Over the last two days, Republican officeholders have been scuttling away from both the manner in which President Trump conducted himself during Tuesday night’s presidential debate and his “Proud Boys” remarks; Fox News’ Chris Wallace has laid most of the responsibility for the debate debacle involving the President and former Vice President Joe Biden at the feet of Mr. Trump; Fox News’ John Roberts (no relation to the Chief Justice) went into an on-air diatribe yesterday regarding White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s defense of Mr. Trump’s debate comments: “Stop deflecting. Stop blaming the media … I’m tired of it”; and Peggy Noonan, while lambasting both candidates’ debate performances in her Wall Street Journal column appearing in print tomorrow, noted that “things are congealing now” against the President, declared that Mr. Trump “acted like a bullying nut” during the debate, and concluded about Mr. Trump, given his failure to condemn white supremacy or state that he would accept the outcome of the election: “What a loser.”
In the post that I intended to run this morning, I suggested that Mr. Biden, due more to the President’s performance malpractice than to his own presentation, appeared to have won the debate by doing “well enough,” that early indications were that Mr. Biden had at least “held serve” with Independents, and that the President had seemingly failed to gain the significant ground with the Independent voters he appears to need in order to win the swing states. I also indicated that on the morning of the debate, I had recorded FiveThirtyEight.com’s (538’s) data regarding the state of the race in swing states and intended to compare those debate-day findings to 538’s data for the same states a week post-debate as a reasonably objective way to determine how the candidates had respectively fared.
I instead went to 538 this morning — before the announcement regarding Mr. Trump’s COVID diagnosis could begin to show up in the poll numbers — and saw that even over the first 48 hours after the debate, Mr. Biden’s lead had gotten larger in every swing state, with Florida showing the largest relative percentage increase (from 1.8% to 2.3%). Furthermore, Mr. Biden had claimed the lead in Ohio, and was but a hair behind Mr. Trump in Iowa (where the President once had a sizeable lead). It is not inconceivable that the Trump Campaign’s own internals have shown an avalanche of support rumbling away from the President since the debate.
In the hours since the announcement of the President’s COVID diagnosis, I have received suggestions that he is fabricating the diagnosis to change the dynamic of the presidential contest; I have received other comments dismissing such suggestions as “conspiracy theories.” It will come as no surprise to anyone that reads these pages that I believe that there is very little Mr. Trump wouldn’t do to retain the presidency. That said, and no matter what one’s perspective on Mr. Trump, I would venture that this announcement came at an ideal time for him from a political standpoint. It will engender understandable sympathy for him; it may cool some of the ardor of his impassioned adversaries; and it will present the Biden Campaign, reportedly about to go into a full blitz to press its advantage, a quandary as to how to proceed without appearing uncaring – a key part of Mr. Biden’s “brand.” This COVID announcement could have the same effect as a basketball coach’s calling time out when he sees that if the opposition’s momentum isn’t checked, the game is lost.