Happy Scribe

It's Friday, October the 2nd, and you're very welcome to the Inside Politics podcast from the Irish Times. I'm Hewlin. And later on in today's show, we are going to be looking at some of the political, legal and constitutional implications of the really startling news coming out of the United States over the last 24 hours. So stick with us for that.


I'm joined today by our London editor, Dennis Stanton, because we wanted to try to get a handle on what's really happening behind the scenes as we enter what looks like it's going to be the final street of negotiations on the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union. But, Dennis, I have to start with another subject, because it's an extraordinary day to day. You're a former Washington correspondent for the Irish Times. Donald Trump and Melania Trump announced that they had tested positive for covid-19 last night.


I'm just looking at the the wires over the last few minutes. It's the middle of the afternoon on Friday. And they're stating that Trump is as mild symptoms of covid-19 right now. What do you make of it all?


Well, you know, they often talk about an October surprise coming before an American election. And usually these are surprises that are constructed. They're deliberate surprises by one side or the other. We've never had a surprise like this. And it just raises so many questions. First of all, obviously, there's the question of what happens to the campaigns. Donald Trump, who's been having very much a physical Meet the People campaign, he's obviously not going to be able to continue doing that.


So if he is able to campaign at all, it'll have to be rather like Joe Biden did for much of it, the kind of basement campaign on Zoome. And then the question is, what can the Biden campaign do? Can Joe Biden will Joe Biden, for example, have to self isolate because of having been in that debate with with Donald Trump? We haven't heard, as we're speaking now yet from the Biden campaign what exactly they're going to do.


So, first of all, there's the whole question about how the campaign goes on. Then there's a question really about how are people going to feel about this? Is this going to suddenly create a big wave of sympathy for Donald Trump, which you saw with Boris Johnson when Boris Johnson became ill with Coronavirus? But already at that time, the Johnson government was very popular. You had had this big rise in support in the previous days for the government because people were rallying around the flag in the coronavirus campaign in a way.


And so then there was sympathy for Boris Johnson. Boris Johnson also at that time was much more popular, though, than Donald Trump is. And in the very polarized political atmosphere in the US, I would think that Donald Trump would get an awful lot of sympathy from his own supporters. But I'm not sure too many people beyond that group are going to really feel hugely moved. It's not that anybody which is a meal was just that. I don't think they're going to really change their mind about how they're going to vote because they feel sympathy for President Trump and his family.


And as I recall, I mean, it's a long time ago and it's a much earlier in the story of this pandemic, when Boris Johnson got sick, there was a certain amount of tut tutting about the fact that even at that stage, he wasn't quite following the protocols which had been put in place of social distancing and protecting yourself and and things like that. Things are very different. Now. I'm looking at photographs of Donald Trump has been up to over the last week or so surrounded by these entourages of people standing up before tens of thousands of fans, very few and none of them wearing masks or practicing social distancing.


And perhaps a closer parallel might be with having a scenario in Brazil who sort of scorned and pooh poohed the threat of coronavirus but then ended up catching it.


Yeah, I think Bosna is a good example because he was much more out there in terms of sneering at it rather than the way the Trump did at the early stages of the epidemic. Boris Johnson was very lackadaisical and he kind of announced that he had shaken everybody's hand in hospital wards he went to. But he kind of fairly quickly changed. But certainly that was used to some extent against him year after he recovers that he, you know, as part of the whole case against the government not taking this thing seriously.


And I suppose the other thing was that it does in the American campaign is it puts coronavirus back into the center of the campaign. And every day you're talking about coronavirus is bad for Donald Trump. And so every day that you were talking about something else, almost no matter what it was, then it was a better. So even when you were talking about the the crazy debate and his crazy performance, even though that was really good for him, it was certainly better than talking about coronavirus.


Now, nobody would be able to avoid talking about that, connecting very directly the consequences for him, for other people that they see. And as the days go by, you're probably going to hear about more people within that circle who have been affected. And that, again, is just going to dominate the headlines. And it's going to reinforce this message that here he was faced with this major challenge and he didn't handle it well.


