, 10.07.2020 09:02 AM

My latest in The Spec: Trump’s Covid could kill him – or save him

In another October, in another democratic contest, a man’s disability — a man’s health — almost changed everything.

In October 1995, Quebec was voting in a second referendum on independence. The federalist side had been winning — until Quebec’s separatist premier passed control of the campaign to the younger and more popular leader of the Bloc Québécois, Lucien Bouchard.

When that happened, the separatist option — the option that would see Quebec leave Canada — started to acquire momentum.

The arguments, pro and con, had all been heard before. Many of the key players in the “oui” or “non” fight were well known, too.

What was different, and what nearly broke up Canada, was Bouchard. The Bloc leader had lost a leg to a fast-moving and potentially deadly bacteria just months earlier. Many had thought he would die.

He didn’t. He came back from the dead and rewrote history.

Bouchard did that by embracing the illness that had almost killed him. At rally after rally that October, the lights were dimmed and a single light was directed at a podium.

The halls would grow silent. Leaning on a cane, Bouchard would move toward the podium, apparently in pain, with every eye watching him. He’d reach the podium, then hand the cane to an assistant, just beyond the rim of light. And then he would start — a fist clenched, his voice ranging from a shout to a whisper. He was extraordinary.

He would hold his audience spellbound, as he would plead for Quebecers to become, once and for all, masters in their own house. The atmosphere was electric, incredible, profound.

As one Jean Chretien-era cabinet member later said to me: “It was like he was Jesus Christ.” Bouchard embraced his burden and made himself a martyr for the separatist cause.

The federalist side started to lose. The separatist side started to win. On the night of the referendum, Canada avoided disaster by just 50,000 votes. The final vote was 50.58 per cent to 49.42 per cent. It was a shock to many that Canada had come that close to destruction.

All that saved Canada, many feel, was U.S. president Bill Clinton’s statement at the dedication of the new American embassy in Ottawa that same month. He called for “a strong and united Canada.” That turned the tide.

Many Octobers later, another U.S. president is (like Clinton) trying to find a way to avoid defeat. And (like Bouchard) he’s perhaps wondering whether a potentially fatal microbe could become his best political ally.

For Donald Trump, now in the grip of a virus that he once dismissed, it’s the ultimate paradox: the very thing that has destroyed America’s economy, and shredded his electoral prospects, may well be the thing that re-elects him.

Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis doesn’t improve his chances simply because of sympathy. It improves his chances because the entire Democratic Party strategy — to make the election a referendum on Trump — now lays on the floor, discarded.

Attack ads, stopped. Tough speeches, rewritten. War rooms, told to stand down. Everything that Joe Biden and his party had planned to do — to go after Trump, relentlessly — they can’t now do.

Bouchard is unlikely to be known to Trump. But, as he reflects he might be well advised to consider the separatist leader’s strategy.

Picture Trump at a window, light streaming in, as he waves to the throngs on the street below. Picture him recording emotional fireside-style talks about the need to come together and support each other to defeat a common enemy.

Picture him, walking to a perfectly-lit podium — waving off help or a wheelchair — and giving the speech of his lifetime, one to call the nation together, one to rally the American people. And to defeat the virus, as he had.

COVID-19 could kill Donald Trump, it’s true.

But, this fateful October, it could also give him — and his campaign — renewed life.


  1. Daryl Gordon says:

    This story could move the needle even more if and when MSM ever gave it the coverage it warrants.

    The Clinton corruption and subsequent coverup Trump framejob would almost be a nonissue at this point except for the evidence dripping out that Obama and Biden were not only briefed on Clinton’s plot but endorsed and aided it.

    Remember the 2008 Obama primary rhetoric re: Clinton. He was right about her then and I imagine he wishes he had consigned her to the political dustbin when he had the chance. Instead the slime that is always around the Clinton’s is now all over the Obama-Biden administration and with some timely October Surprises could lead to a second Trump term.

    • The Doctor says:

      If you really think that the average American voter gives a shit about that stuff, in the middle of a pandemic and economic recession, you are insane.

      • Daryl Gordon says:

        The fact that an outgoing administration tried to frame the incoming President with what amounts to treason is hardly an issue that voters would see as insane.

