The Superspreader in Chief

Donald Trump's Re-Election Chances Infected by COVID-19

Donald Trump appeared to be immune to anything that might ail him – until he failed in the battle against the coronavirus. It could very well cost him re-election in three weeks.

By Ullrich Fichtner, Veronika Hackenbroch, René Pfister und Christoph Scheuermann

United States President Donald Trump: America's First Patient Foto: MANDEL NGAN / AFP / Getty Images


Before Donald Trump himself became vulnerable, he was more than happy to label entire countries as "shitholes.” He disparaged Mexicans as rapists and used his Twitter account to indiscriminately denigrate TV hosts, actors, athletes and officials with just about any adjective he could muster. 

He demanded that members of Congress be removed from their seats, he insulted Senators, he attacked the justice system, mocked science, parodied people with disabilities and defiled the memory of fallen soldiers. For the longest time, none of this seemed to matter much.

Before Trump’s grip on power began to slip, he aggressively undermined the Constitutionally protected rights to freedom of the press and freedom of expression. He called facts into question and missed no opportunity to spread divisive propaganda. 

He called neo-Nazis in Charlottesville "good people” and, during his recent debate with Democratic challenger Joe Biden that was broadcast to 70 million television viewers, he voiced his apparent support for the far-right, racist "Proud Boys” movement. 

He has threatened to jail critics and opponents, and he has recently focused his attention on reviling mail-in voting, claiming with no proof whatsoever that it opens the door to electoral fraud. None of this has hurt him over all these years.

Before the foundation of Trump's power began to crumble, he separated the children of migrants on the Mexican border from their parents and had them locked in cages. 

He opened up protected areas in the Arctic for oil and gas drilling. He withdrew from the Paris climate deal and denied there is any such thing as man-made global warming, even as fires raged for weeks on the West Coast. Until recently, it seemed like nothing could harm him, like he was immune to everything.

In the middle of a global pandemic, the American president cut U.S. funding for the World Health Organization, he instigated trade conflicts with allies in Europe and North America and he flirted with dictators in the Middle and Far East. 

He drove his country into isolation in NATO and the United Nations. As a businessman, he pursued tax avoidance to an astonishing extent and accumulated debts like a con man. And despite all his promises, he never separated his private business from government affairs.

And yet for the longest time, none of this has been enough to shake his hopes for re-election on Nov. 3. It took the past 10 to 14 days for a cascade of events to finally diminish and perhaps even destroy Trump’s chances of victory.

In these past two weeks, a lot has happened even by the standards of the recent news cycles we have seen coming out of the U.S. Two weeks ago, the New York Times published its revelations about Trump’s tax records, destroying his legend of being a successful businessman and documenting his dangerous dependence on financial backers. 

The first TV debate early last week was so unprofessional, chaotic and, on Trump’s side, vituperative that it seems almost surprising that the 74-year-old Trump didn't physically attack the 77-year-old Biden.

Still, the New York Times revelations and the debate presumably wouldn’t have been a huge problem for Trump. His voters, after all, have already price in such chicanery. 

Nope, what it took was the kind of plot twist that even the best screenwriters would have blushed at: Trump, who has downplayed the coronavirus pandemic from the beginning, came down with COVID-19 - as obvious a development as it was unexpected. 

Covincapacitated

It seems likely that the virus forced its way into the White House around two weeks ago – and nine days ago, the president of the United States, one of the most sheltered people in the world, tested positive for the very disease he had been playing down for months. 

He had to be hospitalized for several days and he was treated with a cocktail of strong medications – all because of an illness that he repeatedly compared to a seasonal flu. 

The flu,though, wouldn't have had what it takes to finish Trump off politically. This virus, though, does – even if he completely recovers. After all, the president badly underestimated his opponent. And he wasn't immune.

If Trump fails on election day, and current polls indicate that he will, his management of the coronavirus pandemic will turn out to have been the decisive factor. If he fails, it will be because he didn’t take the virus seriously, instead trying to leverage all the presidential power at his disposal to transform public health into a partisan issue. 