Now, before we turn to Brexit, actually just sticking with coronavirus for a minute because. Reading one of your you occasionally wrote these very evocative London letters for what about what life is like for for you in in and around Westminster these days? Very nice pen pictures of of what's happening as a great one in the paper today about an Italian restaurant, which you frequent and the challenges it faces and the colorful characters who attend.


And it's a great way of kind of humanizing for us what life is like over there at the moment.


And I presume maybe I'm wrong, but I presume that that the nature of the coronavirus resurgence over the last few weeks and the government's reaction to it and how well that's received or not received must play into everything else that's going on, including the negotiations over Brexit.


Yes, it does, because one of the the way in which the British government is now taxing this wave of the coronavirus is mainly through local measures rather than national measures. There are so there's a certain number of national measures like the so-called rule of six, which means you can't gather with more than six people either indoors or outdoors, and then that they've introduced a curfew for bars and restaurants will have to close at 10:00 pm. But for about a quarter of the people in England, they're under extra restrictions.


So sometimes they can't go and visit their somebody in another household or they're not allowed to leave their area. And so there's a whole kind of patchwork of these local lockdowns, which are quite popular among people who are not affected by them because people like and they feel comfortable about, you know, limiting other people's freedom. But they're very unpopular among the people who are affected. Generally speaking, the lockdown measures are, according to the polls, popular. And they're especially popular among conservative voters, but they're very unpopular among conservative MPs.


And partly this has to do with the impact on business. And a lot of people who would be members of conservative associations would be small business owners. Some of them might be in the hospitality industry and they can see the impact of some of these restrictions. And then there's also a libertarian strain within parts of the Conservative Party. There's also dislike. So there's been quite a lot of discontent on the backbenches. You had a rebellion this week where Graeme Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers, oddly became the leader of a rebellion against the government, where he was demanding more parliamentary scrutiny of these new measures.


And basically what they wanted is to have a vote on any new measures that come in. And so the government had to compromise, promising the votes on any significant national measures that they introduced. And so I think they will have a bit more scrutiny, but it certainly does affect the mood. And again, also, rather, in parallel with Donald Trump, there is just this sense that this government hasn't got a grip. It's it's been very good at campaigning and winning the election.


It hasn't been good at governing. And again, this big challenge of dealing with coronavirus, they face the same problems that every country faces in a way in trying to tackle it. But because partly Boris Johnson has always overpromised and underdelivered, everybody is very conscious of the fact that they don't have a proper test and trace system running, that it's been farmed out to people who don't necessarily have all that much expertise but are friends of the government. And it's been outsourced to companies, you know, to do the tracing and call centres and just the sense that just they're not really entirely in control of it.


And so that all does feed into an atmosphere around the government of it just not being very good.


And how then does that impact on I recall a month or two ago there was a sort of a feeling I don't know how much of it was bravado or swagger or how much of it was real that that that some people in the in the Tory party in particular thought that because of the incredible strains and pressures on the economy caused by coronavirus and the pandemic, that that, if anything, was a reason to go for broke on the negotiations, for the exit from the EU, kind of a you'll take all the pain together and you won't notice it so much because you thought it was mostly the pandemic.


It always seemed like a slightly dangerous way of thinking about it to me.


But I wonder, is that still there or does the what is likely to be a very difficult winter for all of us approaches? Might that be ameliorated a bit?


Certainly has. I think been a debate within Downing Street. And there are a few sort of factions within the government in terms of what they think is the best approach to the Brexit deal. The deal that they're likely to get is not it's going to be a pretty thin deal. So there's still going to be quite an amount of disruption of the borders. They're still expecting to have queues of trucks at Dover and in Kent, even if they get the deal.


So the advantages of the deal are fairly modest. The disadvantages of not having it are pretty bad in terms of even more chaos. But there are some within Downing Street people like Dominic Cummings, Oliver Lewis, who's his main Brexit guy, and David Frost himself, to some extent, who've been inclined to say, let's hold out for something. You know, that's a bit more, you know, what we want and if necessary, let's go for no deal.


