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President Donald Trump answers a question from PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor during a coronavirus task force briefing in the Rose Garden of the White House, Sunday, March 29, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)


2020 Watch: Will Donald Trump lead by addition or subtraction?

Trump has spent much of his presidency speaking only to his conservative base.

The coronavirus pandemic has effectively put presidential politics on hold as elected officials work furiously to save lives and rescue the economy.

It’s unclear when the next Democratic primary contest will take place or whether there will be another primary debate. This is President Donald Trump’s show for now as the Republican president is tasked with leading the nation through the worst public health crisis in the modern era.

Democratic front-runner Joe Biden and his allies will try to break through, but they’ll have to be content with taking a distant back seat for now as the focus stays with the dangerous business of governance in a public health crisis.

Trump has spent much of his presidency speaking only to his conservative base. But in the midst of a pandemic that threatens the lives of Republicans, Democrats and independents, the Republican president’s political survival likely depends on his ability to shelve the partisanship and lead all Americans.

Seven months before Election Day, it’s difficult to imagine a bigger test of presidential leadership. Trump has sent mixed signals, with strong moments in recent days, but he slipped into a dangerous bout of pre-pandemic partisanship over the weekend by threatening to withhold federal support from “the woman in Michigan” — referring to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat — and insulting her with a childish nickname on social media. His base may love it, but that kind of overt partisanship likely won’t play well in November — especially in a state like Michigan, which Trump needs to win, and among female voters.

Trump has signed into law a $2 trillion bipartisan economic rescue package that represents the largest government expenditure in world history.

This week we’ll start to see its first effects. The stakes are high for millions of Americans’ livelihoods and the November election.

History suggests that the health of the economy will decide Trump’s reelection as much as any other factor. The Dow is down more than 7,000 points since the beginning of the year, and a record 3.3 million newly unemployed Americans filed jobless claims last week.

As bad as that is, market experts suggest it could get worse. We’ll all be looking for new signs this week that the historically large stimulus helped stop the bleeding.

You’ve heard about Biden’s home studio by now. Well, the 77-year-old Democrat hopes to host at least one virtual campaign event each day from the cozy confines of his Delaware rec room to help avoid being forgotten as the nation focuses on the immediate challenges of surviving a pandemic.

It won’t be easy. Trump’s daily White House press briefings have quickly become must-see TV, no matter how much Democrats scream, while Biden’s low-fi events have been awkward at times if you can even find them. With the Democratic nomination nearly his, this isn’t the way the former vice president wanted to launch the next phase of his campaign.

Trump and Biden suddenly find themselves navigating perilous terrain as they eye the mountain of campaign cash they’ll need to ramp up their campaigns.

What used to be a routine request for political cash could now come across as tone-deaf or tacky with millions of Americans out of work and death tolls rising.

Our colleague Brian Slodysko reports that the challenge is particularly acute for Biden, who is holding virtual fundraisers via video conferences that lack the exclusivity and tactile nature of an in-person event.

Should Biden lock up the nomination, the former vice president will be immediately tasked with building out a nationwide campaign that’s strong enough to compete with Trump’s mammoth organization. Coronavirus or not, he can’t afford to wait.

This is a moment in American history that should transcend politics. While politics may feel trivial at the moment, the decisions and strategies Democrats and Republicans adopt today will set the landscape for the November election — and with it, the direction of American leadership for years to come.


Republished with permission from The Associated Press.

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