Even after catapulting the pandemic to the top of the national agenda by getting infected with it himself, Trump is still trying to play the virus down. Since testing positive, America’s First Patient has performed terribly in dealing with the new situation.

He has since fallen far behind in polls in the swing states that will determine the election. In Michigan, Biden has an eight-point lead in the polls. He’s ahead by seven points in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and by four in Florida. 

Biden even stands a chance in Arizona, which has long been firmly in the hands of the Republicans. It’s remarkable how clearly voters over the age of 65 throughout the country are turning away from Trump. Four years ago, a majority of them voted for him.

Of course, things could still shift in the president’s favor and a lot can still happen with three weeks left to go before the vote, but Trump’s prospects for re-election are shrinking.

His election campaign team just recently scaled back TV ad buys in many states in the Midwest, another indication that the president sees his chances there dwindling. Trump’s favorite pollster, 

Rasmussen, sees him 12 points behind Biden in national surveys. In the national average of surveys compiled by the data analysts at FiveThirtyEight, Biden has held at least a six-point lead since June. On Friday, however, that lead hit 10 points.

Exacerbating His Worst Traits

The infection and the fact that his wife and many of his closest staff members also got sick could have made Trump more reflective and perhaps even a little more sympathetic. 

And things did quiet down a bit when Trump first went to the hospital. But since the weekend, he has been  screaming into the void more than ever. On some days, it has seemed as though the steroids he has been treated with have produced the side effect of exacerbating his worst traits.

Trump fans and their opponents in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Oct. 3: "Don't let coronavirus control you." Foto: Apu Gomes / AFP


His return to the White House from the Walter Reed Military Hospital by helicopter was carefully staged for primetime, yet another act in the endless spectacle of his toxic masculinity. But suddenly, his solemn strides, his military salutes, his thumbs up and raised chin all missed their mark. For many, his return didn't trigger relief, but dread.

The images, carefully captured with a phalanx of cameras, were intended to tell a story of strength. But they didn't. 

Trump instead seemed like an out-of-place buffoon, the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time, a clown at the center of power who could be counted on to do anything but manage of the biggest crisis America has had to face in its recent history. In summoning up all his will to display his power, it suddenly became clear that he didn't have any.

Unintentionally, the images revealed that his power is completely divorced from responsibility, that he has no idea how to wield the power he holds, that he is only ever looking for his own benefit, even if it is a global pandemic.

Crude Mistakes

The mistakes he is now making are crude ones. His act of demonstratively pulling his mask off while standing on the Truman Balcony was seen as a gesture of irresponsibility. Trump, after all, was likely still contagious, just as he was one day earlier when he had his Secret Service detail drive him around in front of the hospital to ensure he would appear on TV.

He seems completely indifferent to the fact that he is currently putting all the people he meets in danger. And that anyone who has anything to do with him should actually be heading directly into quarantine. Trump seems to believe his own lies about the harmlessness of the virus. 

With that attitude, though, he is going to have trouble getting a majority of Americans to back him. It’s an attitude that has led to even more mistakes.

Once back at work, the U.S. president didn’t stop for a second for a bit of calm reflection about his own situation or that of his country. Instead, he grabbed for his smartphone and sent a video message to the world, one that millions of relatives of coronavirus victims were likely to find offensive: "Don’t let coronavirus control you,” the president said. "Don't be afraid of it."

Trump's illness has now given even more Americans pause: Perhaps there is, after all, a need for a change in strategy? 

How, for example, can you explain the fact that the U.S. only accounts for 4 percent of the global population, but fully 20 percent of the worldwide deaths from COVID-19? 

How did the country manage to reach the exorbitantly high number of 210,000 dead? 

How does that jibe with Trump’s mantra that his government has done a "fantastic job” in handling the coronavirus outbreak? 

And what if Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute for Infectious Diseases, is right with his warning that there may be another 190,000 deaths in the country before this is over?

