The 2020 election will be the COVID-19 election. Voters will almost certainly be asked to condemn or endorse President Trump’s handling of the pandemic — and quite possibly while the virus is in the midst of a fall relapse.
Any year would have been a bad year for a pandemic. But a presidential election year makes it even worse. As elected officials at all levels of government scramble for resources and weigh complex decisions on how to respond, the electoral implications introduce a thorny calculus: How will it all play in November?
Here is the crudest of calculations: If Democrats can successfully associate the substantial harm wreaked by COVID-19 with Trump, they win in November. But if Trump and the Republicans can deflect enough blame elsewhere and Trump gets credit for making things less bad than they could have been, Trump will win.
Democrats have done the obvious so far: Pin all the blame on Trump by highlighting how he initially downplayed the virus and blasting his subsequent stumbles. They’ve also tried to position themselves as the party of good governance. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for instance, announced the formation of a new select committee that will oversee how the Trump administration manages the $2 trillion economic stimulus package, with a focus on waste, fraud and abuse.