David Atkins is one of my favorite political pundits. He writes,
Since Biden’s election, the Republican strategy has been simple: sabotage the Biden administration’s goal of vaccine-based herd immunity, thereby damaging the economy and forcing more unpopular measures to control the spread of the Delta variant. Either pandemic-exhausted voters will rebel at the prospect of a new round of controls and mask mandates, or the virus will overload ICUs and kill a million Americans by the midterms–which Republicans will then blame on Biden and Democrats (as Trump just did yesterday.)
But there is reason to believe this strategy may be not only sociopathic but also too clever by half. Most Americans have now been vaccinated, and it is abundantly clear that the Delta variant is primarily a plague of the unvaccinated. The unvaccinated least capable of persuasion are primarily base Republicans, and partisanship is one of the single strongest predictors of vaccination status.
And vaccinated Americans are getting fed up with being put at risk and potentially forced into further restrictive measures by the politically hostile and belligerently unvaccinated. Republicans (and their useful tools like Green Greenwald) have been caterwauling about the prospect of vaccine mandates and passports, soullessly comparing them to the Nazi Holocaust. Many red states have pre-emptively banned any public or private measures to implement restrictions based on vaccination status.
Atkins reminds us that in the early days of the pandemic, when New York and other cities were being slammed, a “response” team tasked with distribution of federal resources to the most hard-hit areas was nixed by Jared Kushner. The areas most being hard hit were Democratic party strongholds, and Kushner made a political calculation that the pandemic could be “their problem.” The states were on their own.
Likewise, Mitch McConnell and other Republicans opposed sending aid/stimulus money to states, calling such funds “blue state bailouts.” The talking point was that this pandemic thing was a blue state problem, and the virtuous and problem-free red states didn’t need the money. Those blue states should just declare bankruptcy (heh).
Well, guess what? By March 2021 the red states already were having a worse time of it, as the blue states were running up their vaccination rates. The differences between red and blue sections of the country are even more pronounced now.
The point is that we know Republicans will stoop to using death and hardship to score political points and hurt their opponents. They’ve tried it already.
Once the Biden Administration took ownership of vaccine distribution (and thank goodness; if Jared Kushner had been put in charge, we’d still be waiting), the next Republican step was to crank up opposition to the vaccines and to any means to encourage people to get vaccines. For example, Republicans stirred up faux outrage over measures such as vaccine passports that could be used to keep the unvaccinated out of theaters, stadiums, restaurants, cruise ships, etc. Atkins notes that “Many red states have pre-emptively banned any public or private measures to implement restrictions based on vaccination status.”
But guess what? Most adult Americans have been vaccinated, and most adult Americans think vaccine mandates and other measures to keep the unvaccinated from spreading covid are really good ideas.
That wasn’t true at first, but polling shows that as time goes on, more Americans want somebody to mandate vaccines and to penalize the unvaccinated in some manner. Because people are pissed.
See also 45% of Republicans support a universal vaccine mandate, as do a strong majority of Americans, a new poll shows, from Business Insider; Vaccinated people are ready for normalcy — and angry at the unvaccinated getting in their way at WaPo; Some vaccinated Americans have lost their patience with those refusing the shot as Covid-19 cases surge and mandates return at CNN.
And see In this rural Missouri county, the vaccination rate is low and opposition high in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. This is about Washington County, which I have mentioned here before. The Washington County line is a mile or so from where I am sitting as I write this. The vaccination rate in Washington County is 23 precent, the article says. I liked this part:
Mark Stevens, 46, was over there, selling sweet corn, watermelons, green beans and tomatoes out of the bed of his pickup. He wouldn’t walk across the parking lot to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
“You’d have to drag me dead or alive,” said Stevens, who’s 6 feet 2 inches, weighs 340 pounds and throws around a lot of other numbers he’s gleaned from Newsmax, a conservative cable network and website. Stevens said he watches less of Fox News since it started leaning too far left.
