Is the Republican Party Deliberately Trying to Prolong the Pandemic?
The better question is: is that what Donald Trump is trying to do? And will the party he leads go along with it?
Above: Daryl Barker, 31, says he refused to get the COVID vaccine because he came from a “strong conservative family.”
Dan McLaughlin has a piece in National Review titled The Insane Conspiracy Theory That Republicans Are Trying to Prolong the Pandemic. Dan takes on this argument by Brian Beutler of Crooked Media:
Beutler’s piece notes that there has been a recent phenomenon of certain Fox News personalities and GOP politicians pushing the vaccine — like Steve Scalise, who recently got vaccinated and told his supporters they should too. Why the sudden reversal, Beutler asks? His answer: it’s all partisanship.
Ok, so Republicans did as much as they could to discourage vaccine uptake, and things got out of hand. But that just raises the more foundational question of why they decided to ride the anti-vax tiger in the first place. Why undermine the rollout of the vaccine in the first place? And then it becomes clear: Had the election gone differently this was gonna be the Trump vaccine, the miracle cure that ended America’s COVID crisis. Instead, as soon as it became evident that Trump would not be president anymore, undermining vaccine uptake (that is, killing people) became an instrument the right could use to make Biden fail, to slow the economic recovery, and prolong the pandemic.
And once you realize how deep the depravity runs, you see the folly of the Democratic approach of not looking a gift horse in the mouth. Republicans didn't really have a change of heart; this has been mission accomplished for them, minus the part where the public blames Biden for the mess they made. Thus while Biden and many other liberals bit their tongues and praised the Republican conversion as better late than never, Republicans moved right on to blaming the vaccination shortfall on Joe Biden.
Dan, in his National Review piece, argues that Beutler has gone insane, and says that the notion that the Republican party seeks to prolong the pandemic is pure partisan hooey. Dan starts by asking: who are these mythical Republicans who are discouraging vaccination?
To start with, who are the Republicans that Beutler is talking about? The only elected Republican he cites in his column is Mitch McConnell. But McConnell has been one of the most consistently pro-vaccine voices in the party throughout the COVID-vaccine debate, and even well before it.
This is quite true, and Dan brings receipts, with links and quotes, for numerous Republicans, including Donald Trump, touting the benefits of vaccines. Dan lists pro-vaccine statements from McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, Mike Pence, the Republican Doctors Caucus, several Republican governors, and the list goes on. Consult his piece for details; the list is long and compelling. McConnell in particular has been solid on this issue, and painting him as an anti-vaxxer is indeed unfair, as Dan demonstrates in detail.
Then there is Donald Trump. Dan acknowledges that Trump’s support for the vaccine has been “uneven” — a fact that Dan attributes to “a tension between his desire to get credit for Operation Warp Speed and his natural inclination to stoke populist mistrust of the vaccine.” But, Dan adds, “it is not hard to find pro-vaccine Trump messages,” and Dan lists a number of them.
However, I noticed a fairly glaring omission in Dan’s recitation of Trump’s statements about the vaccine: this recent statement from Trump, just two weeks ago:
Joe Biden kept talking about how good of a job he's doing on the distribution of the Vaccine that was developed by Operation Warp Speed or, quite simply, the Trump Administration. He's not doing well at all. He's way behind schedule, and people are refusing to take the Vaccine because they don't trust his Administration, they don't trust the Election results, and they certainly don't trust the Fake News, which is refusing to tell the Truth.
This is the undisputed leader of the Republican Party, who can get a large swath of people to subscribe to any idiotic pronouncement he makes, equating distrust in the vaccines with distrust of the last election and distrust of Fake News.
We know he believes people should not trust the election results. We know he believes people should not trust the Fake News. So here, he is telling his army of acolytes they should not trust the vaccine. There is no other reasonable way to read that statement.
Yes, Trump has said otherwise at times too, and many of the favorable things that he and other Republicans have said about the vaccine are listed in Dan’s piece. But it’s no mystery what Beutler is talking about when he says Republican are discouraging vaccine uptake. Beutler did not do a good job of justifying his claim, but that doesn’t mean no justification exists. It’s right there staring you in the face in the quote above.
There is an unaccountably popular Twitter account calling itself catturd2 which reliably repeats whatever the big conservative Trumpy cultural war topic is. Five days ago, “@catturd2” tweeted to his 539,000 followers that the statement “I’m vaccinated” is the new “I’m a vegan.”
We all know what good strong solid rock-ribbed conservatives think of those soy boy pajama-wearing vegans. This tweet is consistent with other messaging you have no doubt seen on social media yourself: that it is now the Strong Conservative view that being vaccinated shows you’re soft and squishy.
