Donald Trump is, as we know, a noted germophobe. It would be richly ironic, then, if he missed out on a second term owing to the germ of the moment: coronavirus.
Over the past 24 hours, something remarkable has been stirring in the normally wayward kingdom, Trump Tweet Land. The president has started lavishing praise on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) — a government agency which he has previously treated in a rather less than admiring way. In 2017 he famously sent it a list of banned words like ‘transgender’ which he didn’t want to see in official documents. And he has since been attacked for cutting its budget. Suddenly, they are heroes who are doing a GREAT job of tackling coronavirus VERY VERY quickly. In fact, he has tweeted on the CDC and coronavirus no fewer than six times in a single day.
It isn’t hard to fathom Donald Trump’s sudden interest in coronavirus. After three days of plunging stock markets, the president has worked out that the virus — or more accurately the panic which it has created — presents an existential threat to his presidency. His Democratic opponents are in disarray, but corona could be ‘the black swan event’ — the sudden and totally unpredictable occurrence — that totally derails his leadership.
The greatest argument for Trump’s re-election is the economy. Much to the disgust of critics such as Paul Krugman, who preposterously predicted otherwise the day after the 2016 election, markets have carried on rising — and strongly so, by 30 per cent last year. Jobs are being created like never before. An astonishing 225,000 of them in the month of January alone. The unemployment rate, at 3.6 percent, has fallen to its lowest in half a century.
There is no logical reason why this economic picture should be damaged by the emergence of a virus that has so far killed no more than 2,500 people, mostly in China, and whose rate of transmission in that country seems already to be in decline. According to the CDC, the death toll is still less than one percent of the estimated global death toll of ordinary seasonal flu, which it puts at between 291,000 and 646,000.
But since when were markets logical? Coronavirus could just be the spark for a massive correction that many feel is overdue. What would November’s election look like if stock markets fell by 20 percent or more between now and then? Trump could still win, but he would be relying on voters overlooking the most obvious measure of economic confidence, the measure Trump himself obsesses over: share prices. The markets plunged yesterday. No wonder Trump is anxious that coronavirus, like its sufferers, is put to bed as quickly as possible.