Quick Take: As COVID cases rise, Trump’s reelection prospects fall

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Happy Monday with coronavirus still going on. So it's in the middle. And we've got plenty to talk about. I'll get right into it. Cases, of course, are going up all over the world. And despite the fact that we are paying the most attention to the United States right now, it's important to recognize that within about a week, most of the countries that that are leading the "league tables" as it were, in case load, are going to be outside of the advanced industrial economies. Indeed, I would say within a week, the U.S. and U.K. will be the only remaining countries of the top 10 that are wealthy democracies. The rest are going to be developing countries. And that is where this disease is going, despite all of the challenges here in the United States.

Overwhelmingly, it's the developing countries where you do not have the social distancing. You do not have the economic wherewithal to pay to keep people out of work. You don't have the testing. So the numbers are going to look like they're mostly in the developing world. And the reality is the cases will explode way beyond that. That will show up in death tallies that are higher per case in many of those countries than they are in the United States or Europe because they're not testing as much, except in the countries that have really young populations. And one of the most interesting things here is that, you know, Africa is not going to have the direct impact of coronavirus that other countries are. Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. It's over 200 million people. Average age is something like 19. And that means most people, the vast majority that get the disease won't even have symptoms and they certainly won't get very sick. And that is, it's nice to see that, that finally, you know, sub-Saharan Africa usually gets just destroyed by all of these diseases. And here the direct human count will be less.

Here in the United States, of course, we have the highest numbers of cases per day now of any point since the pandemic really began in earnest in the U.S. in March and April. People are saying, hey, that's just cases. What about hospitalizations? Actually, hospitalizations are spiking now. And in many states across the country, you're starting to see hospitals getting overwhelmed in Mississippi and Florida, in Texas and Southern California and Arizona. Death rates, what about that? Well, death rates also have been lower, but they have been going up. They're starting to go up. They're much higher than in Canada, much higher than in Europe, per capita death rates in the United States overall. And even though these are comparatively young people that are mostly getting the disease right now, still, if the ICU beds get overwhelmed, then mortality goes way up. So the next few weeks, I fear, are not going to show a an improvement in trajectory there.

It's certainly welcome that in Florida and Texas and southern California, they've now shut the bars. One of the places where people are in most, you know, sort of packed inside against each other. You're not sitting down. You're standing up. There's a lot of laughing. There's a lot of breathing in the close quarters. So it's good to see that happen. But otherwise, none of these states have actually gone back to earlier levels of lockdown.

And the problem here, of course, is that we're in the middle of an election, only a few months away. And Trump is not doing well. As I'm sure you know, his blended approval rate is about 40 percent right now, down from his peak at about 46. He's behind Biden in the swing states. He's behind Biden on almost all issues, except he's consistently ahead of Biden in who voters think would handle the economy better. And that is a double edged sword because it means if you're Trump and you care most about winning the election, you're going to focus on doing everything possible to pivot towards the economy.

And that means not talking up coronavirus, not focusing on wearing a mask, not focusing on slowing down openings or going back to lockdowns, even if that's what's required by coronavirus. So unfortunately, the very things that are most useful for Trump from the electoral perspective are also most likely to hurt the United States in terms of response function to coronavirus over the next coming months. And that's something we should worry about. Certainly good that Vice President Pence is now out there saying, I'm wearing a mask, wear a mask. Good to see Republican governors saying you need to be wearing masks. You need to be socially distancing. We need to be more cautious. I do think there's more focus on science there.

But it's too small, it's too late, and it's not being driven by the president. And overall, I expect that means the outcomes in the U.S. and how they're managing the crisis are going to get continually, considerably worse.

One thing I'd finally say about the U.S. election, you know, a lot of the Democrats I talked to and you guys probably know most of you know, I've never been a part of a political party, but I've tried to talk to folks around, you know, both sides of the spectrum. You know, think that Biden is winning strongly. And if they won't say it publicly, they'll say privately they think that this is going to be a lay up for Biden. The question is whether or not they could sweep Congress as well.

I'm not buying it. I do think that if you made me bet, I'd say right now Biden looks like he's going to win by a relatively small amount. And others say that - Karl Rove will say that. Republican insiders will say that, people in the White House recognize that they're behind right now. I suspect that even Trump understands that, though I certainly haven't discussed it with him. But that doesn't mean that he can't win. The power of incumbency matters in the United States.

But also, you know, people that look at Trump, Hillary, and say Hillary was much more toxic and Trump, you know, only barely won. And so now with all of these problems, the economic problems that the coronavirus problems, the social dissent, that it's going to be so much easier for Biden than it was for Hillary. They're forgetting not only the power of incumbency, but also the fact that Trump as president has levers of power that he can both use and abuse that he did not have in 2016.

When you are president, you have power. You have the ability to get others to do things both legally and extra legally that you don't in any other position in the United States. And, you know, the fact that this is a guy that was willing to withhold Ukrainian aid to get them to launch an investigation against Biden. That's something you can't do as a candidate. It's something you can do as president. You shouldn't do it. In my view it should be illegal. It's impeachable. He shouldn't have been acquitted. Not the point. Point is, it happened. And if that happened and he gets off, then what else is he going to do over the next five months?

History in the making right here in the United States, not something that frequently happens anyway. Going to be interesting. And, be involved, be engaged, be alert and avoid people.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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