And there is also an argument that politically there are some advantages to New Deal and that actually, if you haven't done very well, the coronavirus that the way in which you can generate your own people is through culture wars like singing Rule Britannia at the end of the Proms or Churchill statue or hot button issues like trans rights or whatever, and also get back to some kind of conflict with Europe. And if you look at the structure of the conservative voting coalition, you've got this kind of base of support of around 31, 32 percent, people who just always vote conservative no matter what.


And then what gets them up to 40 percent are the people who voted for UKIP in 2015 and these people who were traditional Labour voters in the so-called red walled north east, the North Midlands and who who defected from Labour to the Conservatives. We're talking really about two million people. And this is actually where the battle in British politics is being fought, because customer has his main advisor is Claire Ainslee, who's written this book about the new working class. And she, again, is talking all the time and they're honing policies all the time about how to appeal to that particular group.


And so it's very similar to, say, the United States, where the Rust Belt and places that we keep talking about in this campaign, like Michigan and Pennsylvania, places, they're really not that important numerically and certainly economically. They're not really the future of the country. But nonetheless, these are very important here. So there is some logic to the idea that actually the thing you've got to do is to keep these people onside. If you're the Conservative Party and if what it takes is some kind of culture war, then that might be the thing to do against all of that are the facts of the fact that this country is dealing with the coronavirus epidemic.


Last week, Rishi Sunako, the chancellor, said that's the furlaud scheme, which has been paying most people most of people's wages for, you know, since the thing began. That's going to end at the end of October and it'll be replaced by something much less generous where really, instead of paying 80 per cent that the government would pay 22 percent of the salary of somebody who's being kept on. And that that means, obviously, that the employer has to pay a much larger proportion.


So if, say, they've got people on Part-Time Hours and so you've got two people and you don't have work for two, you divide the work between the two, but you basically top up their wages. So they both have more or less full time salary. But that's going to cost a lot for the employer. So there's a disincentive for the employer to do that. And so you're likely to see mass unemployment towards the second half of this year.


All of these coronavirus measures are going to have huge they're already having huge impact on the hospitality sector events, lots of other places. And so you're going to have a pretty rough winter. In any case, you've got basic things that happen every year, like flooding and flood defences never seem to work. And so that's a bit of a headache politically and logistically. And so then the idea that you have on top of all of this, the chaos of a disorderly exit from the transition period is something which I think has actually finally persuaded Boris Johnson that actually it is time to go for a deal.


And then are those observers who say that the noises and they are already noises, I think coming out of coming out of London over the last week or so are a little bit more positive, a little bit more enthusiastic about about striking a deal than they were here before.


Yeah, the noises are positive, but in fact, nothing really of substance has happened in the negotiating round in Brussels this week. But the noises and the body language and the attitude of the British side was much more positive than it has been. And it's as if certainly on the European side, I think their impression is that something has happened, that the British have decided this week that they're going for a deal. And that's certainly the impression that we get here in London as well.


That's that they have decided to go for the next step. If you recall, back in the summer, Boris Johnson had this video meeting with Ursula von der Leyen and the presidents of the other European institutions. And he them at that stage said, look, I do want a deal, but these are my red lines that, you know, I can't go beyond. And they said, OK, we hear you and we're going to try to come up with some approach that will respect your red lines.


And so then Michel Barnier subsequently moved the European position on a number of issues, but notably on the issue of state aid or state subsidies for businesses, where instead of saying that, as the Europeans had initially demanded, that Britain would have to continue to follow European rules on state aid, even as they changed the dynamic alignment, as they called that he's saying actually. So you can have your own system and you just tell us what your subsidy rules are going to be.


You would have an independent British regulator of that, and we'd like to know what the terms of that are. And then we have a dispute resolution mechanism between ourselves. And so that that was quite a big move. And then after that, each time Barnier met David Frost, he was expecting some kind of reciprocal move which never came. But what appears to be happening now is that the British are now starting to accept because their initial position was our state aid rules are not your business.


