Should the White House run ads featuring Trump endorsing the vaccines?

A leftover from Jake Tapper’s interview yesterday with Fauci. Until recently the insuperable obstacle to creating a pro-vax PSA starring Trump is that there wasn’t much footage of him making the case for vaccination. And it’s unthinkable that he’d agree to create some by starring in a Biden-sponsored ad.

But that problem no longer obtains. The footage exists. It’s a simple matter of repackaging it as an ad and airing it on Fox and the broadcast networks in hopes of persuading vax-resistant MAGA types.

In fact, not only would that be in the national interest, it might be in Biden’s political interest.

Couldn’t hurt, right? There might be a few populist anti-vaxxers out there willing to entertain the case for getting their shots if it came from Trump.

But even if there aren’t, spreading the word that he’s on the wrong side of his base could be a boon to Democrats by damaging Trump’s popularity on the right. Some of his fans are struggling to reconcile his outspoken support for the vaccines lately with their solemn MAGA duty to show loyalty to him in all things.

Although some are struggling less than others:

“He needs an intervention from a friend because he’s the greatest president of my lifetime. I love him. I will always love him,” said Wayne Allyn Root to Jones on his radio show yesterday about Trump emerging as pro-vax. “He’s been right on everything except this issue. He’s so horribly wrong on this issue.” Plenty of MAGA fans agree.

At what point does that become a political problem for him?

We can’t be more than a week away from Trump backpedaling. I assume he’ll take the DeSantis route and execute a shift in emphasis, not recanting his support for vaccination but devoting most of his rhetorical energy going forward to condemning mandates. His base knows he’s pro-vax and won’t hold it against him provided that he gets back to aiming his fire at Democrats on their behalf, not vice versa. But even so, a White House ad amplifying Trump’s pro-vax message is destined to maintain some tension between him and his fans. You would think Biden would conclude that it’s worth doing for that reason alone, to weaken the likely 2024 GOP nominee politically even if it doesn’t convince anyone to get vaccinated.

There’s a counterargument, though, namely that promoting Trump’s pro-vax stance might actually help him politically. Some analysts speculate that’s why he’s been so vocal lately:

Veteran GOP strategist Keith Naughton said he was “a little” surprised by Trump’s recent cheerleading of the vaccines, given the former president’s claim earlier this year that he was unlikely to get a COVID-19 booster. But he said it also made political sense.

“On the surface it’s surprising. But when you think about it, it’s a sensible thing,” he said. “It’s a sign that he is running. I think he knows he can’t just be part of that extremist side, he’s got to branch out.”

Some Republicans welcomed Trump’s remarks, saying it will help their party if they are not tagged with an anti-vaccine label. A few also think it could lead to more people getting vaccinated.

“Absolutely. Because what you had is just a crescendo of misinformation from the small but loud anti-vaccine voice,” one Trump ally said when asked if the remarks could lead to more Republicans getting vaccinated.

A White House ad showcasing Trump’s support for vaccination might inadvertently cause wary swing voters to take a second look at him and the GOP in 2024. It’d be an all-time backfire.

As for whether Trump’s endorsement is likely to move the needle on vaccination among unvaxxed MAGA fans, nah. They’ve held out this long; it’s unlikely they’ll change their minds at the very moment that a milder variant has begun sweeping the more dangerous strains away. Plus, while Republicans aren’t the only slice of the population that’s resisted vaccination, they are more dug-in than some other groups. Axios pointed out recently that African-Americans “reported much higher levels of mask use, social distancing and trust in the federal government regardless of their vaccination status” than GOPers did. Specifically, “81% of Black Americans — but just 34% of unvaccinated white Americans — said they were wearing masks outside the home some or all of the time in the second half of this year.” My sense is that anti-vaxxism among blacks is driven by skepticism of the government while anti-vaxxism among righties is motivated by resistance to it. The latter is more likely than the former to forge a tribal identity around the issue, and tribal identities aren’t easily dissolved.

Meanwhile, it looks like anti-vaxxism is also bleeding over into COVID therapeutics. Not all of the unvaccinated are unwilling to take Pfizer’s new wonder drug to treat an infection but many are:

But there was one key difference: 91% of vaccinated people would take the pill, but only 52% of all unvaccinated Americans said they are very or somewhat likely to do do so. The likelihood an unvaccinated person would take the pill dropped even further — to 35% — among those who said they would never get vaccinated, compared to unvaccinated people who said they will “wait and see.”…

Overall, slightly less than half — or 46% — of all unvaccinated Americans indicated they are unwilling to receive a vaccine or the Pfizer pill. Breaking it down, nearly half of unvaccinated women, millennials, members of Gen X, and Republicans were unwilling to get vaccinated or take the pill, if they were to get infected.

Some who said yes to the pill but no to the vaccine drew quasi-reasonable distinctions between the two, like the fact that the vaccine was supposedly “rushed” while Pfizer took its time in developing the pill or the idea that a pill is less invasive than a shot. But for those who reject both, they’re probably equally objectionable as products of Big Pharma and “the experts.” I doubt even Trump can talk them out of feeling that way.

I’ll leave you with Kristi Noem, who somehow failed to get the memo from April 2020 that COVID is airborne and therefore washing your hands won’t keep you from catching it. We end 2021 faced with the startling reality that Donald Trump is probably in the top 10 percent of most responsible pandemic messengers among Republican politicians.

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