Happy Scribe
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Hello and welcome to this emergency crossover edition of the 538 Politics podcast, I'm Galen Truk. This is a crossover with 538 Coronaviruses Podcast Podcast 19. Early Friday morning, President Trump confirmed that he and the first lady tested positive for covid-19. So far, according to the White House, the president has mild symptoms. The news came after Hope Hicks, a top aide to the president, also tested positive. Additionally, we learned today, Friday, that Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, who was with the president last Friday, tested positive.

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On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence announced on Friday that he has tested negative for the virus.

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This is obviously a developing and unprecedented story. And the first thing I'll say is that there's a lot we don't know. We don't know the severity of the president's case. We don't know the extent of the spread within the White House. We also don't know how the public will react or how this will shape an election that is essentially underway with 32 days until Election Day itself. But here, too, at the very least, describe the unknowns and some of the possibilities.

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Our editor in chief, Nate Silver. Hey, Nate Hagelin, everybody. Also here with us is senior politics writer Perry Bacon Junior.

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Hey, Perry. Hi, Galen. And senior science writer Maggie Carthay. Maggie, hi. Welcome to the show. Maggie, let's begin with you. What do we know about the timeline of coronavirus infections and how long it will be before we really know the severity of the president's case?

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Well, I mean, that latter question is as much up to the biology of the virus as it is to the White House press office.

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But I think that when we're talking about, like actual symptomology of this disease, doctors say that days five through 10 are when people who have serious respiratory complications tend to have that show up, especially if they're older people, younger people.

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You can still have that happen later, as late as days, 10 to 12. If you get all the way to day 14 and you're largely symptom free or doing OK, you're probably fine. So it's kind of this 14 day window where symptoms tend to develop. And kind of in the middle of that is where severity tends to happen.

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And if the president tested positive on Thursday or Friday, when might he have gotten the virus? Do we know?

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I don't think that we know. I mean, I think that there are several people trying to speculate back on that on Twitter, but without knowing his contacts. And who else in the White House has this? Who else he's been in contact with that has this? It's really hard to tell. There's a decent likelihood that he and hope Hicks got it from the same person rather than necessarily spreading it to him.

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You know, her being diagnosed with it and then him being diagnosed the next day isn't likely. You know, it's not likely that she spread it to him in a way that was testable. One day later, you kind of need a few days. Usually, I think they say between five and seven days after exposure before you can get a reliable test result.

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And maybe this is a daft question, but how did he get it? Maybe even just to jog our memory? How does this thing spread? What are the circumstances or behaviors that would allow the president of the United States to get covid-19?

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He is somebody who is on a campaign trail, and that means a lot of exposure to a lot of people. And he has kind of famously not been wearing his mask all the time.

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I mean, we saw that during the debate where he was making fun of Joe Biden for wearing a mask more often than he thought was necessary. So I mean, with by the time you can sort of combine the behavioral factors of just running for president with the behavioral factors of not really taking appropriate precautions, it's honestly surprising he's not got it before now.

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All right. So Nate and Perry, you know, we don't know how this is going to impact the election, but what kinds of things can we think about how this will at least impact the campaign for the next, at the very least, two weeks?

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The president apparently is quarantining for the time being, which means there'll be no in-person events. It remains unclear what Joe Biden will do as a recording, as apparently there is some event, Biden event in Michigan set to take place and go forward. But that might change by the time you listen to this. You know, I mean, it raises questions about like the debate, which is good for October 15th, this.

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It is a hard podcast to record, right? It's kind of like, is this just going to be like 45 minutes of us saying, we don't know, we don't know, we don't know. But yeah.

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And, you know, to Maggie's comments earlier, like, one of the things we don't know is like it's too early to kind of say how serious or not the president's symptoms will turn out to be. And there's a period between when you get infected and when you might not test positive yet. So we don't necessarily know that people who have not tested positive so far are necessarily in the clear. That might take another. I mean, Maggie can inform me, but like, you're going to have a high false negative rate if you immediately acquire covid before that shows up in a in a PCR test.

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So there's really not a lot that we can we can say. I'm not against speculation. For speculation's sake. Many Americans have voted or are voting now.

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The elections happening now. Right. And Americans have to think about this. So I don't think there's any difference or piousness who we're not allowed to speculate.

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We don't really have very good information.