And if we subsidize a company in a way that you think is unfair, then just let's go to some dispute resolution system. But that's not right into the treaty. Any of these rules about how we subsidize. And so now they seem to have moved from that. And where the crux of the dispute now appears to be is that under normal European the European system, if you want to subsidize a company, what you have to do is to notify the European Commission in advance before you give them the money or whatever the other help is.


And I and the British are saying we don't want to have to tell you in advance what we're going to do. We'll tell you we've done it. And then afterwards you can then say if you find this within scope or not, and then we kind of work out our arbitration. And so that appears to be the kind of area they're all moving to. And that would seem to me to be an area where, although it's still going to be difficult, you could potentially get some kind of deal.


I mean, these deals always end up with a kind of quite substantial grey areas around the around the points of friction, don't they? And a little bit of an agreement for a little bit of, you know, just to sort of allow a bit of wiggle room, I suppose.


And of course, that was true of the withdrawal bill. And then the internal markets bill came along and caused consternation underneath. The European Union has has started legal proceedings against the UK this week on the basis of it being in breach of the the withdrawal bill in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol, does all that kind of stuff, which seems to have calmed down despite the fact of the legal action.


Does that inflect at all the ability to to come to a deal?


I say this because Naomi O'Leary, our Europe correspondent, in a piece in today's Irish Times, talks about how the Brussels side, more so than before, really wants to see things nailed down if things are going to be agreed.


In other words, there's less trust there. Yes, I think that's absolutely right, that there's no question but that one of the reasons the internal market bill was a mistake was because it actually made the price of a deal with Brussels higher because they would have to have things nailed down. Having said that, the the two processes are going on separately. So you have this legal proceeding that the European Union is taking against the British for breaking the withdrawal agreement with the internal market.


But at the same time, and quite separately and discrete from that, you've got the free trade agreement talks. And for now, those two don't collide. Now, it may be that when you get to the very end of the process and so you've agreed the terms of a free trade agreement. And at that stage, the Europeans say, OK, well, we're not actually going to sign it until you remove these clauses from the bill. Happily, for everybody concerned, the bill is taking its time, going through the House of Lords.


It hasn't actually got there yet. Probably get there around the middle of October. And their Lordships have made clear they're taking their time with it. They've got to give it plenty of time to debate and then they can propose amendments. And those amendments go back to the Commons. And then the Commons can say, no, we don't want them. They go back to the Lords. And this is a process called ping pong. And then the Lords can send it back a second time.


And that all will take us well into November and possibly longer, so that by the time you're likely to be doing a deal, this bill will not have become law as yet. And so it's quite easy for the British government to say at that stage to say, OK, we accept the Lords amendments which remove these offending articles from the bill and everybody lives happily ever after. There is still a theoretical possibility that the Europeans agree to do a free trade agreement, even if the British government doesn't take those clauses out.


I think it's unlikely, but this is a theoretical possibility. And then you have this legal proceeding going on, continuing to go on, you know, in parallel to it. But the point you make with regard to the politics of that is very hard for Europeans to say. We're going to trust you if you've already said you're going to break the agreements we made earlier this year.


And in terms of Ireland's input into that, because it strikes me I mean, you say quite rightly that a very thin deal is not hugely different from no deal at all. But one way it is significantly different is if the internal market presumably then is passed after a no deal. And Britain says that it has the race essentially to dismantle what Ireland would consider as the key points that the Northern Irish protocol also actually I mean, in fact, there is a big difference in lots of ways between no deal and Athen deal.


And one of the differences is that you would have no tariffs and quotas, which would mean, for example, that if you did implement the Northern Ireland protocol, there's an awful lot of the trouble in terms of friction on the on the border of the Irish Sea would be removed just by virtue of the fact that you you don't have tariffs and you don't worry about that. So it's easier to solve the problems that are within it. But certainly that is also the case that, first of all, what you would have is the possibility of Britain deciding it was going to a canal past the internal market.


