The outbreak of the coronavirus is proving the old adage that in politics, things can change instantly.

One minute the economy is on cruise control with the stock market breaking all-time records almost daily and the next moment, Wall Street is in a correction and the government fears unemployment — which was at record lows in January — could skyrocket to 20 percent.

With a presidential election just eight months away, pundits are divided as to the impact that the COVID-19 crisis will have on president Trump’s re-election efforts.  This issue has obviously leap-frogged to the top of the issues list of American voters. As such, President Trump, and to a lesser degree, presumptive Democratic nominee former Vice President Joe Biden, will be judged by their handling of the crisis.

Here are some possible scenarios and how they play out: 

Voters Want Real Leadership — After an initial response that some have criticized as slow and lackadaisical, the White House has taken a much more hands-on approach. The president appointed Vice President Mike Pence to lead the government’s response to the pandemic; halted flights between the United States and China early in the crisis; is holding daily press conference and updates; and is proposing a bold stimulus package to help the economy push through the crisis, including an aggressive plan to send substantial checks to all American families below a certain income threshold. 

Former VP Biden has come up with his own plan to stem the tide of the infections: pushing for free testing, the development of a vaccine and paid emergency leave for workers.

However, holding no role in the government, he is likely to find himself increasingly sidelined in the coming weeks as reporting on official government pronouncements continue to dominate. This may leave him seeking ways to stay relevant without appearing to play politics in the midst of a crisis. In large part, Biden’s electoral chances are currently being shaped by external forces — and indeed President Trump himself.  

In the end, if the White House can mitigate the health and economic impacts of the crisis quickly and turn the economy around, it will show President Trump’s ability to lead the nation in a time of crisis and diminish the potency of many of the attacks against him that were unyielding and commonplace just a few weeks ago. In this scenario, the president could be rewarded in November with another term.  

What If Trump Fumbles — As much as the president’s handling of the crisis presents an opportunity, it is also a danger. Just as President George W. Bush experienced in the Katrina hurricane fiasco, public perception of leadership in times of crisis can shape and define a presidency.

Failure to convince the nation that he has a handle on the emergency will play into every negative stereotype that exists about the 45th president of the United States. Critics have sought to define his attempts to calm the nation as a lack of appreciation of the depths of the catastrophe. If the public believes the president failed to lead during these trying times, it will do untold damage to his re-election chances and give Biden a very favorable environment to litigate the President’s failures.  

Nothing Changes – Of course, it is equally possible that nothing changes. The nation remains deeply divided with most Americans having an intensely held pre-virus conviction — one way other the other — on the Trump presidency.  

Barring a complete breakdown, his base will support the president. His opponents, of course, never will. Ultimately, the election could come down to a handful of voters in key swing states and it is possible that the pandemic will not change perceptions in the long term. 

President Trump has one ace in the hole. He has been a critic of China since the last 1980’s. His willingness and desire for strong borders and his efforts to shift manufacturing from overseas back to the homeland, has been shown to be prescient since the crisis began. China’s dominance of the manufacturing of America’s medicine has left many scratching their head in befuddlement.   

Whether such issues are the biggest priorities for voters or not will depend on many factors, including whether they have a job and whether the country is showing convincing signs of rebounding by November.

Either way, we are afloat in uncharted waters.