Since the end of the Trump Presidency, Republicans have been ratcheting up the doom-and-gloom quotient in their rhetoric. By this spring, they settled on a narrative of permanent crisis—to be blamed on President Biden, of course. There was the Biden Border Crisis. The Crime Crisis. The Inflation Crisis and its corollary, the High-Gas-Price Crisis. The Critical-Race-Theory Crisis. Even, this week, the Ben & Jerry’s-Is-Mean-to-Israel Crisis. America under Biden, to hear them tell it, has become a hellscape of disasters. In June, the House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, issued a letter to his colleagues. “Our country is in crisis,” he declared. “Republicans stand against the impending malaise and stand for a greatness that we reached just a few years ago.” The one crisis that Republicans have tended not to mention is the actual one—that is, the pandemic. When Republican politicians have focussed on covid in recent months, it’s often been to give Donald Trump credit for the vaccines, while simultaneously accusing the Biden Administration of forcing those same vaccines on unwilling Americans.
So it was more than a bit surprising to see some Republicans this week kinda, sorta, maybe embrace a different message. The Louisiana congressman Steve Scalise, the House’s No. 2 Republican, posed for a photo of himself getting a vaccine shot, many months after he was eligible, and urged others to do the same. “Get the vaccine,” Scalise said, at a press conference on Thursday. “I have high confidence in it. I got it myself.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a polio survivor who was never on board with his party’s vaccine denialists and anti-maskers, warned, during his own press conference: either get vaccinated or get ready for more lockdowns. “This is not complicated,” McConnell said. Fox News, which, along with Facebook, has been among the country’s premier platforms for vaccine disinformation in recent months, started promoting a new get-vaccinated public-service announcement. Its prime-time star, the Trump confidant Sean Hannity, stared straight into the camera on Monday night and said, “It absolutely makes sense for many Americans to get vaccinated.”
These statements were not a coincidence; they were a coördinated political retreat. And no wonder: the new politics of the pandemic are following the alarming new math of the pandemic. With not quite half of the country—48.8 per cent, to be exact—fully vaccinated, cases of the new Delta variant are spiking upward across the United States, with particularly pronounced increases in large swaths of Trump country. At the end of June, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that eighty-six per cent of Democrats had at least one shot, versus fifty-two per cent of Republicans—and the gap in vaccination rates is not closing but widening. As of July, thirty-five per cent of the population in counties that voted for Trump had been vaccinated, compared with nearly forty-seven per cent in counties that voted for Biden. By this week, new daily cases nationally were at their highest level since April. Deaths are increasing, too, while the number of new vaccinations is down to January levels.
The Republican pollster Glen Bolger told me that he didn’t think the G.O.P.’s about-face stemmed from a sudden fear of electoral debacle so much as a reflection of the alarming trend lines in red America. Until now, “Republicans felt like we don’t necessarily need to push on vaccines and tick off a significant portion of our base, so we won’t talk about it,” Bolger said. But, with cases increasing, that calculus changed. “It’s more of ‘Hey, guess who’s getting sick? Republicans,’ ” he said. Red America is facing a deadly fourth wave of the pandemic, and Republican politicians, or at least some, appear to have decided that they don’t want to take the blame for killing off their own voters. [Continue reading…]