Bill was also actually implemented the protocol in a way which is unacceptable to the Europeans. And so then you get into the situation where the Europeans say these checks that you've imposed, such as they are, don't protect the single market. They don't protect us from goods coming in to Ireland and consequently into the single market. And so we're going to have to find another way of protecting ourselves from that. And there are two other ways. If the Europeans are really serious about protecting the rest of the single market, one is to find some way of checking away from the border, perhaps.


But essentially you are trying to put in the controls between north and south, whatever way you managed to do it, which clearly is very difficult. It's very difficult to be effective. It's politically engaged in all kinds of other ways, a very hard thing to do. And then another option, of course, would be that you effectively put a border or some kind of border between Ireland and the rest of the European Union so that you check goods coming from Ireland in there or that you have some kind of process.


That's something which the Irish government would is utterly horrified at the thought of, because it's effectively means that we become Second-Class members of the single market. And for a country that depends so much on exporting them, free trade is, you know, it would be a huge blow. And so so I think that both of those are real dangers. If if you have no deal and you know, and Ireland would then be squeezed in a really horrible position of having to reassure our European partners that we're protecting their single market and our single market and then also trying to deal with the British in such a way that doesn't exacerbate tensions because obviously tensions.


With London not in Dobsons interest, but also any tensions of that nature can exacerbate tensions in Northern Ireland, which again is in nobody's interest.


And finally, down as there always needs to be, a clock ticking ever louder when when these processes are going on that the British during the summer were saying that that clock was a countdown to the middle of October, about two weeks time when there's a major EU summit and nobody seems to accept that that's the timetable or the deadline anymore, which is fortunate, I suppose, because it's coming upon us very quickly.


What is the deadline? And is there is one of these famous tunnels, does that need to be entered at some point?


And the final question, when when does the tunnel need to happen?


Well, the deadlines are a bit like, you know, when you set the alarm clock and you set it sort of a few times, you set for seven o'clock, seven thirty eight o'clock. And so that you've got a number of options. And obviously the earliest one is the one that Boris Johnson says, which is we need to have a clear picture of where it's going by the 15th of October, all the ways we should just start preparing for focusing on no deal.


Michel Barnier said it really has to be done by October 31st so that we can get everything done properly. Other people say, well, actually early November is fine because the European institutions always manage. I mean, if you think back to the withdrawal agreement, all these procedures that were going to take forever in the European Parliament, they just managed to arrange a sitting and they did them. So I think you can do all of this stuff actually relatively quickly.


So the only real deadline is the 31st of December. But I do think that, you know, it's usually these things usually go longer rather than shorter. So I would say we're talking November rather than October, possibly the first half of November. That would give everybody a certain amount of comfort and where the tunnel is concerned. Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen are having a call on Saturday. And that, as I understand it, is not really going to be necessarily about going into a tunnel, but it will be about another round of negotiations.


Another round of negotiations would try to get the two sides close enough that if the idea if they go into the tunnel and what the tunnel means really, is that the negotiators go into this closed kind of series of negotiations where they don't talk to anyone, they don't talk to the media, they don't talk to the member state governments. And this thing is completely sealed. And they then try to work out all of the differences. And then at the end of this process, they have to go back, obviously, to their principles and say, will this do or will that do?


And and then they hope to get a deal. But to get to go into that tunnel, the Europeans always say there's no point of going into a tunnel less than you can see some light at the end of it. And so that really means that they have to get a bit closer than they are now before they go into that tunnel. So what you might find is that you get from the Lion and Jonathan to agree tomorrow that there will be a further round of talks this week are supposed to be the last.


And that then leading up to the European summit will allow Barnier to say we are making progress. And so I think we should enter an intensive period of negotiations. Europeans hate the word tunnel. They don't have to use it. There's a lot of talk about submarines, but one way or another, they don't like it. And so, you know, and so that then they they would go into this intensive period and then try to find a deal.


