The average tally of new daily coronavirus infections in the United States is now at an all-time high. Although the expansion of testing has increased the percentage of COVID-19 cases that get recorded, the present surge is no measurement artifact: Hospitalizations for COVID have climbed by more than one-third over the past month, and daily deaths are also on the rise. In the pivotal swing state of Wisconsin, both COVID-19 cases and deaths just hit record levels.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump is trailing Joe Biden by more than nine points in national polls. All available data suggests the president needs to expand his coalition if he wishes to remain in the White House.
And Trump has apparently concluded that the best way to broaden his base would be to communicate, in no uncertain terms, that he has no interest in containing COVID-19 and that anyone who thinks the raging pandemic is a serious problem should vote for someone else.
The president has been conveying this message to swing-state voters through his words and deeds. In recent weeks, Trump has traveled across America’s Electoral College battlegrounds, convening potential superspreader events at which he regales crowds of unmasked supporters with rants about how COVID-19 is actually fake news.
“That’s all I hear about now. Turn on television, ‘Covid, Covid, Covid Covid Covid.’ A plane goes down, 500 people dead, they don’t talk about it. ‘Covid Covid Covid Covid,’” Trump told a crowd in North Carolina on Saturday. “By the way, on November 4, you won’t hear about it anymore.”
Here, the president is apparently arguing that plane crashes have been killing people at a rate comparable to the coronavirus over the past eight months but you never hear about these near-constant aircraft explosions because plane-crash deaths aren’t sexy enough for cable news. At another rally that same day, the president reiterated his patently false claim that cases haven’t gone up — only testing has — saying, ‘If we did half the testing, we’d have half the cases.”
Remarkably, the idea that Trump can win the election by consolidating the “lol, pandemics don’t matter” vote isn’t limited to the candidate himself. To the contrary, this is his campaign’s conscious strategy. As Politico reports:
Trump aides and allies increasingly acknowledge that anyone who is seriously concerned about the virus threat won’t vote for Trump anyway. The campaign is not changing any of its political strategy, including its messages to address the surging Covid-19 cases throughout the Midwest and rural areas — or the new outbreak among officials in the vice-president’s office.
“If you think Covid is a big deal, then you are not voting for the president,” one former senior administration official said.
In an NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll released on Sunday, 68 percent of Americans said they were worried that they, or someone in their family, would be exposed to the coronavirus.
It’s hard to understand how the Trump campaign could believe “If you think the raging pandemic that has already killed 226,000 Americans is a big deal, vote for the other guy” is a sound message for increasing the president’s support — and hard to fight the feeling that Trump’s actual reelection strategy has less to do with maximizing his voting base than with minimizing the number of Biden votes that actually get counted.