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Republicans Killing Off Their Own Base Is Actually A Strategy!

"Badge of Honor" by Nancy Ohanian

This morning, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) released a new survey showing that vaccine hesitancy has decreased among all Americans, including, barely, white crackpot evangelicals. "Among religious groups, Hispanic Catholics have increased most in vaccine acceptance, from 56% in March to 80% in June. Nearly eight in ten white Catholics (79%) are also vaccine accepters, up from 68% in March. Other non-Christians (78%), other Christians (77%), the religiously unaffiliated (75%), and white mainline Protestants (74%) are also above the 70% mark, with increases of 11-15 percentage points in each group... Jewish Americans are most likely to be vaccine accepters (85%)... Hispanic Protestants and white evangelical Protestants remain the least likely religious groups to be vaccine accepters (56% for both groups), but both groups nonetheless saw double-digit increases in acceptance since March (43% and 45%, respectively).

A month or so ago, my doctor told me that I should start thinking about a third shot, saying all the research shows "it's golden." This week, I got it, as I watched new cases spike in all 50 states. I also noticed that 25% of new cases in Los Angeles are among people who are double-vaccinated. In terms of the daily case average over the last two week, the figures are awful, primarily among the unvaccinated Trump supporters:

  • Louisiana- 79 new daily cases per 100,000 residents-- up 307%

  • Florida- 58 new daily cases per 100,000 residents-- up 124%

  • Arkansas- 52 new daily cases per 100,000 residents-- up 61%

  • Mississippi- 40 new daily cases per 100,000 residents-- up 274%

  • Missouri- 40 new daily cases per 100,000 residents-- up 59%

  • Alabama- 36 new daily cases per 100,000 residents-- up 217%

  • Oklahoma- 30 new daily cases per 100,000 residents-- up 229%

  • Nevada- 30 new daily cases per 100,000 residents-- up 43%

  • Alaska- 29 new daily cases per 100,000 residents-- up 185%

  • Texas- 22 new daily cases per 100,000 residents-- up 178%

States with the biggest per capital hospitalizations over the past two weeks all have piss-poor vaccination rates: Nevada (44% fully vaccinated), Florida (49% fully vaccinated), Arkansas (36% fully vaccinated), Missouri (41% fully vaccinated), Louisiana (37% fully vaccinated), Alabama (34% fully vaccinated), Mississippi (34% fully vaccinated), Texas (43% fully vaccinated), Oklahoma (40% fully vaccinated) and Georgia (38% fully vaccinated). In contrast, the 3 states with the lowest hospitalizations have relatively high vaccination rates (and few people who were stupid and gullible enough to have voted for Trump in 2020): Vermont (67% fully vaccinated-- 30.67% for Trump), New Hampshire (58% fully vaccinated-- 45.36% for Trump), and Massachusetts (64% fully vaccinated-- 32.14% for Trump).

Even as Trump insists on ramping up his ghoulish campaign to politicize the pandemic and undermine Biden's efforts to deal with it, the rest of the country is going through a serious discussion of mask mandates and even vaccine mandates! Today over a dozen extreme right Republicans decided to flout the House mask mandate by rushing onto the floor without masks. And who would do that? Probably those among the 40% of unvaccinated Republican members. Today's culprits Marjorie Traitor Greene (Q-GA), Lauren Boebert (Q-CO), Mary Miller (Q-IL), Matt Gaetz (Rapist-FL), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Chip Roy (R-TX), Beth Van Duyne (R-TX), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Randy Weber (R-TX), Pat Fallon (R-TX), Carol Miller (R-WV), Alex Mooney (R-WV), Bob Good (R-VA), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Matt Rosendale (R-MT), Andrew "Tourists" Clyde (R-GA), Tom Tiffany (R-WI), Blake Moore (R-UT) and Burgess Owens (R-UT).

Writing for Axios this morning, Caitlin Owens reported that "America's 'pandemic of the unvaccinated' has gotten bad enough that vaccine mandates are starting to catch on, and masks are coming back-- in some cases, even for the vaccinated. Vaccinated people's risk of serious illness is still extremely low," she wrote, although who really knows? "The problem is that there are simply too many unvaccinated Americans. That's taking a toll on the whole country, and vaccinated people will be asked to shoulder some of that burden. 'The vaccinated are currently paying a price for the unvaccinated. COVID-19 is surging again, with spillover to the vaccinated. Masks are coming back, because the honor system isn’t working,' tweeted emergency physician Leana Wen. Biden administration officials are debating how to expand vaccine mandates for some federal civilian health care workers as they prepare to put more testing pressure-- and requirements-- on the rest of the federal workforce... The CDC announced yesterday that vaccinated Americans living in areas with high or substantial coronavirus transmission-- about 63% of U.S. counties-- should once again wear masks indoors. The vast majority of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are among unvaccinated people."

The worrying part of this report, though-- at least for normal people-- is that "some vaccinated people can still contract the virus, even if they never experience symptoms, and new evidence suggests that some of those 'breakthrough' cases might be more contagious than initially thought, according to the CDC. That's the main point of bringing back masks for vaccinated people: To reduce the risk that a person with a breakthrough infection will infect an unvaccinated person, who's still at a much higher risk of serious illness or death."

People are wondering why Republican politicians like Trump and McCarthy are pushing an agenda that will kill off their base. It doesn't seem very smart-- although...