One of the utilities in a way of the internal market bill is that it has changed the atmosphere in its created a sort of a smokescreen, which because it basically created all these phoney obstacles, because they sort of they said the Europeans were going to impose a food blockade on Northern Ireland, which there never were. But having not imposed that, they can now kind of lift it. And and so so there are all kinds of threats which were never made, which can then be lifted.


And so Boris Johnson could be in a position to say, you know, our European friends have seen reason. And as a result of this, these clauses, which were always only a safety net, are no longer necessary. And so that also then is a bit of a smokescreen for perhaps doing a deal and making a bit of a retreat.


Denis, thanks for joining us, as always, and have a lovely weekend.


Now, as already mentioned, last night, the news broke that President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania Trump, had both been tested and found positive for covid-19.


That obviously opens up a range of vistas for what's going to happen in the next four weeks, the final stretch of the election campaign. And it also raises perhaps even deeper questions about what might happen should coronavirus be very serious for Donald Trump. One doesn't want to be ghoulish about any of these things, but you have to say that he is in some respects, at least in a high risk category.


And in any case, right through this campaign, there's always seemed to me to be a question that Joe Biden is the oldest presidential candidate in the history of the United States. And I think I'm right in saying that Donald Trump is the second oldest. So you don't need to be a qualified actuary to know that there might be some questions which might arise about his health and mortality and things like that.


And then they beg questions about what happens in the election itself, kind of take place in the forum, which we expected to answer those questions, I hope. I'm joined by Professor Eric Heberlig. He's professor of political science and political administration at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. Eric, you're very welcome to the podcast.


Thanks for having me. Great to be here. Well, let's let's start with a few questions.


I mean, a couple of these ones I think I know the answer to one pertains to what happens to a sitting president when he's in power and he becomes so ill or in some other way incapacitated. Do you have the 25th Amendment which deals with that case?


Yes. Well, the vice president is there even before the 25th Amendment to take over when when the president can't do the job. But since the 25th Amendment, we have a procedure where that the president, if he's temporarily incapacitated, such as going into surgery, can basically turn over power temporarily to the vice president. So we're hoping that, as in most instances, the president's case is mild and those issues don't come to the fore. But we have a procedure in place should a serious health consequences ensue.


And that procedure, I think, has been applied in a number of occasions since since the early 1960s at least.


Yeah, we've had presidents who have had surgeries, who have turned over power to the vice president for the hours they needed to recover. So it's certainly a newsworthy event, but from a governing perspective, it's not terribly serious or unheard of.


Well, then what's more unclear to me is what would happen if a candidate of one of the major parties in a presidential election were to become so ill as to be incapacitated and not be able to actually continue to run for election or indeed, in an extreme case, perhaps to to die?


We have no precedent for this. So we'll be finding it out over the next few weeks. I think the short answer is that Congress has the responsibility for scheduling federal elections. And since eighteen forty five, they've scheduled it for the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. And I would not anticipate Congress changing the date of the election when we're so close upon it. So I think it's all systems are go for the normal conduct of the election. Your your viewers probably are aware that a number of states have already started early voting in the United States.


So the election is really already underway and the election just proceeds as it is. If the president cannot physically campaign, he's still running his advertisements. You can still have surrogates speak on his behalf. And the Biden campaign will have to decide whether it kind of backs off out of deference to the president's inability to campaign or how they adjust their own campaign.


Although it seems to me, and I'm not sure if you're a you would agree that Joe Biden has been running a relatively low key campaign. He hasn't been running around holding huge rallies, partly because of the health situation at the moment. And Donald Trump has been quite different and quite interesting example even to look at what his schedule was planned to be for today. It was really busy and now obviously it's not busy anymore. So in a way, the effect of this is to freeze the campaign at this particular moment in time.


And given that Biden currently, according to nearly all the polls, has a comfortable lead, that benefits him more than it does Donald Trump.


Yeah, the the Trump campaign is really based on its rallies, as it was in 2016. So at the very least, this takes the president out of circulation for rallies for at least two weeks. But I think more importantly, it undercuts really one of the primary messages of the Trump campaign and governing strategy since the beginning of the virus. Which is this is not terribly serious. Go on about your business. Well, if the president is relegated to the White House because of the virus, that makes it much harder for him to claim that the rest of us should go about our normal business.