Typical. And, of course, Washington County is solid red Trump country. I’ve been to that farmer’s market, btw. I won’t be going there this summer.
Atkins thinks that Republicans could be hit with a backlash in the midterms.
If around 70 percent of Americans become vaccinated, partisanship becomes inextricably linked with vaccination status, and 65-70 percent of Americans who actively want to see vaccine mandates and passports implemented are either sickened by an endemic Delta variant or forced by circumstance to limit their enjoyment of life because of a toxic pro-virus movement primarily associated with the Republican Party, that could lead to serious electoral consequences. If Covid does end up felling over one million Americans, conservatives can try to place the blame on Biden and Democrats–but it’s not at all clear that voters will buy that when the variant is doing the most devastation among belligerently unvaccinated Republicans in red areas. And unlike many other issues that favor Democrats electorally, this one is deeply personal and rage-inducing for the vaccinated. …
… The path to House and Senate majorities in 2022 still run through purple suburban districts and states with a balance of urban and rural populations. It is difficult to see how Republicans will succeed if they are associated with a white evangelical anti-vax movement putting 70 percent of Americans directly into harm’s way. Whatever advantage they seek from sabotaging the Biden administration’s public health and economic response may wind up costing them more than they gain–not only in real human lives, but in seats in Congress as well.
Gerrymandering could still help the GOP take back the House. All the Washington Counties in the U.S. will remain red in the foreseeable future.
The Republicans’ problem here is that it’s going to be damn hard for them to pivot to supporting vaccines and other mitigation policies after they’d done such a good job of making vaccine refusal the mark of tribal loyalty. Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis learned that the hard way about a week ago.
But as DeSantis encourages vaccinations — he said “vaccines are saving lives” — he is facing a backlash from the anti-vaccination wing of his political base. It’s the same group that praised him and helped thrust him onto the national stage for his hands-off approach to the virus. DeSantis, with 2024 presidential ambitions, has to walk the line between keeping his conservative base satisfied and keeping his state from becoming more of a disease hot spot.
“Don’t let political correctness get in the way of health choices,” former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn said recently of DeSantis’ comments, speaking on “The Right Side with Doug Billings,” a conservative radio host and podcaster.
Another conservative radio host, Stew Peters, last week called DeSantis a “sellout” and suggested the governor was taking bribes, though didn’t specify from whom.
See also Florida reports highest number of new COVID-19 cases in a single day since the start of the pandemic at CBS News from, um, today. Will this cost the GOP the Florida senior vote?
Finally, see The Anti-vaccine Con Job Is Becoming Untenable by Brooke Harrington at The Atlantic. Harrington is a sociology professor at Dartmouth who explains the sociology of cons.
Many of the people refusing safe, effective vaccination amid a deadly pandemic are enmeshed in a very distinctive type of relationship that sociologists have been studying for more than 70 years: the con job. Con artists gain social or financial advantage by convincing their marks to believe highly dubious claims—and to block out all information to the contrary. …
…To outsiders, the social dynamics of the con appear peculiar and irrational. Those caught up in it can seem self-destructive and, frankly, clueless. But to sociologists, including me, who study fraud, such behaviors obey a predictable logic.
The seminal text in the field—Erving Goffman’s 1952 essay “On Cooling the Mark Out”—observes that all targets of con artists eventually come to understand that they have been defrauded, yet they almost never complain or report the crime to authorities. Why? Because, Goffman argues, admitting that one has been conned is so deeply shameful that marks experience it as a kind of social death.
Mr. Stevens of Washington County, with his sweet corn and watermelons, is unlikely to ever admit he’s been conned. But if the Republican politicians who count on his vote get too “soft” on vaccine refusal, how will that affect his voting enthusiasm next year? Republicans have given themselves a very tiny needle to thread here. And will urban and suburban voters be sufficiently pissed off to turn out in big numbers and overrule the rural areas? That probably won’t make a difference one way or another in House races, but it could impact next year’s election for a new U.S. senator.