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So the vice presidential debate is on October. Self reporting has been that Harris definitively and Pince both mentioned and do not have covered. So that would suggest that, well, they go forward, the debate or not, that would suggest that maybe they could do this on October 7th. So that's the next sort of big, big event in the campaign. October 15th would be the next presidential debate between Biden and Trump. That would be sort of at the end of the two week window, presumably, if he was going to quarantine for two weeks.

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The way a lot of people have been advised to do October 22nd would be outside of that two weeks window. Again, a this is all talking about assuming Trump is health, there's not a lot worse or he can't. He recovers pretty well, even those. So October 15th, October 22nd, those debates would seem to be not clear if they will happen. October 15th, in particular, October 7th, I would assume might happen. But I'm not sure about that because those are the last kind of really big events like rallies matter, obviously, but the debates are things worth tens of millions of people watch.

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So those are the kind of the big three events left. And I think at this point, like I said, like Nate said, we don't know. And the sort of the biggest you know, one of the biggest unknowns is sort of this electoral process is will these debates happen?

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We don't have any examples of world leaders getting covid-19 in the final month of, you know, an election. But we do have examples of world leaders getting covid like Boris Johnson in the UK JARBOE scenario in Brazil. Do we know how that shaped, I guess maybe the public's perception of either those leaders or the virus itself?

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My analysis of it, it looks like, is it Johnson's numbers went up in the same way that a lot of world leaders numbers, even Trump's went up a little bit at the very beginning of the virus. But I think Johnson is more unpopular now than at the start of the start of virus. And it looks like that around that time, his approval rating was in the 50s and his disapproval rating was sort of around 30. And it appears it like it went up at the right after you get it.

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But then since then, Johnson is significantly more unpopular than before the virus outbreak. And it's hard to pin that on the virus as opposed to being his general governing strategies and so on.

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I mean, one example of a world leader, somewhat similar to Trump who downplayed the virus and then got it himself is JARBOE scenario in Brazil. And so there's certainly the chance that Trump has mild symptoms. And essentially this bolsters his his argument that the virus shouldn't be taken all that seriously is a possibility here.

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I mean, I think it would be a possibility. Yeah.

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One of the things that is a big feature about this virus is that there's a lot of randomness that kind of comes into play in terms of what situations end up spreading it, who is spreading it versus not spreading it, what kinds of symptoms people get versus not.

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And you can get these, you know, people in very similar situations, you know, weddings, for instance, where one of them goes off without a hitch and nobody gets sick, and another one where 10 people die and hundreds get infected. That's one of the things I think that ends up making this virus feel easy to dismiss, because almost everybody has examples of themselves being in situations where, like, maybe I should have gotten infected and I didn't.

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So maybe it's fine. Or they know people who got infected and didn't have very strong symptoms. And so it's probably fine. But a lot of this is just bad luck. You know, it's it's bad luck or good luck.

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And we don't really know the factors yet to know who is more likely to spread it, which situations are necessarily, in a way, some situations with very similar factor transmission factors. One gets it, one doesn't. And we don't really know why some people have stronger symptoms than others. You know, there's some demographic information that seems to be associated with having more severe symptoms. But even that's not like across the board, individual or to individual, that's, you know, population wise.

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Yeah, Maggie, what is that demographic information? And I guess we know generally that older people are more at risk, but how do we quantify that?

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Well, one of the things I think is really interesting about Trump is that he is in some ways among like the most well protected groups. Right. You know, he is a rich white guy. Being rich and white are definitely good things for you if you are facing this disease. Vulnerabilities also tied to an educational level. And he has a college degree. But on the other hand, he's also elderly and he's probably overweight. And, you know, one thing that we sort of have to consider with those vulnerabilities is that the reasons why you get poor people, black and brown people, people with lower, lower educational levels, one of the reasons that they're getting these higher susceptibility and higher side effect, you know, outcomes, risks is because of the way that lifestyles affect exposure.

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Right. It's not that poor people with less education are somehow genetically more susceptible to covid. It's that they have jobs that are in service industries and other situations where they're just getting exposed more often and for longer periods. And they're more vulnerable because their access and treatment and health care is less good. And that's not just when they actually have covid, but that's over the course of their lives before that. So they have more preexisting conditions. Right.