And it certainly plays into what Abidin central arguments, which was that the president didn't take this seriously enough, didn't coordinate in an effective enough national response. And the commercials that Biden is already playing about the ads, he doesn't really need to change those those ads. This just makes those ads and the message all the more salient to the American public that Biden can really take the high road here and wish the president the best and continue with the advertising he's already running.


And people will naturally make the link between buyer Biden's previous criticisms and the current situation.


And it's not just his criticisms. We know again from the polling that people don't think that Donald Trump did a good job. His numbers on his handling of the pandemic are very bad. And we've seen in a number of instances, most recently, the first debate earlier this week, that Donald Trump was not keen to talk about covid-19 of the coronavirus in any great depth. He wanted to switch the subject to other subjects, and now he's not going to be able to do that at all because it's right at the center of this campaign, though it certainly makes the issue impossible for him to get away from.


And it raises the importance of the issue, which was already extremely important for the American public, that, you know, they rated Trump performance lower on the coronavirus than other elements, particularly the state of the economy. So one of Trump's strategies has been to try to refocus people's attention on issues where he's rated better than on the virus.


Well, if the virus is now the big perhaps the only issue, that means more people are going to make their decision on voting based on their evaluation of him on the virus than on the economy or other things in which they might get more favorable. So the fact that he, the president, is already behind and more people are likely to evaluate him on this issue on which he's weak, makes it very, very difficult for him to catch up.


So it's definitely I think it's fair to say it's it's it's another blow blow for his campaign. But let me come back to that question I asked earlier. And I don't know, it may seem in bad taste, but I don't think it is. This is a this is a dangerous disease, which we know has has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans and millions of people, more than a million people around the world.


What would happen if an American candidate for president were to die in the two weeks before an election took place or indeed two days before an election took place? What does the American constitution and American law say about that?


The American constitution says nothing about it other than that the vice president would take over as president. Now, the political parties themselves have rules as to what happens if their candidates are incapacitated at this stage of the race. Vice President Trump would become the Republican's candidate. They really don't have time to do to go to plan B to to nominate an alternative at this point, but in theory at least, I mean, I think you're quite right.


But in theory, at least, they have the right to nominate whoever they see fit because they're the Republican Party. It doesn't have to be Mike Pence. But in practical terms, it would have to be Mike Pence.


Yeah, I mean, they have a procedure for four nominating candidates if their candidate is incapacitated. But that takes time to do. And at this stage, we are you know, and I don't think they'd have a reason to switch to anyone else other than Mike Pence to begin with.


And if there is a different name, ends up on the top of the ballot paper than the name that was on the ballot paper, that as you said yourself, I think millions of people have already voted. And the does that leave the situation open to legal challenge in any way?


Oh, I presume so. But yeah, as you pointed out, the ballots are printed. So there's nothing that can be done about that at this point other than, you know, again, this is a totally hypothetical situation. The party announcing that, well, a vote for Trump would really mean a vote for somebody else. I mean, that has happened in the United States.


And so Senate races when the senator has died shortly before election. But again, that's those are based on state laws and here we're dealing with a presidential race where, you know, 50 different state laws are going to line up with the situation at hand.


And we do have to remember as well, don't we, that the American people don't vote directly for their president. They vote for electors to an electoral college. And those electors are are bound to a large degree by the laws of their own states in terms of in terms of following the directions of of the voters. And there are various rules that vary from state to state. Is there any possibility at all that that that could end up being thrown into confusion or disarray?


Less so now than previous elections? The Supreme Court just had a decision this summer that said that electors basically have to follow the law if their state law says that they have to vote based on the popular vote in their state, that they are legally bound to do that. So if basically the way it works in the United States is that if the states voters vote for the candidate of a particular party, all of the state's electors are awarded to the candidate of that party.