Trump Never Took Virus Seriously

Even though he was informed of gravity of the situation very early on, Trump has never taken the pandemic seriously - and that’s now coming back to haunt him. His national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, warned as far back as January that the pandemic would be "the greatest national security threat to his presidency.” 

At the time, the U.S. had only a few confirmed infections, so Trump likely didn’t even think to take the warning seriously. He shifted to trivializing it, playing it down, denying it, wishful thinking and false hopes.

In mid-February, Trump said something that he would repeat on many occasions: "I think it’s going to work out fine. I think when we get into April, in the warmer weather, that has a very negative effect on that and that type of virus. So, let’s see what happens, but I think everything is going to work out fine.”

A few weeks later, as the number of infections in the U.S. went through the roof, he announced he would quickly lift existing lockdown measures and reopen the country entirely by Easter in April. The governors who followed the Trump line turned their states into pandemic hotspots. Others who refused were verbally abused by the White House and threatened with cuts in federal funding.

The president's helicopter "Marine One" on its way to Walter Reed Hospital (on Friday, Oct. 2, with patient Donald Trump on board): "Sicker than was officially admitted."



The president's helicopter "Marine One" on its way to Walter Reed Hospital (on Friday, Oct. 2, with patient Donald Trump on board): "Sicker than was officially admitted." Foto: POLARIS / laif


In March, Trump openly admitted to investigative reporter Bob Woodward that he was well aware of the dangers of the pandemic and that he had deliberately trivialized them. "I wanted to always play it down, because I don’t want to create a panic,” Trump said. 

Citing legendary British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Trump is still trying to sell that today as the responsible approach of a far-sighted leader. More likely, though, is that Trump was merely worried about what the disease could do to the economy and how it might affect his prospects for re-election.

Instead of doing all he could to contain the virus, as Churchill certainly would have done, Trump continued to downplay its effects in the hope that more positive messages would somehow keep the economy afloat. 

The Washington Post sifted through Trump’s appearances and statements for remarks that trivialized the coronavirus and found 138 such statements between January and today. Thins like: "It’s going to disappear. One day, it's like a miracle, it will disappear."

But that miracle isn’t going to happen. Instead, a brutal reality is unfolding in the U.S., one that is partly due to the White House’s failure to implement a disease-prevention policy. According to one study, tens of thousands of lives could have been saved in the U.S. if a mask requirement had been introduced on April 1 for restaurant and retail employees.

Absurd Consequences

Instead, Trump continues to mock people who wear masks. Early on in the pandemic, he once said: "I don’t know, somehow sitting in the Oval Office behind that beautiful Resolute Desk — the great Resolute Desk — I think wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens, I don’t know. Somehow, I don’t see it for myself.”

Such statements set the tone.

The president continued to set a bad example and defined the attitude that was expected of hardcore Republicans. Instead of following the advice of his experts, who had been recommending that masks be worn since April, Trump managed to turn masks - an effective measure in combatting the pandemic – into a partisan issue.

The absurd consequences can be seen today in America: Whereas few people go out into the streets without a mask, let alone enter a restaurant, in Democratic strongholds like Washington, D.C., or New York, in Republican America, a hearty handshake without a mask is considered a sign that a person hasn’t somehow been misled by the liberal wimps on the East and West Coasts.

Under Trump’s leadership, the latest COVID hotspot is the White House, which has been largely abandoned since last week. The majority of the hundreds of employees who come to the office on normal days are now in quarantine or are working from home.

After the second in command of the U.S. Coast Guard tested positive, almost the entire senior military leadership, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including the country’s top military leader, Mike Milley, had to go into quarantine on Tuesday for safety reasons. 

By Thursday, at least 20 people from the inner circle of Donald and Melania Trump, both of whom have COVID-19, had tested positive for the coronavirus, including many close advisers to the president. That, too, is Trump's responsibility.


Biden supporters in Miami: One overview of polls shows Trump trailing his Democratic opponent by 12 points Foto: Chandan Khanna / AFP


In the months since the outbreak of the pandemic, Trump has created an atmosphere in the White House in which mask wearers are made to look like borderline traitors, politically correct wusses. 

