As GOP supporters die from Covid, party remains divided in vaccination message

WASHINGTON – As the delta variant of the coronavirus circulates in American blood, the Republican Party is unable to make up its mind on vaccines.

Former President Donald Trump has said people should get vaccinated but also wants to respect their right to choose not to. For the most part, he has been as reluctant to demand vaccinations as his political base has been resistant – perhaps hesitant to cross paths with his own voters, even though deaths are higher in traditionally conservative regions.

As Senatorial Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Urged Americans to get dosed this week and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., Posted a photo of his injection, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., Has been suspended from Twitter for spreading false information downplaying the risk of the virus, which has killed more than 600,000 people in the United States

Fox News prime-time hosts Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, both major influencers in Republican circles, were divided on the issue. Carlson fuels vaccine skepticism; Hannity, who once played down the risk of the virus, is urging Americans to take the jab. Laura Ingraham, another renowned Fox host, spoke to skeptics and accused Democrats of “coercion” in promoting vaccines.

“I can’t say it enough: enough people are dead. We don’t need death anymore,” Hannity said on his show Monday. “I believe in the science of vaccination.”

It is not yet clear whether the mixed messages, coming against the backdrop of a wave of infections in the United States, will have an effect on next year’s midterm elections or on a possible Trump candidacy. for president in 2024. But some Republicans are bewildered by strong anti-vaccine voices drowning out the credit Trump wants to take for pushing the development of coronavirus countermeasures through Operation Warp Speed.

“I don’t understand it,” said Republican GOP strategist Brad Todd, adding: “I didn’t understand it when [2020 North Carolina Democratic Senate candidate] Cal Cunningham and Kamala Harris tried to cast doubt on Warp Speed. “

In September, during the long run of the presidential campaign, Harris issued a note of skepticism about Trump’s promotion of upcoming vaccines.

“I will say that I wouldn’t trust Donald Trump and that he should be a credible source of information that talks about the effectiveness and reliability of whatever he talks about,” Harris said on CNN. “I won’t take his word for it.”

But vaccination policy has changed, and Democratic strategists see a common thread in GOP conspiracy theories that include misinformation about vaccines and Trump’s lie that the last election was rigged. Democratic voters, strategists say, are extremely concerned about the lies Republican leaders have that trick voters into taking dangerous action – or, in the case of vaccines – doing nothing.

“It’s definitely a turnout issue on our side,” said Julia Kennedy, a Democratic strategist who worked on President Joe Biden’s campaign. “It’s definitely always on people’s minds, as they connect the Republican candidates to the Capitol uprising, vaccine conspiracy theories, and the big lie.”

For Republicans, the math is more complex, and the putative party leader Trump has tried to work both ways. He is consistent in his post that he is responsible for vaccine development and that they have his seal of approval for Americans who wish to be vaccinated. But he also brought rhetorical comfort to people who opt against vaccination, an ambiguity that began with his decision to get vaccinated in private and not take the opportunity to persuade others.

“I would recommend it to a lot of people who don’t want to get it, and a lot of those people voted for me, frankly,” he told Fox Business in March. “But again, we have our freedoms, and we have to live by that, and I also agree with that. But it’s a great vaccine. It’s a safe vaccine, and it’s something that works. “

Despite the party’s division, many Republicans see little electoral danger for the mid-terms.

Elijah Haahr, a former speaker at Missouri House, said there was an asymmetry in the voting audience. For those who have chosen not to be vaccinated, he said, “this will be their No. 1 problem and they will vote against the party that wants to force them to vaccinate.” On the other side of the spectrum, he said, people who have been vaccinated are more likely to bring other issues to the fore by the time they go to the polls next year.

But Kennedy said Democrats would still be motivated, as vaccine skepticism is part of what his party voters see as a model of misinformation and harmful disinformation from GOP officials and their allies in the world. the conservative media.

“Our people associate it with all of these other things,” Kennedy said. “As happy as people are that we have ousted Trump, the threat is so real and always present to people.”

For all voters, the emergency may have everything to do with the state of play in the fight against Covid-19 in the fall of 2022.

“It depends on how the pandemic progresses by midpoint,” said Michael Steel, a GOP strategist.

What Steel said he couldn’t understand – with millions of Americans on both sides – is why some of Trump’s main supporters are questioning vaccines and why Trump himself has not been even more present to encourage people to get vaccinated.

“These are Trump vaccines,” Steel said. “He should be standing on the roof of Trump Tower shouting for people to get the shot.”

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