So even if Donald Trump were to pass away prior to the election, it would if if the Trump Pence ticket won North Carolina. North Carolina's electors would be pledged to the Trump Pentz ticket and they would vote in the Electoral College for the other Republican candidates. I'm not I'm not too worried about that.


You're nothing but my inner nerd forces me to point out that there are two states in which that works slightly differently, but that is generally the rule across across all the other states. Yeah.


To two states, award electors by congressional district rather than statewide to get back to the campaign.


Then it seems very likely that the next debate, which was due to be a town hall style debate in two weeks time and won't take place, certainly won't take place in exactly two weeks time because President Trump will either still be in quarantine or barely emerging from it. I can't see that that's that's realistically an option.


And there was a lot of comment about the quality of the debate, which happened earlier this week. And there was even some talk that that that the second and third debate shouldn't go ahead because the first one was so bad. It seems quite possible we might see no more debates this time.


It's possible. We'll see no more debates. It's possible they move the town hall format that was to be in two weeks or 13 days, which is just outside of or just inside the 14 day quarantine period. There was a third debate schedule the following week. They might move the town hall format to that final week and have two debates. They might reschedule. At this point, it's too early to tell. Certainly those conversations will be held.


There has been a lot of talk during this election campaign, primarily from Donald Trump himself, about the the legitimacy of the election process, whether it can be trusted, the fact that mail in ballots and absentee ballots, which are obviously going to form a much larger part of the election this year, can't be trusted. All those statements have been made, really very little evidence to support them. It should be said there is there isn't much evidence of mass fraud in any way in American elections, contrary to what Donald Trump has said.


But it is still become part of the agenda because he is the president and he's put it on the agenda. And do those questions of legitimacy become even more heated? Do you think as as we look forward to it, to a campaign which has been, I suppose, heightened even more by the events of the last 24 hours?


I certainly think that's a risk if the president is already saying there's a number of problems with the validity of the election. And then he says, well, I wasn't able to campaign because of this virus. We should push it back or we should do something else. I certainly think his supporters have shown their willingness to agree and parrot whatever he says. But that's just one more uncertainty to throw into the mix here.


And again, given that this is a federal law, that the election is held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday, and we don't have the capacity to change it, that just sets us up for a big mess on November 3rd, if the president is using that as a rationale for his supporters to object to the results.


What does a big mess look like in that regard?


I think it largely depends on how other Republican officials react, particularly Mitch McConnell, the majority leader of the Senate, and Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives. If they stand up and say the election was conducted legitimately, the votes are counted and they're accurate and the results are what they are.


And should the vote show that Donald Trump lost and they say we lost, it's over. I think that won't go the whole way in counteracting the president's objections. But I think it's a necessary condition for people, to Republicans in particular, to accept the results of the election in a peaceful way.


And that what that effectively would mean that the the the establishment Republican Party, the establishment Republican Party leaders, in a way, would finally be doing what some people have called on them to do for years and breaking with Donald Trump.


Yeah, I mean, the risk in that scenario is that they haven't shown a lot of precedent over the last four years in standing up for traditional norms or the rule of law or even the powers of their own institutions in our checks and balances system and in standing up to the president. But I think that you would see here that there is long term risk to the credibility of their party if the votes are clear.


So but but that's one of the great uncertainties about how this is all going to unfold. I am sure Senator McConnell and. Senator McCarthy, you have been thinking about what they would do in that type of scenario. Final question to you. There's the word unprecedented is used a bit too much these days for my liking. Everything seems to be unprecedented. But this does seem to me to be an unprecedented moment in American political history, going back more than two centuries now, both into the nature and the character of the president himself and the way he deports himself in the office and then just the never ending succession of scandal and drama and catastrophe that just seems to follow him.


In this case. It is literally true that we have never had an instance like this in American history. So all the other events you could say are really unusual. No one's done that before. But yeah, we have not had this before. We are out rolling with it. Pretty much all you can do is keep your seatbelts on.


We'll leave it there. Professor Erica Hill, thank you very much indeed for joining us today. My pleasure.


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