Among the few who resisted Trump’s dictate were Matthew Pottinger, a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal and current security adviser on China issues, and Olivia Troye, who was part of the coronavirus task force led by Vice President Mike Pence until August, when she resigned in frustration. "You were looked down upon when you would walk by with a mask,” Troye told the New York Times.

Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader in the Senate who has been loyal to Trump throughout has now distanced himself from the president on masking up. 

"I actually haven’t been to the White House since August the 6th,” he said on Thursday, "because my impression was their approach to how to handle this was different than mine and what I insisted that we do in the Senate, which is to wear a mask and practice social distancing.”

Error-Prone Tests

In September, the president once address a reporter with the news agency Reuters by saying, "If you don't take it off, you're very muffled. So, if you would take it off, it would be a lot easier.” At the same time, Trump convinced himself and his people that everything was safe because the White House had a rigid testing regime.

There was indeed a lot of testing, but they relied on an error-prone rapid test. And the only staffers who received daily tests were those who came in direct contact with the president. 

In retrospect, the infection control plan concocted by the White House seems about as sophisticated as something a child would conceive. It didn’t work. By July, when National Security Adviser O’Brien was infected, it became clear how far the virus had already advanced into the core of the government in Washington.

With liberal Washington residents growing increasingly cautious, the White House was starting to look more like a clubhouse of corona-deniers in the administration. Trump Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany gave almost daily press conferences in which the symbolism could not have been any clearer: 

In the White House Press Room, reporters wore face masks and plastic gloves, but at the podium stood a spokesperson who seldom appeared with a mask. McEnany is now among those infected.

President Trump with coronavirus advisers (taskforce cordinator Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci): In Trump's world, there is no such thing as reliable information. Foto: Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post / Getty Images


It is quite possible that she, like several others apparently, became infected at an event on Sept. 26, at a time when Trump - initially imperceptibly – began losing control over his own messaging. On that Saturday, the president proudly presented jurist Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy left behind by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. 

Ironically, Trump and his strategists saw the Rose Garden gathering as a way of finally changing the subject away from the infuriating pandemic and replacing it with a success story. But the plan backfired.

The garden party soon ended up in the headlines for other reasons. Before long, guest after guest began receiving a positive coronavirus diagnosis. Republican Senators Mike Lee from Utah and Thom Tillis from North Carolina came down with COVID-19, as did close White House adviser Kellyanne Conway and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who had helped Trump prepare for his first debate.

White House Rejected Contact Tracing

There is no incontrovertible proof that they became infected in the Rose Garden, and it is likely that we'll never know for sure, but photos of the event show guests embracing and exchanging pecks on the cheek. 

Nevertheless, when the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offered to take over contact tracing for White House staffers who had become infected, it was rejected. The White House, it seems, prefers not to know.

What is clear, however, is that Trump will stop at nothing for a good show, even if it puts lives at risk. That may sound polemical, but it’s really just an accurate description of reality. 

When the president held a campaign rally on June 20 in a Tulsa, Oklahoma, sports arena, he did so without any apparent considerations for hygiene or pandemic prevention measures. 

Thousands of Trump supporters crammed into the arena as though there was no pandemic at all, even though the U.S. president has known for months that the potentially deadly virus can be transmitted through the air.

Indeed, each of the rallies he has held in recent months was little more than a lunatic experiment in the heart of a pandemic hotspot - likely with deadly consequences. In Oklahoma, former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain was in the audience. 

Like the vast majority of those present, he was wearing no mask. Sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with other Trump fans, Cain wrote on Twitter: "Having a fantastic time." 

Nine days later, the 74-year-old tested positive for the coronavirus, and four weeks after that, he was dead, having succumbed to complications from the infection. It is impossible to know for sure if Cain contracted the virus at the Trump event in Tulsa. 

But it is all but certain that the infection numbers in the city jumped in part because of the event – at least according to the city's top health official.

