What’s behind the GOP reversal on COVID-19 vaccines? Money
You might have noticed a seemingly sudden turnaround by many Republican lawmakers, right-wing media personalities, and others with an oversize influence on conservative voters. They now claim that getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is a great idea after all.
The United States has not escaped the worldwide surge in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths caused by the novel coronavirus, especially from the highly contagious delta variant. The number of U.S. cases are averaging nearly 30,000 a day, up from only 11,000 a day a few months ago. The surges in COVID cases are mostly in areas with the fewest people vaccinated — an “unvaccinated surge,” mainly in Southern states and areas in Missouri and Florida. And the more people resist getting vaccinated, the higher the chances for even more variants to occur.
We’ve had weeks — months, even — of Fox News commentators and GOP politicians telling viewers and constituents that the risk of COVID is overblown; that people don’t really need the shots; that COVID isn’t so bad anyway.
Then there are the wacko conspiracy theories: the vaccines can cause infertility; your body will become a magnet; the vaccines contain microchips supplied by the government or Bill Gates; the vaccines themselves cause COVID; the vaccines are rewriting your DNA; and worse. Many pushing these Looney-Tunes ideas have been regular guests (along with their GOP enablers) on certain shows on Fox, Newsmax, and OANN. The theories also have been pushed widely on social media.
But now we have Republican members of Congress telling constituents how they really, really need those COVID shots. GOP leaders such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are tweeting about the importance of getting the vaccine. House GOP Whip Steve Scalise finally got vaccinated himself days ago (don’t forget that he was eligible for the vaccine in January) and told those in his district that the vaccine was “safe and effective.”
So why the change of heart? There are two main theories, both of them cynical.
The stock market tanked in mid-July, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average closing down over 700 points. Of course the market came back — it always does — but blaring headlines blaming the drop on COVID concerns, especially about the ultra-contagious delta variant and possible effects on the global economy because of breaks in world supply chains, were enough to spook businesses. These same business are usually reliable Republican donors, so they sent the message to GOP lawmakers and Fox News hosts to knock it off and stop underselling COVID seriousness.
Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo had another idea: Polls that show Republicans losing because of COVID.
The most plausible answer continues to be bad polling. Perhaps not literally polling. There are other gauges of public opinion: focus groups, reactions at town halls. My best guess is that Republicans see that a lot of their constituents – despite the tough talk on Twitter – are suddenly pretty worried about COVID. And because of that – somehow – Republican politicians suddenly feel exposed. Like they’re the ones holding the “poo-poo COVID, don’t get vaccinated” bag when their voters are freaking out.
When Republicans lose elections, their business donors aren’t happy, because they can’t influence legislation. So GOP leaders got the message and quickly jumped on the COVID vaccine bandwagon. They must assume that voters are stupid enough to forget who told them for months not to get vaccinated, but I’m sure Democrats will be only too happy to remind the electorate in next year’s midterm elections.
What about the media, which has been selling the “don’t-get-vaccinated” message for months? That’s also a change. Except for the crazy Fox News holdouts such as Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson, for whom no COVID conspiracy theory is too outlandish, even many at that network are now on board, telling viewers to get their shots. Host Sean Hannity told viewers that he now believes in the science of vaccination. Over at Newsmax, CEO Chris Ruddy delivered a pro-vaccine op-ed, actually telling viewers that he thought President Biden was doing a bang-up job in handling COVID. “Six months into his administration, President Joe Biden should be applauded for making a huge dent in the COVID pandemic,” Ruddy wrote.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a red-blue divide. Vaccination rates in counties that voted for Biden are much higher than rates in counties that voted for Donald Trump. Now, the COVID surge rates mirror those figures, but in reverse — the highest figures are in Trump country.
Please. Just get the vaccine already. And in next year’s election, remember who told you to get vaccinated. And who told you not to.