Dan Pfeiffer dealt with the idea about Republican politicians killing their voters in a new post today, Why the GOP Wants to Kill Its Voters. "In its simplest form," he wrote, "politics is a game of numbers. The goal is to attract more voters. Therefore, exposing your most loyal voters to a deadly virus seems to be a particularly stupid way to go about winning elections. Yet a surprising number of Right-Wing politicians and media figures have spent a lot of time and energy pushing conspiracy theories about the COVID vaccine. This messaging has undoubtedly killed thousands of voters that the Republicans need in the 2022 elections... there is no question significant elements of the Republican Party have embraced the anti-vax movement in the post-Trump Era... But the reason is neither idiocy nor performative assholery."

While the modern Republican Party is nihilistic, immoral, corrupt, and racist, it is not stupid. There is an underlying-- albeit twisted-- political logic behind the decision of so many Republican politicians to push anti-vax conspiracy theories. Killing their own voters is disgusting but not as self-defeating as it seems. It’s not a good or moral strategy, but it is a strategy. And defeating that strategy requires understanding why Republicans think killing their voters is good politics.
The first-- and most important thing-- to understand is that the Right-Wingers pushing anti-vax messaging are full of cynical B.S. If you don’t believe me, listen to them. The Washington Post’s J.M. Rieger put together a video compilation of leading GOP anti-vaxxers like Senators Ron Johnson and Rand Paul praising the Trump Administration for their efforts to speed the development of the vaccine... In March, Rep. Marjorie Traitor Greene (Q-GA) praised former president Donald Trump for saving lives with the coronavirus vaccines. By July, Greene was telling Americans not to get vaccinated.
Not one public figure has done more to sow distrust in the COVID vaccines than Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. On a nightly basis, Carlson pushes disinformation about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines. He regularly invites discredited conspiracy theorists like Alex Berenson on his show. Berenson-- whom The Atlantic dubbed “The Pandemic’s Wrongest Man”-- is a former New York Times reporter who has desperately sought relevance by becoming a champion of the anti-vaccine movement. Despite his efforts to convince his viewers not to get the vaccine, Carlson has refused to tell viewers whether he has been vaccinated.
Carlson is not the only anti-vaxxer on Fox’s airwaves. Despite a recent shift in tone, the Right-Wing propaganda network has been a fount of COVID misinformation. A Morning Consult poll from June found that people who regularly watch Fox News are significantly less likely to get vaccinated than those who consume other media.
However, what Fox News says on-air and what it does behind the scenes are two very different things. Due to his advanced age and immense wealth, Rupert Murdoch was one of the first people on Earth to receive the vaccine. The fact that Murdoch can profit off the death of his viewers yet be secure in his own immunity is more evidence that he is one of history’s great villains. The network has also railed against the idea of vaccine mandates or passports. Yet, as CNN reported
Fox Corporation, the Right-Wing talk channel's parent company, has quietly implemented the concept of a vaccine passport as workers slowly return back to the company's offices. Fox employees, including those who work at Fox News, received an email, obtained by CNN Business, from the company's Human Resources department in early June that said Fox had ‘developed a secure, voluntary way for employees to self-attest their vaccination status.’
This level of cynicism and dishonesty among Republicans is nothing new and surprises no one reading this, but it is relevant because it speaks to the fact that these folks are pushing the vaccine conspiracy theories as part of a specific political strategy... Here are the reasons for pushing misinformation:
...Republicans want the government to serve as a bulwark against the growing political and economic power of a diversifying America that they view as an existential threat to their primarily White, Christian base.
...This is why Republicans defend the police when they murder our citizens. It is why they pour money into border enforcement. And it is why they expand military and domestic surveillance. But when a Democrat is in charge-- particularly if it’s a Black president with a white vice president or a white president with a Black vice president-- the government becomes an existential threat. The Republican narrative depends on sowing distrust and fear about the government. Pushing conspiracy theories about the vaccines should be seen in the same vein as Republican paranoia about gun confiscation, “Deep State” opposition to Trump, the “War on Christmas,” and schoolchildren being indoctrinated with “Critical Race Theory.” Republicans need their base jacked up on a high dosage of fear, particularly of institutions. The idea the government is forcing you to get an unproven shot for an overhyped virus serves that exact purpose.
The fact Republicans switched from praising the vaccines to questioning them the moment Donald Trump skulked back to Mar-a-Lago tells you everything you need to know. If Trump was reelected (or had successfully stolen the election), the Republican Party and Fox News would be the #1 booster of the vaccine program. Carlson would get his shots live on air. Ron Johnson and Rand Paul would be running vaccine clinics out of their offices. The D-list MAGA celebrities would do PSAs on OAN and Newsmax. But Donald Trump is not president. Joe Biden is president. Republican success in the midterms depends, in part, on Biden’s failure to control the pandemic and resuscitate the economy. Just as the Republicans did everything in their power to prolong the recession under Obama, they are now making it harder for President Biden to control the pandemic. Railing against mask mandates, questioning science, and pushing anti-vax conspiracy theories are crucial in that effort.
...The Republican Party cozies up to anti-vaxxers for the same reason that they cozy up to QAnon, White Supremacists, and Right-Wing militias like the Oathkeepers; they have no choice. With every passing day, the Republicans become a smaller and smaller part of the electorate. Winning political power-- even an Electoral College and Senate tilted dramatically in their favor-- becomes more challenging. They need higher and higher turnout from a shrinking base. The anti-vax movement is a relatively small but highly engaged and very online group of people. Exactly the sort of people that stayed home in 2012 but turned out for Trump in 2016 and 2020. Electoral math dictates that the Republican Party simply can’t turn away likely supporters-- even if it means killing some of them through collateral damage.
...Like so much else in Trump-Era Republican politics, the decision to sow distrust in the COVID vaccine is instinctual rather than intellectual. It is a massive indictment of our politics and media environment that such a cynical and dangerous approach is not the death knell for those who adopt it. Understanding the political forces that reward such behavior is crucial to Democratic success in 2022 and beyond.

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