Nevertheless, Trump showed no indication that he might be willing to forego such large events. On the contrary, he continued making almost daily appearances before live audiences, both large and small, right up until last Friday, when he announced his and Melania's coronavirus infections on Twitter. 

It was almost as though he thought the laws of virology didn't apply to him and his supporters.

Criminal Negligence?

Even the day before he announced his positive test result, Trump played host at his golf club in Bedminster to around 200 wealthy donors, who paid several thousand dollars – even up to $250,000 – to dine and speak with the president and get their picture taken with him. 

Doing so, of course, was much more dangerous than they likely knew, and they certainly would have heard nothing about their potential for exposure from the White House.

After all, the president already knew by the time he arrived in Bedminster that Hope Hicks, a senior Trump adviser, had become infected with the virus, one of the first positive cases in the president's inner circle. 

They had been traveling together in Minnesota that Wednesday when Hicks began showing symptoms. On the flight back to Washington on Air Force One, Hicks reportedly isolated herself from the others.

Is the U.S. president a superspreader? Can one accuse him of criminal negligence for causing bodily harm? It is almost impossible to comprehend that the White House has shown zero interest in learning more about the outbreak in the innermost circle of power – that it isn't even clear when Trump actually came down with the virus.

All of the information provided about the world's most famous COVID-19 patient has been imprecise and contradictory – potentially also edited for political messaging. 

When Trump was sent to the hospital, his own chief of staff, Mark Meadows, described his condition as being much more critical than did his doctor, who said the president was exhibiting only mild symptoms. In Trump's world, there is no such thing as reliable information. 

Clemens Wendtner, chief physician at München Klinik Schwabing, a hospital in Munich, believes that he was "sicker than was officially admitted." It is a belief that seems confirmed by the list of medications that Trump was given. 

The antibody cocktail from the pharmaceutical company Regeneron that was administered to the president hasn't even been approved yet, with studies continuing into its efficacy and safety. 

The fact that his doctors were ready to prescribe him the medication despite the possible risks involved, and that he was apparently willing to try it out, would seem to indicate that his condition was more critical than the White House has been willing to admit.

The second medication he was prescribed, remdesivir, which inhibits viral replication, also hints at a more serious infection than has been publicly described. In the U.S., the intravenously administered drug is only approved for patients who have been hospitalized. 

Studies have shown that the drug has been able to speed up recovery times from 18 days to 12 days among severely ill patients receiving oxygen. For those with light symptoms, by contrast, the drug has no effect.

Medical experts are furthermore unsettled by the fact that Trump also received dexamethasone. "Dexamethasone primarily helps COVID-19 patients who are seriously ill," says Torsten Feldt, infectiologist and chief physician at the University Hospital of Dusseldorf. 

With less serious infections where supplemental oxygen isn’t necessary, it can even be harmful, he says. The drug inhibits the body's immune reaction, thus preventing a cytokine storm, the harmful overreaction of the immune system that is the cause of death for many COVID-19 patients.

The fact that Trump received this drug relatively early in the course of the disease and without having been placed on a respirator led to a fair amount of speculation among doctors. Did he perhaps contract the disease much earlier than claimed? 

Did he secretly receive oxygen? Or was Trump prescribed the medication to make him feel better so he could get back on the campaign trail more quickly?

One well-known side-effect of dexamethasone is the - at least temporary – improvement of the patient's mood and general feeling of well-being. "You can get almost any patient out of bed for a short time with dexamethasone," says Wendtner. 

"We call it the Lazarus effect." He says he has also heard from his own patients that the drug makes them feel 20 years younger, as Trump himself tweeted from the hospital. "The drug elevates your self-esteem," Wendtner says. Coming down, though, is more difficult, he adds.

Trump Has Badly Miscalculated

But as uncertain as the true state of Trump's health may be, experts are united in their verdict concerning the president's catastrophic pandemic response. The well-respected New England Journal of Medicine even broke with its 208-year tradition of refraining from political commentary. 

In the most recent issue, the journal's editors harshly criticize America's "current political leaders." Without explicitly naming Trump, they take the kid gloves off, writing: "Anyone else who recklessly squandered lives and money in this way would be suffering legal consequences."

