‘Nobody’s ever seen anything like this’: how coronavirus turned the US election upside down

‘Nobody’s ever seen anything like this’: how coronavirus turned the US election upside down

  • With almost 100 days to go till election day, the virus has changed the issues, the way the fight is fought – and quite possibly the outcome

Mar-a-Lago was the place to see and be seen for guests who paid thousands of dollars for the privilege on New Year’s Eve. Diamonds and furs abounded on the red carpet. When Donald Trump arrived at his estate in Palm Beach, Florida, in high spirits and a tuxedo, he declared: “We’re going to have a great year, I predict.”

But earlier that day, a Chinese government website had identified a “pneumonia of unknown cause” in the area surrounding a seafood market in Wuhan. When midnight struck and 2020 dawned, no one could have guessed how this microscopic pathogen would turn the world upside down, infecting 15 million people, killing 625,000, crippling economies and wiping out landmark events such as the Olympic Games.

America is no exception. The coronavirus pandemic has upended the presidential election, which, on Sunday, will be just one hundred days away. It has changed the issues, the way the fight is fought and quite possibly the outcome. The nation’s biggest economic crisis for 75 years, and worst public health crisis for a century, is an asteroid strike that has rewritten the rules of politics and left historians grasping for election year comparisons.

“There is probably nothing the same as coronavirus,” said Thomas Schwartz, a history professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. “Obviously, you have issues that stir the public up: 1968 would have been Vietnam and the disturbances that had taken place in the cities. But nothing quite as universal and affecting such a wide band of Americans as the coronavirus. That is really new.”

Soon after that New Year’s Eve celebration at Mar-a-Lago, Trump would be acquitted by Republicans at his Senate impeachment trial and triumphantly brandish the next day’s Washington Post front page at the White House. In his own mind, at least, he was riding a strong economy on his way to re-election, while Democrats struggled to tally results in their Iowa caucuses or settle on a unifying presidential nominee.