Joe Biden Pulls Campaign Ads As Donald Trump Heads to Hospital for COVID-19 Treatment

Biden/Trump Combo Shot
Donald Trump heads for the hospital and Joe Biden pulls his campaign ads. This combination of pictures created on September 29, 2020 shows US President Donald Trump (L) and Democratic Presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden squaring off during the first presidential debate at the Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio on September 29, 2020. JIM WATSON,SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty

As President Trump headed to Walter Reed hospital in the wake of his COVID-19 diagnosis, former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign announced that it was pulling all negative campaign ads.

Biden had already said he and his wife would "continue to pray for the health and safety of the President and the First Lady"; later in the day the campaign announced that both Bidens had tested negative for the virus.

Biden, until very recently, campaigned mostly from his basement in Delaware. He rarely took questions from reporters and is usually seen wearing a mask—something the president mocked him for during the debate on Tuesday. Now it is Trump who will be stuck in the bunker for at least two weeks, while Biden this week has done more public campaign events, including a whistle-stop tour through several battleground states. His campaign has also given permission to volunteers to begin knocking on doors in key states, something they had refrained from doing so far because of virus fears.

The president and his campaign staff spent Friday morning figuring out how the campaign goes forward from here. Trump over the next few days had rallies scheduled for Florida, Wisconsin and Arizona among other battleground states. The big ''mega rallies,'' as one campaign aide calls them, ''are the president's political life blood. He loves doing them, and the crowds love seeing him." But they were now off the table for at least fourteen days, Trump's quarantine period, and possibly longer should his now "mild" symptoms worsen. By late Friday afternoon Trump was being moved to Walter Reed Military Medical center as a "precautionary measure."

Earlier in the afternoon, campaign manager Bill Stepien issued a statement saying that all campaign events involving the president were ''being moved to virtual events, or were temporarily postponed." Trump's participation in the second debate, on October 15, was now in question, also dependent on whether his illness worsens over the next two weeks. Glum aides at the campaign's headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, are now focused on trying to figure out how the president can climb out of a hole that had just grown deeper.

The Trump campaign has worked to cast Biden as the candidate of "lockdowns" while promoting Trump as the champion of economic reopening. He has repeatedly cited both the widespread collateral health damage of lockdowns—in particular depression and an increased number of suicides—and the economic costs as reason to avoid them. And in keeping with his reopening theme, the campaign resumed big outdoor rallies, and didn't require attendees to wear masks or socially distance during them.

Donald Trump COVID-19 diagnosis Republican Democrat reactions
US President Donald Trump holds up a COVID-19 testing swab at his April 19 daily coronavirus briefing. A new poll has shown the difference between Republicans and Democrats a day after Trump tested positive for COVID-19. Tasos Katopodis/Getty

The contrast, the campaign acknowledges, could not be more frustrating. But the challenge now, says one adviser who was not authorized to speak on the record, "is to make lemonade out of lemons." Trump advisers are now talking to the presidential debate commission about doing the second debate October 15 virtually. Their assumption is Biden would agree. Trump may dial down "the heat" a bit in the second debate—as debate coach and Biden stand-in Chris Christie has recommended—but figure out a way in the town hall format to "absolutely hammer Biden," as a campaign adviser puts it, for his refusal to say whether he would want a Democratic Senate to add justices to the Supreme Court. Polling shows a strong majority of American voters oppose the idea.

If Trump recovers from the virus easily, the campaign will likely resume outdoor rallies in the campaign's final weeks, and again try to hit Biden on lockdowns. The struggle now is to figure out messaging that will acknowledge the seriousness of the virus while saying the president's recovery shows that for most people who get the disease, life goes on. He will tout the ongoing economic recovery—some 660,000 jobs were created last month, fewer than had been expected, and the unemployment rate fell to 7.9 percent—as evidence that continued reopening is the only way forward.

Some campaign workers acknowledge that there may be little the president can say now about the virus that will convince a majority of voters that he handled it competently. His being quarantined—or hospitalized—for at least half of the campaign's final month may be its final act. One Trump campaign volunteer in Pennsylvania, David Slater, says in his "bleakest moments now" he sees the Biden administration in the first quarter of next year happily ramping up distribution of ''the vaccines it's now trashing publicly: vaccines that will bring the COVID era to an end. Vaccines the Trump administration, through Operation Warp Speed, cleared the way for."