        • Mark D says:

          Nobody cares this far out from the 2016 election

          The media is so focused on Trump right now that he even stole the media spotlight from an armed militia plotting to kidnap the Michigan Governor and “try her for treason.”

          If anyone but Donald Trump were U.S. president what happened in Michigan would have dominated the U.S. media cycle from now until election day in November.

          • The Doctor says:

            Exactly. And if those alleged kidnappers were brown or black, you can bet that all media outlets would be referring to them as terrorists rather than “militia members”. Kudos to USA Today for calling them what they are.

          • Mark D says:

            I agree. But I don’t think the mainstream media (with the exception of Fox) was going easy on the militias. In fact, CNN did a very good interview with Governor Whitner where both the hosts tore into the militas, their violent and highly illegal threats, and linked them to Trump and his constant attacks against Governor Whitner to the point where Governor Whitner herself was defending mainstream Republicans. She even did a friendly call out to Charlie Baker, the Republican Governor of Massachusetts, thanking him for being one of the first politicians to check in on her after the news broke in order to make sure both she and her family were okay.

  2. Steve T says:

    Excellent article, and a variation on something I’ve thought for awhile: people have short attention spans, and only focus on the last thing someone did.

    Politicians who are consistently ethical, well-spoken, and put forward reasonable policies are constantly at risk of making one mistake that undoes them.

    By contrast, ethically-bankrupt politicians who use derogatory / inflammatory language, and can’t legislate their way out of a paper bag, only need one “good” moment to redeem them. They can strategically time this moment to be just before the election, and the majority of the dumb voting population will fall for it.

    Trump is a prime example of this. He has spent the last 4 years being the most morally-repugnant, divisive, lying President the U.S. has ever known. He has set the bar so low for himself that even one good speech or one soft unguarded moment will look like he has become a saint. He can do the sort of thing that other Presidents did daily (and was expected of prior Presidents), and for Trump it will seem like he is amazing. For some easily-duped voters, it will erase all his many (many) bad deeds over the past 4 years.

    As with a lot in politics, we the people have only ourselves to blame for cultivating this dynamic.

  3. A. Voter says:

    The difference being that Bouchard was liked and respected by most in Quebec society.

  4. Barry Veysey says:

    Bouchard was a Quebec rock star during the referendum and nearly pulled it off. Trumps’ Walter Reed stunt blew up in his face. He received no bounce because of it and is sliding in the polls: -11 to Biden today (CNN poll of polls). 28 days out, Trump is fast running out of time to turn things around.

  5. Gilbert says:

    Many of President Trump’s upporters love that he isn’t a real politician. Who thought he’d move the US embassy to Israel, withdraw funding for the WHO, criticize China so strongly or ask NATO countries to pay more? He is truly different.

    • Steve T says:

      Let’s break those down a bit:

      1. Move the US embassy in a country that was already an ally, and had come to terms with the current embassy location. The net result was to unnecessarily anger countries that are on the periphery of allies, and have helped us in prior conflicts.

      2. Withdraw funding for an organization that is meant to help people worldwide, simply because they contradict Trump’s lies with their pesky facts. Oh, and to perpetuate the fiction that they are cozy with China.

      3. Criticize China strongly when it suits Trump, but also praise them at random intervals. It also feeds into a classic political ploy of creating an enemy to deflect from your own massive shortcomings.

      4. Ask NATO countries to pay more. Fair enough – this should have been done awhile ago, but surely it could have been done in a more diplomatic way?

      On the latter point, this seems to be the choice Trump supporters believe exists. A rude, lying, a-hole who insults everyone who disagrees with him, including long-term friends – but occasionally gets things done despite himself. Surely we can have a politician who gets things done without being a lying a-hole?

      • Daryl Gordon says:

        Politics has always been a blood sport, unfortunately it is much worse now. Nice guys finish last, invariably crushed by rivals who will use anything to win, true or false, right or wrong.

        Social media and biased media only make it easier to negatively brand opponents. If conservatives don’t use the same tactics they are defeated before they start.

