Do Republicans Actually Want the Pandemic to End?
"President Barack Obama promised unity. In his 2008 campaign, he said he would heal the nation’s political divides and end more than a decade of partisan rancor.
To keep this promise, Obama needed allies, or at least partners, in the Republican Party. But they said no. If they could block Obama — if they could withhold support on anything significant he planned to do — then they could make him break his promise. Republicans would obstruct and Obama would get the blame. Which, you might remember, is what happened. By the 2010 midterm elections, Obama was a divisive president.
Joe Biden, in his 2020 campaign for president, promised to get the coronavirus pandemic under control. With additional aid to working families and free distribution of multiple effective vaccines, he would lead the United States out of its ongoing public health crisis.
I think you can see where this is going.
Rather than work with him to vaccinate the country, Biden’s Republican opposition has, with only a few exceptions, done everything in its power to politicize the vaccine and make refusal to cooperate a test of partisan loyalty. The party is, for all practical purposes, pro-Covid. If it’s sincere, it is monstrous. And if it’s not, it is an unbelievably cynical and nihilistic strategy. Unfortunately for both Biden and the country, it appears to be working.
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Naturally, some of the loudest vaccine-skeptical Republicans are in Congress. “Think about what those mechanisms could be used for,” Representative Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina said of the Biden administration’s plan for door-to-door vaccine ambassadors. “They could then go door-to-door to take your guns. They could go door-to-door to take your Bibles.”
Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia has similarly criticized the president’s effort to reach the unvaccinated. “People have a choice, they don’t need your medical brown shirts showing up at their door ordering vaccinations,” she tweeted. “You can’t force people to be part of the human experiment.”
Cawthorn and Greene are obviously fringe figures. But these days, the fringe is not far from the center of the Republican Party (if it ever was to begin with). Their rhetoric is not too different, in other words, from that of their more mainstream colleagues in the Senate.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has attacked vaccine mandates — “There should be no mandates, zero, concerning Covid,” he said in a recent interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity — while Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has urged Americans to “resist” efforts to stop the spread of the virus. “It’s time for us to resist,” Paul said in a video posted to Twitter. “They can’t arrest all of us. They can’t keep all of your kids home from school. They can’t keep every government building closed, although I’ve got a long list of ones they might keep closed or ought to keep closed.”
Republican rhetoric in Washington, however, is a sideshow to the real fight over Covid, in states like Florida and Texas.
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis rejected vaccine passports and launched an aggressive campaign against mandatory mask-wearing in schools. “It is very important that we say, unequivocally, no to lockdowns, no to school closures, no to restrictions and no to mandates,” he told a gathering of conservative activists in Utah last month. DeSantis has suspended city and county emergency orders, put limits on future mitigation efforts, and signed a law that “shields nursing homes, hospitals and businesses from legal liability if employees and patrons contract the virus on their premises.”
All of this, even as the state has been ravaged by the Delta variant of the virus. Florida has been reporting more than 20,000 new infections a day and has averaged 262 Covid deaths — the most of any state, at least in absolute numbers. More than 16,000 people are hospitalized and thousands have been taken to intensive care units. Who does DeSantis blame for these outcomes? Biden.
“You know, he said he was going to end Covid. He hasn’t done that,” the Florida governor told the Fox News host Jesse Watters last week. “At the end of the day, he is trying to find a way to distract from the failures of his presidency.”
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott has banned mask mandates, signed legislation that would deny state contracts or licenses to businesses that require proof of vaccination, and — after recovering from a breakthrough Covid infection himself — banned local governments from requiring the vaccine for any public agency or private institution. In a statement, Abbott said that this was to avoid a “patchwork of vaccine mandates across Texas.” But in a message to the state legislature, the governor appeared to be asking lawmakers to consider an outright ban on vaccine mandates. On Aug. 25, the day Abbott sent his message, Texas reported more than 23,000 new cases of Covid, along with 14,000 hospitalizations and 245 deaths.
Abbott and DeSantis are not alone. Earlier this month, the Republican governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, created two new grant programs that would give funds to families and school districts that rejected mask mandates. And in South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem once again cheered the Sturgis motorcycle rally, a year after it contributed to a Covid outbreak throughout the region and into the Midwest. This year, health officials have already linked the rally to cases in Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
The effect of all of this for the country is a pandemic that won’t die. The effect of it for the Republican Party is a substantial part of its base that won’t take the vaccine. According to data collected by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Republicans lag most of the rest of the country in vaccine uptake; 54 percent said they had received at least one dose at the time of the survey, compared with 67 percent of all adults. And the effect of this for Biden is a sharp drop to his approval rating; a Reuters poll conducted mid-month found the president down 21 points among all Americans for his handling of the pandemic.
What amounts to a Republican effort to prolong the pandemic shows no sign of abating. It may even get worse, as powerful conservative media personalitiesspread vaccine skepticism and embrace dubious miracle cures like ivermectin, a drug typically used to treat parasitic worms in livestock, not viruses in humans.
If Biden does not want the kind of backlash that his Democratic predecessor faced, he needs to act aggressively to push the United States off its vaccination plateau. Republicans might be setting him up to break his promise to stop Covid, but the president should understand that he’s not actually at their mercy."