2020 campaign in deep freeze as coronavirus rules kept in place

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President Trump has extended national coronavirus social distancing guidelines until April 30, citing the possibility that 200,000 Americans could die from the pandemic that's largely shut down everyday life as people stay home from work, school and social engagements to try to slow the spread of the disease.

The reversal by the president, who previously had said he hoped the U.S. economy could restart by Easter and continues to push for the social distancing guidelines to be lifted as soon as possible, is a reality check that a return to business as usual is not imminent for either the American people -- or the 2020 presidential campaign.


Just as Americans' everyday lives have been upended, so has the presidential election season. There are no raucous Trump rallies. States continue to postpone their presidential primary elections one by one, putting the Democratic presidential nominating contest on ice for now. The highest-profile Democrat in the country isn't the probable Democratic presidential nominee but New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose daily press briefings have become must-see T.V.

And that probable Democratic nominee -- former Vice President Joe Biden -- is doing a combination of TV interviews, live-streamed briefings and now a podcast to try and break through.


Biden spoke to Americans in personal terms in one recent interview, recalling his own family tragedies as he discussed how families can cope with loss during this crisis.

"I've lost a couple children, I've lost a wife and it is incredibly difficult to go through, and it is harder to go through when you haven't had an opportunity to be with the person while they're dying," Biden said in response to a grim question from CNN's Anderson Cooper last week on what people should do if they can't attend a loved one's funeral due to the coronavirus.

"My deceased wife -- I was not able to do that... I was not able to be there," Biden continued, visibly choking up as he spoke from the home studio built to allow him to give interviews and make speeches without exposing himself to the dangerous virus. "... Seek help afterward. Seek help to talk to people who have been through it so they know, they know, they can tell you that you can get through it."

Biden is also holding his own briefings on the coronavirus pandemic which are streamed online and, according to NBC News, launching a podcast to contribute "a voice of clarity during uncertain times."

Meanwhile, Trump is still Trump. He tangles with reporters. He tweets. He gave a fiery interview Monday morning on "Fox & Friends."

But Democratic governors and legislators who are criticizing the federal government's pandemic response have largely replaced "sleepy Joe" --as Trump calls Biden--as the subject of the president's online barbs. In Trump's Monday morning appearance on "Fox & Friends," the only explicit mention of the 2020 campaign was a discussion of whether Cuomo, whose handling of the pandemic has been widely applauded, would make a better Democratic nominee than Biden. (Trump said Cuomo would indeed be better.)


Most of the president's attacks on the morning show Monday were directed at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for her criticism of the administration's coronavirus response.

"It's a sad thing. Look, she's a sick puppy in my opinion," Trump said of Pelosi's criticism before touting his decision to stop travel from China to the U.S. in January. "That's a horrible thing to say especially when I was the one ... I stopped some very, very infected, very, very sick people, thousands coming in from China long earlier than anybody thought... And I stopped everybody. We stopped it cold. It had never been done before."

And Trump's barbs at the media now happen largely in the context of White House coronavirus task force briefings rather than from the stage of packed campaign rallies.

Trump campaign rally. 

Trump campaign rally. 


"Why don't you people act a little more positively -- it's always trying to get you, get you, get you," Trump said at his Sunday night coronavirus briefing in response to a question from a PBS News reporter about Trump's past comments to Fox News on New York's demands or ventilators. Trump flatly denied saying he didn't believe there was a need for 30,000 ventilators there, though he did, in fact, say he doubted those numbers for "some areas." Trump challenged the reporter to be more positive.

"And you know what? That's why nobody trusts the media anymore," Trump continued.

All three major presidential campaigns -- Trump's, Biden's and that of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders -- continue their operations, with campaign staff working remotely, to some extent. Their social media accounts lob attacks at the other candidates. They're all soliciting online donations. And the Democratic candidates, who lack the everyday bully pulpit of the White House coronavirus task force briefings, have worked to hold digital campaign events in some form or another.

But the election that was supposed to grab ahold of the news cycle after the conclusion of Trump's impeachment trial and not let go until November has been thoroughly upstaged by around-the-clock coverage of a global pandemic.

The handshaking and selfie lines and retail politicking are no more. As are the live audiences at presidential debates whose applause or exasperated groans provide instant feedback as to who is winning -- the most recent Democratic presidential debate between Biden and Sanders happened in a sterile CNN studio in Washington, D.C. rather than a large auditorium.


With the extension of the White House social distancing guidelines through April, it appears less and less likely there will be any Democratic presidential debate next month. Biden said last week that his "focus is just dealing with this crisis right now. I haven’t thought about any more debates. I think we’ve had enough debates. I think we should get on with this."

The election is still happening. Eventually, there will be a Democratic presidential nominee. The parties will likely still hold their conventions in some form, although there is still a significant possibility that they will need to make major logistical changes if the coronavirus threat is still lingering over the summer.

But, for now, with a potential death toll feared from the pandemic of just under five times the number of American soldiers killed in action during the Vietnam War, the presidential election has been relegated to the backburner.

Fox News' Gregg Re contributed to this report.