On the night of Thursday, October 1st, 2020, Americans across the country went to bed in the ordinary world — the one exhibiting the barely tolerable levels of insanity to which we’ve all grown accustomed in the past four years.
On the morning of Friday, October 2nd, they woke up to the world where President Trump has COVID-19.
Not entirely by coincidence, October 2nd also turned out to be National Hot Take Day. And the hottest of all the hot takes on the left was that Trump had made the whole thing up. Clearly not content to let the QAnon followers have all the fun, a non-representative sample of formerly level-headed liberal voices on Twitter spoke up to point out the suspiciously convenient timing of a positive diagnosis for a President who was only a month away from a colossal beatdown in the polls, a leader who clearly had no earthly idea what he was supposed to do to pull out of his tailspin. Some were quick to point out that suddenly no one was talking about the Proud Boys anymore. Some brought up the fact that it could be really advantageous for Trump to miss out on the last two debates, after he crapped the bed in unprecedented fashion on his first try. Others confidently predicted that Trump would emerge from quarantine in two weeks from now, testifying to the efficacy of a miracle cure that had just been approved by the FDA in time for Election Day.
Yay for people who use their imaginations. I’ve always backed it. But the timing doesn’t work out. Earlier on Thursday, Trump called Sean Hannity and made a point of condemning the Proud Boys and every other white supremacist group, after he had sustained two days of unrelenting attacks for failing to do it in his debate with Biden. Clearly he realized he had no other choice, because the controversy wasn’t dying down. This is a man who is deathly allergic to admitting he was wrong. He had to be desperate to go back on what he said during the debate.
This phone call was only hours before he made the announcement that both he and his wife had tested positive for COVID-19. For argument’s sake, let’s assume he was lying about the test. It would be a diabolical plan, the kind of thing that liberals would never put past Trump or anyone else on his staff. It would be nothing less than the apotheosis of Evil Genius Trump, an absolute masterstroke. It would also be a nuclear option for his campaign, in more ways than one. He’d be shoving all his chips on a draw. Sink or swim. If it works, he stays President; if not, he’s taking measurements for a jumpsuit.
But if he was prepared to make his absolute final move, and the whole idea was to stop people from talking about the Proud Boys, he would have no reason to condemn them in the first place. He would simply put the COVID plan in motion and let people forget about the rest.
Whatever else we know about Trump, we know that he will never do or say anything that could be construed as an admission that he made a mistake, as long as there’s any other option whatsoever. The fact that he made such an admission hours before he announced he was sick, is all the proof we should need that he’s telling the truth.
But look at it from Trump’s perspective. Based on his own perception and the feedback he’s gotten from his team and from conservative media, he won the debate. Not just an ordinary win: he destroyed Biden. He wasn’t trying to skip the last two debates; he was looking forward to them. And he’s always been convinced that his greatest campaigning strength is his in-person rallies. He visited seven different states in the past week, before and after the debate. If anything can win this election in the next month for Trump, in his mind it has to be his rallies. Those and his tweets are the only things he really believes in.
In Trump’s mind, the final two debates and whatever rallies he can cram into the month of October will be the things that rescue his second term. The idea that he should voluntarily take two weeks off the campaign trail on a high-risk gamble would strike him as the dumbest thing he could possibly do. Even Jared Kushner would get fired for suggesting it.
Isn’t it more plausible that he really got sick? Hope Hicks was exhibiting symptoms in public on Wednesday, and tested positive the same day. She was also seen in public boarding a helicopter with Trump, and not wearing a mask. What else do we really need to explain it?