Donald Trump walks out of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to return to the White House (Image: AP/Evan Vucci)

It’s a wonder Donald Trump required oxygen for his health last weekend given he’s sucking so much of it out of the media coverage of the election.

Until last weekend the Biden campaign was outspending Trump two to one. In September the figure was even greater, with Biden spending $153 million on advertising compared with $57 million.

But who needs to spend on ads when you can get 24/7 news coverage?

Courtesy of his COVID-19 diagnosis, Trump is now so dominating the narrative that it raises fears of a repeat of 2016, where it’s estimated he received anywhere between $2 billion and $5 billion of free publicity.

In his weird wacky self-obsessed world, all PR is good PR (see his ludicrous joyride around the hospital yesterday).

For those who assume that all this negative press will only work against him, just remember it also makes it harder for the Biden campaign to push their own message or even just remind voters of the alternative to Trump.

While the president presumably did not want to catch COVID-19 a month before the election (despite doing everything to make himself vulnerable), it did have the effect of changing the story from his disastrous debate performance.

That debate was only 48 hours before, but that’s a lifetime in Trump news cycle terms.

It hasn’t gone unnoticed that whenever Trump has been involved in a PR disaster, you only need wait a day or two for him to do something spectacular (usually spectacularly stupid) which has the media looking over there instead.

In this case the media had no choice but to report the health crisis of the commander-in-chief, but you still felt he was pulling their strings as the networks dropped normal programming and went to rolling Trump coverage all weekend.

Comparisons have been made with the appalling photo opportunity in June, where peaceful protesters were tear gassed so he could waltz over to a nearby church to wave around a bible.

It certainly threw the spotlight back on him instead of the protesters — and far from damaging his campaign within months many feared he was back in the race.

On Friday the left was euphoric that the karma of Trump contracting COVID could represent the death knell for his campaign, taking him out of the final weeks before the election.

After his typically bizarre behaviour since then, they might want to think again. Short of being put on a ventilator, which now seems unlikely, Trump ain’t going anywhere.

Indeed, this morning he not only announced he’ll be heading home but tweeted “don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life”. In his upside-down world he’s turning a negative into a positive spin for his failures. Whether it works will depend on the Democrat’s response.

The Biden campaign’s decision to stop negative ads was probably admirable at first. But once again they should reconsider taking that risky high road strategy.

With billions of dollars worth of free Trump coverage now guaranteed, they will have to use their funding advantage to come up with a much better advertising campaign.

Joe Biden might feel it best to keep above the fray, but he’ll want to hope that his VP pick Kamala Harris doesn’t screw up the debate later this week. Against Mike Pence, the Michael McCormack of the US, the odds are good.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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