President Donald Trump finally has his 2020 election opponent, but he's missing the crucial asset on which he anchored his bid for a second term: a roaring economy.
Instead, he's confronting an economy that was once a powerhouse but now is threatening to dip into a depression as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Joe Biden's triumph in the Democratic primary after Bernie Sanders called it quits and a hopeful sign in a downward revision of projected Covid-19 deaths are lending new political urgency to the unique and agonizing dilemma facing Trump.
How does he find the balance between keeping the economy shut -- to squelch the murderous coronavirus pandemic -- and reopening normal life in order to restore many millions of lost jobs and to thwart a historic economic downturn?
Trump's conundrum is even more acute since he has already been heavily criticized for his repeated initial dismissals of the threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic and his management of the crisis. Another botched call could leave his reelection hopes in tatters.
The state of the economy is critical for any president seeking reelection. For Trump, it's even more important, since economic management is a rare area where he has enjoyed majority support in his term.
While Trump's decision comes with huge personal and electoral stakes, its importance far outstrips mere politics. It's no exaggeration to say that a leader who often finds decisiveness elusive, despite his "you're fired" catchphrase, and who often tries to offload blame when things go wrong is facing one of the most difficult life-and-death calls of any modern president.
America on Wednesday experienced another tragic day with more than 1,800 deaths reported from Covid-19. Despite hopes that the pandemic is reaching its apex soon in hotspots like New York, other regions of the country are on a slower timetable as the virus spreads, complicating any decision on an economic reboot.
At the same time, Trump is hearing horrific predictions about unemployment potentially reaching Great Depression levels above 20% and of massive cuts to growth that threaten to trigger domino crises in the financial industry and housing markets. The next snapshot of the economic disaster will become clear with a new round of data on initial unemployment claims on Thursday.
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