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So these kind of things stacking up and that ends up complicating the president of the U.S. is risk and how that works, I think because the president is not an average rich white guy. So his exposure levels are going to be a lot higher than some middle level manager who has been working from home this whole time and, you know, maybe wearing a mask when he goes out to the golf course. Right. He's got a very different setup when it comes to social distancing.

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When it comes out, comes to like who all is in contact with him on a daily basis. On the other hand, he probably has better health care, access and treatment than even the average, which rich white guy. So, I mean, I think there are some ways that you can almost make a case where the president of the United States does it neatly fit into these predictive categories around demographics, because the way that his job works, the way that a campaign works, kind of changes some of what's going on here.

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In other words, he's exposed to more people, but those people are more likely to be tested than the average person. Is that what we're getting at?

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And if he does get it, when he does get it, in this case, he has, you know, the top physicians in the White House at Walter Reed, where, I mean, he has the best access in the world to any kind of treatments at this point.

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Right. I mean, he's I mean, his people are probably getting tested more often, but he's also getting a lot more a lot more exposure than I think most people are. And, yeah, he has he has like these risk factors with age and obesity, but he also has the best medical treatment possible is going to be afforded to him. And it's also complicated because pre-existing conditions, we think of them as being sort of obvious and discrete, but they aren't like one of the highest risk factors for covid complications as hypertension and hypertension, though, is something that is really common in older people.

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And you wouldn't necessarily know it unless you had had it come up in some way. So like 59 percent of those 65 and older have been diagnosed with hypertension. So there are some of these risk factors that can sort of pile up without it being an obvious like, oh, you're sick. You know, only 20 percent of people in one study I looked at, only 20 percent of people over the age of 65 had no risk factors at all.

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Obviously, everyone hopes that the president, the first lady, everyone who's been infected gets well, recovers, etc. But we're talking about possibilities here and how it could shape the election. So what happens if the president has a bad case of covid? You know, he's all right. We've already mentioned that he may well be off the campaign trail for two weeks. What are the ways that our government functions when the president gets really sick?

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Well, that's one reason why you have a vice president in place. You also have a 25th Amendment where if the president is incapacitated for some period of time, then I believe a majority of his cabinet can enact the 25th Amendment and prevent him from temporarily carrying out his duties. You know, obviously, we're probably more concerned here if I'm 38 with the election as. Self and not with the office of the presidency, Persay, keep in mind, a couple of million Americans have already voted or have ballots have been printed.

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So my understanding is that it would be very difficult to physically remove the president's name from the ballot in any scenario. So, yeah, again, this is just me shrugging and saying there's a lot we don't know.

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What do you make of how this shapes public perception of the virus? I mean, so far we have seen a relatively partisan split on how seriously people are taking covid-19. Those are the Republican president and other people in his orbit, high profile Republicans getting covid change that. Probably not.

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Let me maybe a little bit. Right. But like you already had Kelly Loffler, the. Appointed Republican senator in Georgia who's running for re-election say, you know, I can't believe China gave Trump this virus, basically you just said Mark Meadows addressing reporters without a mask on. I don't know if he's tested negative. Presumably he has right now probably should still be wearing a mask.

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I mean, the notion that, like, somehow Trump Republicans are going to, like, get religion and radically change their behavior seems unlikely. I can't think of a single moment at any point in the Trump presidency where Trump pivoted to a kindler, kinder and gentler approach or more than about two hours.

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So, you know, I mean, I guess if the president did say, hey, you know, I was wrong about this, you got to take this seriously. It's a really bad illness. But just there's nothing ever about the president's behavior that would suggest he would act with any humility.

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Perry Nate mentioned responses from Carly Loffler, for example. What other kinds of responses have you seen from Republicans and Democrats at this point?

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Trump's campaign manager sent a memo to the staff that went public that at least publicly, they basically said, you know, if you feel like your you've been exposed, you should quarantine and actually emphasize that, you know, we support mask wearing. You know, I have been following all the campaign manager statements of all. It is very, very unequivocal that we support mass wearing, which is interesting. He may have been saying that the whole time, but I thought that was distinctly Biden's staff get better and got to, you know, but an email from their campaign manager basically saying, we're taking this very seriously.

