GOP governors' covid messaging is a mess. Even Trump seems like a leader by comparison.
Trump just made his most unequivocal pro-vaccine comments to date. Ron DeSantis? Not so much.
Longtime readers are probably aware that I’m not a big fan of former President Donald Trump. But I also try to give credit where it is due. And this week, Trump has emerged as an unlikely voice of Republican sanity, such as it is, when it comes to Covid vaccines.
To be clear, this is damning with very faint praise. As I’ll get into a little bit later, a number of Republican governors have spent the past week demonstrating they still know next to nothing about Covid and/or for whatever reason are unwilling to give their constituents guidance that could save lives. But still, Trump’s recent pro-vaccine comments are commendable — even if they come from a place of transparent self-interest.
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For those unaware of what I’m referring to, during an event on Sunday in Dallas, Texas, with Bill O’Reilly, Trump offered what might be his clearest endorsement of Covid vaccines yet. Granted, he took more credit than he deserves for their relatively quick development and approval, but more importantly, he discouraged his supporters from viewing vaccines so negatively.
“You’re playing right into their hands when you’re sorta like, ‘oh, the vaccine,’” Trump said, alluding to supporters of his who denigrate it.
Then, Trump confirmed to his audience that he had received a Covid booster shot, and as he was jeered, tried to get his fans to stop.
As you’d expect, Trump’s comments didn’t go over well with a segment of his supporters who are deeply invested in the idea that getting vaxxed represents a symbolic submission to the libs. One Twitter user opined that “Trump getting a ‘booster’ and promoting these failed substances is all the proof you need to start understanding that there is SOMETHING inside the injections that is TAKING CONTROL of the BRAIN of the individual who receives them.” Others denounced the former president as a sellout of sorts. Even certain Fox News hosts seemed to have a hard time coming to terms with Trump’s pro-vax remarks.
But considering data showing that residents of Trump-supporting counties are nearly three times more likely to die from Covid as residents of Biden-supporting counties, the former president could be saving lives by making clear he thinks the vaccines are good and worth taking — especially as we enter an omicron-driven spike of cases that will be particularly tough on the unvaccinated.
President Biden even shouted out Trump’s remarks during his big Covid speech on Tuesday.
The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman said she asked a Trump spokesman for more explanation about his pro-booster remarks, and Trump sent back a handwritten note indicating that this new tone might stick.
In a Fox News interview, Trump even expressed appreciation for Biden thanking his administration during his Tuesday speech for its role helping develop Covid vaccines, saying, "I'm very appreciative of that — I was surprised to hear it … I think it was a terrific thing, and I think it makes a lot of people happy."
It’s worth noting that Trump’s prior public comments about vaccines in general and Covid vaccines in particular have been equivocal at best. Before he ran for the presidency in 2015, Trump had a long and ugly history of anti-vaxxism, and as recently as this summer he was saying things like “the vaccine on very young people is something that you gotta really stop.” And while he has repeatedly encouraged his supporters to get the Covid vaccine, in the next breath he’s typically offered apologia for the unvaxxed with comments like, “you want your freedoms. You have to have your freedoms.”
Recall that in contrast to Biden getting his jab on camera, Trump refused to acknowledge he had even received the Covid vaccine before he left the White House, leaving the New York Times to break the story months later. So in that context, the fact that he’s being more forthcoming about receiving a booster, and risking alienating part of his base in the process, is a step in a positive direction — especially in comparison with the nonsense coming from some Republican governors.
Republican governors’ Covid messaging is a disaster
Nearly two years after Covid-19 first hit the US, we’re facing a new variant and yet another spike in cases. That’s obviously grim news. But one good thing is that compared to March 2020, we have more tools and know a lot more about the basic public health practices that can help contain the spread and prevent severe illnesses — get vaxxed and boosted, wear a mask, and when possible, avoid large indoor gatherings.
So it’s been a bit jarring to turn on TV news in recent days and see Republican governors demonstrate that they’ve seemingly learning nothing since the early days of the pandemic.
Consider South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem. Noem — who earlier this year tried to take a victory lap for her laissez faire response to the pandemic, despite the fact that South Dakota had one of the highest mortality rates in the country — went on Fox & Friends last Friday and was asked by Steve Doocy what “common sense” steps she’s taking to slow the spread of the omicron variant that she thinks President Biden should emulate.
Instead of encouraging South Dakotans to get their booster shots or mask up, however, Noem said she’s advising people to wash their hands and take their vitamins — neither of which will do much good to prevent a person from becoming infected with a highly contagious virus spread mainly through the air.
Ironically, Noem prefaced those comments by vowing that she’ll continue to “focus on the science.”
And Trump’s Sunday endorsement of the Covid booster stands in contrast to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who during a Fox News interview that aired earlier that day reacted as though Maria Bartiromo asked him to recite his bank account and Social Security numbers when she inquired about whether he had been boosted.