        Look at the pathetic state of Canadian leadership. By any reasonable standards Trudeau should be unelectable. He checks all the boxes from cancel culture (black face), fiscal incompetence, corruption (WEA, Lavelin etc), and national and racial division. Instead all he has to do to move to majority territory is get in bed with NDP (free everything) and all is forgiven. Next to zero negative coverage from Canadian media, too busy Trump bashing.

        Put a Preston Manning type vs a Justin Trudeau type, alas there’s no contest. Superficiality wins over substance .

      • Mark D says:

        “On the latter point, this seems to be the choice Trump supporters believe exists. A rude, lying, a-hole who insults everyone who disagrees with him, including long-term friends – but occasionally gets things done despite himself. Surely we can have a politician who gets things done without being a lying a-hole?”

        This is what many Canadians (and others who live outside the U.S.) don’t understand. Not all Trump voters are supporters or even like him. In fact a large number of his supporters dislike him.

        They simply prefer him to politicians because, in a strange way, he is more predictable.

        There was an interesting line I read by a journalist with Democratic Party leanings who had been imbedded in Senator Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Initially this journalist had intended to write the definitive biography on how Sen. Clinton became America’s first woman president. Of course, we know what happened.

        The line is as follows: “Voters trusted Trump to lie more than they trusted Clinton with the truth.”

        You could pretty much substitute Clinton in this sentence with any politician. In fact, the same thing happened with Ted Cruz during the GOP primaries leading up to Mr Trump’s 2016 nomination. In short, half his supports worship the ground he walks on. But the other half recognize that he is a rude, lying, a-hole who insults everyone. They just don’t accept that he’s a politician.

  6. Empathy and genuine heart-based sympathy are among the finest of human traits. Trouble is, that generally is — and should be — a two-way street. One can reasonably argue that those qualities are found in Lucien Bouchard. But anyone who makes the exact same argument in favour of Donald Trump gets this in response: good God, get serious.

    That’s why IMHO Trump will not experience the Big Mo is the remaining weeks of this campaign. People are at the very least irritated at Trump and at worst, want Trump out of office yesterday. So, Trump had better not hold his breath in expectation of the Bouchard Effect because it simply isn’t there and ain’t on the way.

    • The Doctor says:

      You’re right ROD. It’s the converse part of the fact that Trump’s support among his supporters has been so rock solid by historical standards, and basically never goes below that roughly 40% floor.

      His disapproval number is also rock solid. That’s the thing about Trump: he has a solid and impenetrable floor, but also a very hard and impenetrable ceiling. Go look at his approval and disapproval averages over at 538.com: but for little dips and blips, it’s essentially two parallel lines since the beginning of 2017, with the disapproval being the top line (averaging in the low to mid 50s), and the approval being the bottom line (averaging in the low to mid 40s). Historically absolutely unprecedented.

      Same thing with Biden’s national polling lead: it is an incredibly sustained and steady lead by historical standards.

      Opinions about Trump are incredibly baked in, and there’s just not a lot of potential for significant movement in either direction. That’s why Trump is trying so desperately to trigger some sort of October surprise (e.g., Bill Barr declassifying everything in sight, Giuliani begging Ukranian and Russian criminals for help etc.).

      • Mark D says:

        “His disapproval number is also rock solid. That’s the thing about Trump: he has a solid and impenetrable floor, but also a very hard and impenetrable ceiling.”

        What is also weird is how these numbers don’t always reflect party base.

        Off the top of my head, I have at least a half-dozen friends in the U.S. who are voting Republican despite having not voted for him in 2016 (Some were never-Trumpers back then. Others are lifelong Democrats.) They don’t necessarily like Trump, but prefer him to politicians.

        On the flip side, I also have at least a half-dozen friends I can name off the top of my head who are lifelong Republicans voting Democrat for the first time years or in their lives. Again, they don’t necessarily like Sentors Biden and Harris, but they are sick of President Trump’s handling of race relations and COVID.

        • Ronald O'Dowd says:


          You might now want to tell the first group that after four years one usually attributes to the incumbent in office the moniker of a politician. Kind of fits, doesn’t it?

          • Mark D says:

            I could tell them, but would they listen?

            Remember, I’m Canadian.
            I also live in Canada.
            So I just don’t understand, as far as they are concerned.

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