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We've been taking this very seriously and we're very concerned about this. Not any sort of news on how Biden would campaign differently, but that's how kind of their messaging it. It looks like a few senators have been asked about the the the Supreme Court nomination process, and they're saying basically we're going to keep moving forward. No indication that the Barrett hearings will be delayed or that will change at all. So far, not referred to Mark Meadows, who and there's like this looks like a few White House officials who've been hand been talking to reporters outside, not wearing masks.

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I'll be curious, you know, how the White House briefing and things like that go as well. But so, so far, like, I guess I'm looking for something a little bit that'll be hard to see in the numbers. I don't expect Republican governors to or Republican lawmakers to go out and say, never mind, I should have been taking this more seriously than I was the whole time. And I'm not sure Republican voters will. But I'll be curious to see if we see different kinds of behavior like we're in like if Trump starts campaigning again in two weeks, let's say he is is pretty healthy, is able to campaign in two weeks, I will be curious to see what those events look like.

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And if they look the same as they did last week, which is basically like masses of people together, you know, events that look like they were in the 2016 campaign. I'll be curious to see if there's any changes at all. Do a few staffers of Trump's where Mass does hope Hicks wear a mask? Even if Trump is not, do the people around Trump change their behavior, even if the president will? So I'm looking for that a little bit.

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I expect if you're in a democratic state, there's been a lot of fighting over these Kobie restrictions. If you are a Democratic mayor or like I expect Andrew Cuomo, Andy Beshir, a few, Gavin Newsom, a few Democratic governors who've been trying to sort of keep some restrictions in hand, he encouraged Mass Waring to actually mention, hey, look, by the way, the president has this. We've got to take this really seriously. I think that will show up a lot.

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And my question will be also the governors of Florida and Tennessee this last week have basically got rid of, you know, any Kobie restrictions on businesses. They've been sort of discouraged. They've been sort of unsupportive of broad mask wearing. So I'll be curious. I don't expect a Republican governor to say to say I was wrong about this. Take it more seriously. But I wonder if their actions will change in any way. Like if you're a Republican governor and you were thinking about getting rid of all covid restrictions in your state on, you know, Wednesday, do you sort of slow that process down?

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You never do. You're not going to announce in public? I was going to do that, but that's the kind of thing I'm looking for. So there may be shifts that are a little bit subtle but are interesting.

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Yeah. You know, I think the answer to a lot of these things is yet to be seen. We don't know, but we will find out. I want to kind of before we wrap up here, maybe play a bit of a marker down in the ground. We haven't talked about the state of the race, I guess, at least for about a week at this point. But what does the race look like at this point in time so we can in the future talk about how things do or don't change going forward?

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Because from what I've seen, things have moved a little bit since the debate on Tuesday.

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Where are we right now?

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We're in a position where if the election was held today and if polls were correct, that Trump would lose in a landslide, he is around eight points down in our national polling average. If anything, there only a couple of polls that were conducted since the debate. Those actually had him down further by nine points and 13 points in two postdebate polls. The president's re-election bid is not in good shape, the cycle of news stories that we're kind of on his heels.

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The tax return story, the Supreme Court, having lost the debate, according to polls, were not a good set of stories for him. I don't know if this will make things worse or what, but, yeah, I mean, the baseline outcome at this case at this point is that, like, Trump would lose. But as you can see, I mean, the very irony of having on October 1st can have another October surprise, although, frankly, there is something kind of predictable about one of the candidates who was not taking that many precautions, getting covid like many, many, many other Americans have.

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Right. But, yeah, there was not a lot of I mean, it was suspenseful in a sense.

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You know, our forecastable had Trump with a 20 percent chance of winning, which is not trivial, but it would probably at this point involve a big polling error, winning the Electoral College, but not the popular vote, rather than kind of some path back to Trump being suddenly popular again.

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All right. Well, I think we will leave things there. And, of course, we will be back in just a few days on Monday to talk about what new information we have. But that's it for now. So thank you, Nate, Perry and Maggie, thanks. Thanks a bunch, Gaylan. Thank you, everybody. My name is Calendaring. Tony Chow is in the virtual control room. You can get in touch by emailing us at podcasts at five thirty eight dotcom.

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You can also, of course, treated us with any questions or comments. If you're a fan of the show, leave us a rating or review in the Apple podcast store. Also, follow us on YouTube. Thanks for listening and we'll see you soon.