Comparing the President to a Pilot

Robert Brooks Contributor
Comparing the President to a Pilot
Read Time: approx. 3:24

This is the top story from our daily newsletter published on October 5, 2020. To have this and more delivered directly to your inbox scroll down and enter your email or click here to sign up.


In the early hours of Friday morning, President Donald Trump said that he and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for the coronavirus. The Associated Press called it “a stunning announcement that plunges the country deeper into uncertainty just a month before the presidential election.” Later in the day, the President and the first lady flew to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, “raising fresh questions about [his] health,” USA Today wrote. There were, and still are, many unanswered questions regarding the President’s diagnosis. On Saturday Dr. Sean Conley, the president’s physician, gave an upbeat account of Trump’s health but declined to answer specifics about whether he had been given supplemental oxygen. Conley’s prognosis appeared to contradict statements later in the day from the president’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, who told Fox News that while the president has improved, he “had a fever, and his blood oxygen level had dropped rapidly” on Friday, leaving staffers “real concerned.” Then on Sunday, Dr. Sean Conley conceded that the President did in fact receive supplemental oxygen after registering a “high fever” on Friday. He added that President Trump could be released from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center as soon as today. The lack of clarity surrounding the President’s condition became the dominating storyline over the weekend, however, there are multiple subplots that sparked additional inquiries. One is who else in the administration could be positive? Here’s a list of who else contracted the coronavirus from the President’s inner circle. The other is what this means for important pre-election agenda items. Republicans appear to be moving forward with the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, who apparently already had the coronavirus earlier this year. Elsewhere, both Main Street and Wall Street are waiting on additional fiscal stimulus. The House did pass a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill Thursday, but chances are low of it being approved by the GOP-controlled Senate. With that as a backdrop, good Monday morning and welcome to what may be one of the most consequential weeks of the year. Below is how both the right and left reacted to the President’s diagnosis, along with what this means for the election which is now just 29 days away.   

On the Left: Writing for the New York Times, opinion columnist Maureen Dowd said “upsetting as it is to see the president and first lady facing a mortal threat — and the glee and memes from some on the left were vulgar — it was undeniable that reality was crashing in on the former reality star.” Dowd said, “in the end, the con man in the Oval Office could not con the virus. He was a perverse Pied Piper of contagion, luring crowds to his rallies and events on the White House lawn, even as he mocked the safety measures recommended by his own government, sidelined and undermined Dr. Anthony Fauci, and turned the mask into a symbol of blue-state wimpiness.” Dowd notes that “It seemed inevitable that Trump would get infected, given his insouciance on the issue of protective measures combined with his age, weight and ambitious travel schedule. He seemed oddly intent on tempting fate. Certainly, he put a lot of his fans, especially older ones in the most vulnerable demographic (like Herman Cain, who died of COVID after attending a Trump rally in Tulsa, Okla.), at-risk with his dismissiveness about the virus, laxity on testing, and tracing, and his insistence on continuing rallies.” Writing for The Atlantic, Amy Wilentz adds “Trump’s cavalier conduct in the face of the coronavirus pandemic has shown that he imagines himself to be not only above the rules but above science itself, above knowledge, above medicine, immunology, and epidemiology. Trump has known since February that COVID-19 is a serious disease. Nonetheless, he and his staff have gone about their business publicly as if there were no pandemic, putting their friends and families, their colleagues, and by extension the American people in the worst kind of danger.” Dowd concludes by saying, “It’s impossible to know how — or even whether — this illness will change the president. But hopefully, it will change his skeptical followers and make them realize that this vicious microbe really is contagious, that President Trump is not invulnerable and that therefore they are not either, that crowding together at rallies is not smart, that wearing a mask is important, and that it’s not all going to disappear like a miracle.”

On the Right: Writing for the New York Post, Michael Goodwin points to what he calls the left’s “told you so” and “he had it coming” attitude. Goodwin says, “Consider this quiz: Which of the following two comments came from a Chinese government-affiliated newspaper and which came from The New York Times? No. 1: ‘Now There’s No Spinning Away Pandemic’s Toll’ No. 2: ‘President Trump and the first lady have paid the price for his gamble to play down the COVID-19.’ The answer is that No. 1 is a Times headline and No. 2 is a tweet from the editor of the Global Times, but forgive yourself if you guessed wrong because, in fact, the sentiments are nearly identical.” Goodwin says, “There’s more. The editor of the Global Times went on to say that the president’s illness ‘may also negatively affect his re-election,’ which echoes The New York Times’ first-day claim that the president’s positive test ‘could prove devastating to his political fortunes.'” Goodwin also noted that some left-leaning commentators “suggested Trump was faking his illness so he could skip the final two debates. Joy Reid of MSNBC reported many of her audience felt that way, but Reid’s publicizing their paranoia suggests she shares it.” Goodwin says “the speculation about how Trump got infected reeks of amateurism, especially among those who claim to ‘follow the science.’ Nobody knows exactly where and when it happened and the insinuation by Pelosi and others that the president caught it by acting recklessly is itself reckless.” As the diagnosis relates to the President’s reelection prospects, former campaign manager and a senior adviser to the Trump-Pence 2020 campaign Corey Lewandowski wrote for The Hill that “Nothing stopped Trump before [and] COVID-19 won’t now.” Lewandowski puts it bluntly saying, “Let me say this as clearly as I can — there is nothing that can stop this guy: New York real estate developers. City governments. Powerful politicians. International real estate developers. The Republican establishment. The Bush dynasty. The Democratic Party. The Clinton dynasty. News organizations. ‘Deep state’ operatives. Big Tech. The ‘endless wars’ lobby. Kim Jong-Un. ISIS. The World Trade Organization. Nothing. He’s a fighter. It’s his being, his essence — and nothing can change that.”

Flag This: The next 24-48 hours are extremely important for both the President and the United States. The trajectory of the virus will turn one of two ways which will have huge downstream effects on the country and the world. If the situation takes a turn for the worse and the President is unable to serve, the 25th Amendment makes clear the powers of the presidency transfer to Vice President Mike Pence until the president regains the ability to perform his duties the AP writes. It has been used only three times — the last one in 2007, when Dick Cheney briefly became acting president while George W. Bush underwent a colonoscopy, GZERO Media adds. If the President recovers this could solidify his brand as “Teflon Don”, amplifying the image of invincibility that Lewandowski speaks to above and something the left said was “punctured by [the] infection” according to the Washington Post. A recovery could also provide an uptick in public support. When British Prime Minister Boris Johnson contracted the disease and said “Things could have gone either way,” he received a surge in sympathy from the British public. His personal approval ratings spiked from 44% in mid-March to 66% on April 13, immediately after he exited the ICU. In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro’s approval ratings also jumped a month after he contracted the virus. It’s important to note, however, that Johnson’s approval ratings subsequently sank to 35% in late September amid accusations his government has mishandled the pandemic. Bolsonaro’s poll bump also coincided with a push by his government to provide $47 billion of emergency aid money to vulnerable parts of society. Speaking of which, President Trump “has tweeted just five times from Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda — but one of them was pushing Congress to strike a COVID relief bill,” POLITCO’s Anna Palmer noted yesterday. “OUR GREAT USA WANTS & NEEDS STIMULUS. WORK TOGETHER AND GET IT DONE. Thank you!” the President said. At the end of the day, there is a lot hanging in the balance. Whether you love or hate Donald Trump the most appropriate metaphor for the current situation we find ourselves in is comparing the President to a pilot. We’re all on this plane together, therefore no matter what side of the aisle you find yourself on, we should all be rooting for the President to make a safe landing.