And that attitude is killing people. Lately, Strong Conservatives have worked themselves into fits of Genuine Outrage over news stories that report the deaths of people who once mocked the vaccine (see the ones collected here, for example). I’m confidently told that these stories are valueless and ghoulish, and that the people who write them or spread them are The Worst People in the World. As a card-carrying Terrible Person, I’m on record as being of the view that such stories serve as an important cautionary tale for the unvaccinated. Are some of the stories motivated by a smug sense of lefty superiority? Do some of them have a nasty “serves them right” tone? Surely the answer is yes. But here’s the thing: regardless of tone, the stories report a reality: that a lot of people who once rejected the vaccines have gotten COVID (or their loved ones have) and have changed their minds about the vaccines. There are tragic stories of people dying of COVID and asking for the vaccine, only to have the doctor explain that it’s too late. I happen to think it would be a public good if more people came to these realizations now, while they were healthy, rather than on their deathbed.
But then, as I already admitted, I am a terrible person.
Here is a quote from one of those awful stories all Good Conservatives hate so much. Note the reasoning offered by this strong conservative:
“I was strongly against getting the vaccine,” Barker said through labored breathing. “Just because we’re a strong conservative family.”
He’s a strong conservative! I’m going to bet he doesn’t trust the Fake News, the election results, or Joe Biden. He’s no damn vegan! And he certainly wasn’t going to get vaccinated. And now he has COVID. It sounds like he is going to pull through, although it’s not certain. I honestly hope his “strong conservative” beliefs don’t kill him. But they are killing a lot of people.
Hating on vaccines is the New Big Conservative Culture War Thing. That’s the truth. And it’s killing people. I’m glad the media is getting that story out, all the tongue-clucking I have seen from some conservatives notwithstanding.
Dan, in his National Review piece, argues that “anti-vax sentiment on the right is much more a bottom-up, demand-driven message than a top-down one.” He says the Tucker Carlsons of the world are pushing this message because there is a demand for it. “People like Carlson are doing this for ratings and because it appeals to their instincts, not for political strategy. That does not excuse the people who pander to that sentiment or feed it, but they are not its creators.” I addressed this sort of reasoning in a post I published a few days abo on my blog titled Tucker Carlson Is Almost Certainly Killing People:
If your argument is that media figures who spew vile and false Trumpist garbage cannot be influencing anyone, because the people who tune in to hear vile and false Trumpist garbage already believe the vile and false Trumpist garbage, you are bypassing the question of how they came to believe vile and false Trumpist garbage to begin with.
You could use that argument to argue that literally no propaganda has any effect on anyone because the people listening to it already believed it. According to this argument, Rush Limbaugh never influenced anyone. Sean Hannity never influences anyone. Tucker Carlson never influences anyone. Donald Trump never influences anyone. All of these people just tell citizens things they already believe. But how did the citizens come to hold these beliefs in the first place? I don’t know! But certainly not because they listened to Trump or Limbaugh or Carlson! Probably the citizens were just . . . born believing the election was stolen and vaccines don’t work.
Does this argument really hold together? Why don’t conservatives make this argument about the liberal media that we all rail about? Does anyone argue that the lies of the New York Times don’t matter because New York Times readers already believe the lies they are told? Is such an argument coherent and persuasive?
The spread of COVID misinformation by enormously popular public figures like Carlson and Trump cannot be held blameless for COVID deaths. It feeds the cycle of disinformation and it kills people.
So: is that the goal? Getting back to Beutler’s argument: is it actually the intent of the Republican party to prolong the pandemic by killing people, thus rendering Joe Biden a less popular figure and sowing the seeds for gains in 2022 and a second Trump presidency in 2024?
I’m not entirely sure that’s a fair characterization of the intent of most officials in the Republican party. But then, it was not initially their intent, by and large, to support a guy who talked about grabbing women by the you-know-what, or to try to raise formal objections to the 2020 election results, or to characterize a violent insurrection as a peaceful protest. In the immediate aftermath of the release of the Access Hollywood tape, many Republicans said Trump should get out of the race. The day after the 2020 presidential election, there was no groundswell of support among elected Republicans to claim the election had been stolen and needed to be challenged in Congress. The day after January 6, most Republicans — even Kevin McCarthy! — indicated discomfort with the insurrection and Trump’s role in instigating it.
All that changed, though, because that’s what Donald Trump wanted, and the party went along.
And as applied to Trump, at least, Beutler is right. Donald Trump would be totally fine with the pandemic spreading if he thought it would hurt Biden and benefit him. You may have noticed that he doesn’t care about anyone but himself. If you showed Donald Trump a button that, if pushed, would guarantee his re-election . . . but would also cause the agonizing death of every person reading these words right now, he would ask you: “What’s the catch?”
So yeah, I think Donald Trump would be happy to prolong the pandemic to hurt Biden. It’s evident from his July 18 statement equating distrust in the vaccines with distrust in Fake News and the 2020 election results.
Will the Republican party go along with that strategy, even though it’s immoral?
If history is any guide, the answer is yes. If Donald Trump wants people to die so that Joe Biden’s approval ratings drop, the Republican party will fall in line.
Just like they always have.