even as he confirmed that the White House knew Hope Hicks, the aide, had tested positive before Trump attended a Thursday fundraiser in New Jersey.
“I can tell you in terms of Hope Hicks, we discovered that right as Marine One was taking off yesterday,” said Meadows. Several staffers were pulled from the trip, but Trump did not cancel, even after having been exposed to Hicks.
Many White House and senior administration officials were undergoing tests Friday, but the full scale of the outbreak around the president may not be known for some time as it can take days for an infection to be detectable by a test. Officials with the White House Medical Unit were tracing the president’s contacts.
Trump was considering how he might address the nation or otherwise communicate with the American people Friday, an official added.
The president’s physician said in a memo that Trump and the first lady, who is 50, “are both well at this time” and “plan to remain at home within the White House during their convalescence.”
In a tweet Friday morning, Biden said he and his wife “send our thoughts to President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump for a swift recovery. We will continue to pray for the health and safety of the president and his family.”
World leaders offered the president and first family their best wishes after their diagnosis, as governments used their case as a reminder for their citizens to wear masks and practice social distancing measures.
Trump’s announcement came hours after he confirmed that Hicks, one of his most trusted and longest-serving aides, had been diagnosed with the virus Thursday. Hicks began feeling mild symptoms during the plane ride home from a rally in Minnesota on Wednesday evening, according to an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose private information. She was isolated from other passengers aboard the plane, the person said.
Hicks had been with Trump and other senior staff aboard Marine One and Air Force One en route to that rally and had accompanied the president to Tuesday’s presidential debate in Cleveland, along with members of the Trump family. The Trump contingent removed their masks during the debate, in violation of the venue rules.
It is unclear where the Trumps and Hicks may have caught the virus, but in a Fox interview, Trump seemed to suggest it may have been spread by someone in the military or law enforcement in greetings.
The White House began instituting a daily testing regimen for the president’s senior aides after earlier positive cases close to the president. Anyone in close proximity to the president or vice president is also tested every day, including reporters.
Trump is far from the first world leader to test positive for the virus, which previously infected Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who spent a week in the hospital, including three nights in intensive care. Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was hospitalized last month while fighting what he called a “hellish” case of COVID-19.