Donald and Melania Trump have COVID-19. It’s a perfect yarn: there’s drama, human interest, bravery, glamour, pictures aplenty and sufficient story appeal to capture every global front page and then some. There’s even a connection across generations: Trump’s grandfather died of the Spanish flu in 1918.
This infection is most probably real, so why is it so hard to shake the nagging feeling that it’s a fabrication? Ask yourself: would the current US president deliberately conspire to deceive the public in order to gain political advantage? Many would struggle to answer in the negative.
If it were a conspiracy, it’s one that’s relatively simple to execute and control. And, just one month out from an election that the polls predict he’s going to lose, there are multiple reasons to suppose the timing could be strategic.
So what could the strategy be?
1. He’s taking control of the narrative
This diagnosis throws a grenade into the news cycle. It allows Trump to be stoic and brave. It garners both respect and sympathy, while dominating headlines around the world.
His sickness and triumphant recovery just days before the election could even become vote-winningly symbolic of the much-needed American economic recovery. There’s a pervasive global myth of a ruler whose health is bound to the land. When he (it’s almost always a man) gets sick, so does his country and its inhabitants. When he recovers, so does everyone else.
Is this an attempt to paint the president as a messianic figure for the modern age? It might be hard to imagine that this sort of thing would appeal to many, and even more ludicrous that it could even influence the result of the election. But the United States — where 25% of the population think the sun revolves around the earth and 77% believe in the existence of angels — may be one of the only countries in the world where something like this just might fly.
2. This is a dignified withdrawal
A second scenario is that “health grounds” could justify Trump’s dignified withdrawal from a presidential race. After all, he’s currently hot favourite to take the silver medal.
Trump could easily hold his 43% vote base, but perhaps a last-minute unavoidable switch to President Pence could placate swing voters, bridge the poll gap, deliver a Republican win and allow the incumbent to remain the architect of that victory.
3. It’s a new way to one-up Biden
Trump could demonstrate his resilience by leading while sick, and compare and contrast himself to Biden whom he characterises as a gaffe-prone geriatric.
Of course the ailing President may now be instructed to avoid the remaining must-win debates. That would leave his recent divisive masterclass in schoolyard taunting as the sole formal duel between the pair. That’s handy.
4. The ‘it wasn’t fair’ defence
Let’s say Trump loses. He could then defend a loss on the grounds that he couldn’t fight the election, so in retrospect “it wasn’t fair”. The polls currently suggest Trump is heading for a trouncing… but they also did in 2016.
5. He has an experimental vaccine
This is the most tinfoil-hatted speculation of all. Some theorise Trump arranged to get a new treatment so he can recover because of it, then announce a deal to make it available to all Americans. “Curing coronavirus” a few crucial days out from the election is a real vote-winner.
6. He really has COVID
Finally, the most probable situation: the positive COVID-19 diagnosis is true. In this case it would be churlish not to wish Melania and The Donald a rapid and full recovery.
Whether it’s a ploy or not, the appalling reality is that a conspiracy seems credible. And, judging by social media right now, many have no trouble imagining the infection a confection.
The question that seems to be on many lips is not whether or not the POTUS would be willing to lie for his own benefit, but if he could do so without getting caught.
How far we have fallen…