Trump, the sick man of the White House, has apparently badly miscalculated as his term comes to an end. His strategy of presenting himself as the virile antithesis of challenger Joe Biden has disintegrated. 

Events, after all, have now clearly proven the propriety of the campaign strategy chosen by Biden, who has largely campaigned by video from his Delaware home since the beginning of the pandemic and has only reluctantly taken part in live events.

His was the rational, proper response to a deadly pandemic. Trump's attempts to paint Biden's behavior as proof of his weakness have boomeranged. Instead, it is Trump himself who now looks irresponsible and irrational, while "Sleepy Joe," in Trump's parlance, looks trustworthy and reliable.

Many of Trump's histrionic appearances now appear in a different, more malicious light. The fact that he broke with tradition by using the White House as the backdrop for his Republican convention propaganda show in August remains unforgotten. 

Now, though, it is all the more apparent that he - just as he did during the announcement of his Supreme Court nomination of Barrett 14 days ago – unnecessarily put the lives of many people at risk. How can someone serve the public good when he doesn't even care about the health of those closest to him?

Trump had plenty of opportunities to prevent this impression and to get a better handle on the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control has for decades been the gold standard when it comes to fighting epidemics worldwide, and Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, enjoys widespread respect from both sides of the political spectrum.

Indeed, Fauci would be a gift to any president finding himself faced with a dangerous pandemic; his expertise as a virologist is undisputed. Early on in his career, he developed a therapy for deadly autoimmune diseases, and in the 1980s, he was one of the leading scientists in the effort to better understand HIV. 

More than anything, though, the 79-year-old has the ability to produce simple and useful explanations for complicated medical issues.

Early on in the coronavirus pandemic, Fauci spoke with Trump almost daily, and during his appearances with the president, his message was the same as that being communicated by virologists around the world: keep your distance, wash your hands and limit contact with others. He also warned against the premature resumption of normal day-to-day activities.

But his support for even these obvious precautions was enough to get on Trump's bad side. In April, the president retweeted a post written by a failed Republican Congressional candidate that included the hashtag #FireFauci. 

In mid-July, a memo from the White House Press Office was leaked which described how best to discredit Fauci in public. It made it look as though the president wasn't waging war against the virus, but against logic and those who would espouse it.

Breathtaking Irresponsibility

Trump still hasn't dared to fire Fauci, likely because he still has enough political instinct to understand that getting rid of a scientist who has served under six presidents wouldn't be the best look for him. 

But his treatment of the expert virologist has reflected the full breadth of Trump's breathtaking irresponsibility, his inability to set the right priorities and his jealousy of anyone and everyone with whom he must share the spotlight. 

Ever since he himself has contracted COVID-19, it has become more apparent than ever that the president is completely lacking in rationality and possesses no compassion whatsoever. Despite spending his days posting a constant stream of vitriol on Twitter, he has yet to find any words of comfort for the many people in his orbit who have become infected - who he, himself, may have infected. 

Trump knows only all-caps and exclamation points, but it seems that an increasing number of people are no longer buying what he is selling.

Perhaps he has made a few too many empty promises. He can, of course, make the argument that his Democratic enemies bear responsibility for the fact that his highly vaunted wall on the border with Mexico was neither paid for by Mexico nor really completed at all. 

But the fact that there likely won't be a vaccine against the coronavirus prior to the election despite Trump's oft-repeated pledges to the contrary isn’t helping his chances.

Trump's most recent effort to heap pressure on the Food and Drug Administration to loosen its standards for approving vaccines came in the middle of this week. Really, though, nobody but Trump wants to see such a development, not even the pharmaceutical industry. And the FDA rejected Trump's call and reiterated its commitment to long-established practices.

In such situations, Trump seems like the perfect poster boy for what scientists have dubbed the Dunning-Kruger effect, which describes the phenomenon of incompetent people vastly overestimating their abilities due to their own inability to recognize their incompetence. 

