It’s business as usual at the Republican Party headquarters of Racine, Wisconsin state, in the days since US President Donald Trump’s stunning COVID-19 diagnosis, and no one in the office is wearing a mask.
“I frankly think that the whole mask-wearing is theater anyway,” says Ken Brown, who helps lead the party here.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the president has continuously downplayed, ignored or mocked mask-wearing.
But does the president’s diagnosis change anybody’s mind in the Republican party about mask-wearing?
“Absolutely not,” says Brown.
Trump announced late Thursday night his COVID-19 diagnosis, and was taken on Friday to Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland, which normally treats presidents.
Trump’s physician said on Sunday after a high fever and a couple of drops in oxygen levels, that Trump was improving enough to return to the White House, possibly as early as Monday.
When Trump might be able to resume campaigning for re-election is an open question.
But if Republicans here in Wisconsin are concerned that, at the very least, Trump is off the campaign trail for several days, it’s not apparent.
“I’m not worried,” says Brown. “He’s not going to lose single supporter over this situation.”
“Our staff members showed up this morning, our volunteers showed up this morning, we’ve already had people walk through the door, picking up [campaign yard] signs, and they’re ready to vote.”
A few miles away, at the Democratic Party headquarters of Milwaukee, where masks are mandatory, volunteer Greg Walz-Chojnacki talks while assembling yard signs for Trump’s Democratic rival, Joe Biden.
Here, there is no apparent gloating now that Biden has the campaign trail all to himself, at least for awhile.
“At this moment, I’m not thinking it will have any major impact on the race. I’m still working the way I have been, and I think that’s true of most people.”
Trump had planned two campaign rallies in Wisconsin this past weekend, which were cancelled by his diagnosis. Trump narrowly won the state in 2016, the first Republican presidential candidate to do so since 1984. And polls show the state is now narrowly leaning toward Biden.
By coincidence, the virus is surging in Wisconsin. In the past week, the state’s number of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths have reached pandemic highs. There were already calls for the President to cancel those rallies, which surely would have been crowded and mostly mask-less.
“I think most Democrats would agree it’s slightly mad to have these rallies,” says Walz-Chojnacki.
Chicago public affairs analyst Thom Serafin of Serafin & Associates says it’s not just Trump’s absence from the campaign trail that hurts Republicans. They’ll now have to talk about something other than Trump’s accomplishments.
“It’s a negative for the Republican Party,” says Serafin. “[The virus] becomes an important part of the campaign, they have to wear the mask, they have to do everything they learned in the hospital.”
But Ken Brown remains optimistic, while getting in a dig at Biden.
“I know we’d be a lot more concerned if it was Vice President Biden (who had the virus), considering his already-feeble health situation, that we’d be much more concerned about that, than a very robust President and Melania Trump.”
And Walz-Chojnacki can’t resist a dig at the president:
“It’s ironic and somewhat fitting that someone who’s been in the business of denying the disease has now gotten it,” he says.
And the virus is stirring trouble in Wisconsin in other ways.
State elections officials mailed out nearly three million mail-in ballots to state voters, so they would not have to worry about standing in line, and voting indoors. But a court battle is being waged over how long election officials should be able to keep on counting those ballots, after election day.
At the moment, that stands at six days, and both sides fear “shenanigans,” as Ken Brown puts it, regarding the integrity of the vote.
But one thing both sides do agree on: being off the campaign trail with just about a month before election day, is not good for the president.
“Oh, hell yes, it’s a horrible time,” says Brown. “But this just shows that President Trump is a regular guy.”
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