Trump provided a fantastic example during his debate with Biden, when he once again claimed that a coronavirus vaccine would soon be available. When debate moderator Chris Wallace confronted the president with the fact that CDC Director Robert Redfield didn't agree and believes that a vaccine will only be widely available in the middle of next year, Trump responded: "I disagree."

The consequence of such hubris can be seen in the current pandemic statistics. There are around 40,000 new coronavirus cases each day in the United States, with roughly 700 daily COVID-19 deaths. In over 20 states, the trend is moving in the wrong direction.

Such numbers are horrific, and even worse for Trump is the fact that his policies haven't just managed to make the pandemic worse. He has also been unable to get the economy going again, a rather significant blow to his self-spun legend of being a business genius. There have been no winners in the Trump presidency, only losers – and that likely applies to him personally.

Losing Ground

Even before his illness and the heavy drugs he has had to take as a result, the president's Twitter eruptions had long seemed to hint at a somewhat tenuous relationship with lucidity. Nevertheless, a tweet from this week was especially egregious – one that temporarily sent the stock market reeling and provoked an immediate and stinging rebuke from industrial leaders and from his own party. In the tweet, Trump announced that he was suspending negotiations with the Democrats over an additional coronavirus aid package worth around $2 trillion. The precise total was still up for debate, but not the basic necessity of the state help.

Trump's strategy of presenting himself as the virile antithesis of challenger Joe Biden has disintegrated.

It was a major political misstep, one which Trump then sought to correct a few hours later - again via Twitter. The episode made it look to all the world as though Trump was no longer in full possession of his faculties. Indeed, his chances for re-election seem to be shrinking by the day, unless something happens at the last moment to reverse the trend.

Perhaps the most unsettling development for the incumbent is that he has been losing ground in the northern states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and even Ohio, exactly the states where he won the election four years ago. It isn't even certain that he will be able to win Georgia, a state that the Democrats last won fully 28 years ago, back when the candidate was named Bill Clinton.

The first televised debate was a disaster for Trump, and he has raised the possibility of declining to participate in a second debate. With the debate commission having announced its intention to hold the second debate via video link, Trump told Fox anchor Mario Bartiromo on Thursday morning that he wouldn't "waste my time on a virtual debate" given that moderators could cut off his microphone at any time.

He sounded manic in the interview, expressing displeasure with FBI Director Christopher Wray and Attorney General William Barr, accusing them of not doing enough to combat alleged mail-in voting fraud – which Trump has been harping on about for months, despite there being no evidence that it is a significant problem – and of not taking action against his political opponents. He finished off the interview by calling for charges to be filed against Hillary Clinton. It is almost as though Trump is still stuck in 2016 when he was running against her.

In his efforts to turn his re-election campaign around, Trump really can’t go any lower. 

He has even tried to emulate Brazilian autocrat Jair Bolsonaro, who tried to use his own experience with contracting and then recovering from COVID-19 as some kind of proof that fear of the virus was badly exaggerated. But the numbers in the U.S. disprove this narrative so clearly that Trump's attempts to sell it look increasingly divorced from reality.

The majority of Americans have long been of the opinion that their president has proven to be an inadequate manager of the crisis. The fact that he has now become infected has only solidified that impression. And the number of his detractors has recently risen even further: 

According to a survey conducted by CNN, two-thirds of people in the U.S. believe that Trump has been irresponsible in handling the risk of infecting others around him with the coronavirus. Woman and elderly voters are particularly disappointed in Trump, groups from which he needs support if he wants to be re-elected.

The president's poor survey results are hardly surprising. In the past several months, Trump has acted as though the virus couldn't harm him. His ridicule of Biden and the mask-wearing Democrats has always been informed by the rather ridiculous notion that the illness could be held at bay by strength of will. 

His own bout with COVID-19 has revealed such nonsense for what it is. And many Americans also saw the video from Monday showing Trump gasping for breath after climbing the few steps to the Truman Balcony.

He didn't look much like a winner. Nor like an American president, for that matter. 

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