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Why the GOP Became Pro-Covid
"DeathSantis? This isn't even my final form..."
Cue my intro music. After my long time away on paternity leave, I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide. Oh, and I have a baby. Crazy!
First off, I have to thank all the writers who subbed in for me:
Our friendly neighborhood epidemiologist, Brooke Aksnes, wrote about the vaccines.
Our friendly neighborhood recruiter/bossman, Adam Kail, wrote about why you should quit your job.
Our friendly neighborhood video game journalist, John Donadio, wrote about violence in video games and mental health.
And our friendly neighborhood recovering anti-vaxxer, Becky Driscoll, wrote about…recovering from being an anti-vaxxer.
I enjoyed every single piece. All in all, this was a really successful experiment and one that I might use again in the future. There were actually a lot of people I wanted to ask to write, but I did (sort of) have a plan in my head when I asked these folks to contribute. Specifically, I wanted to start and end with vaccines as a lead-in to the thing I’ve thought about the most recently: Why so many Republican governors are choosing to be pro-COVID.
I chose to write about “why” the GOP became pro-COVID because I think the “how” is, by now, pretty obvious. Throughout 2020, conservatives had a pretty good rebuttal to the cries of “DeathSantis,” which was that all of the liberal, Northeastern states had higher rates of death from COVID than Florida, Texas, and South Dakota, i.e., all the “free” states. This was actually true on its face for a good chunk of last year; for a long time, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, and others led the pack with deaths per capita.
In those days, it really looked like COVID was simply following the rules of population density, which makes sense with an aerosol-type disease. The more people you have clustered together, the easier it is for the disease to spread (and this was also true in Europe, to some extent). So, some Democrats/COVID realists argued that states that were more densely populated were always going to show more COVID deaths per capita.
However, in 2021 Democrats no longer have to make that argument. With the data that have been compiled so far, it is abundantly clear that states under Republican control (with a few exceptions that will be explained below) have fared far worse than blue states. Florida is probably the best example that shows how the Republican approach has failed.
Throughout 2020, New York’s COVID death toll stood far ahead of Florida’s and was constantly pointed to as the difference in leadership between Governors Ron DeSantis and Andrew Cuomo. At the height of the pandemic, Cuomo was given air time virtually every day, and DeSantis was treated as a nutcase even though Florida’s numbers were better than New York’s. It sucks to say this, but somehow Ron DeSantis has made Andrew Cuomo look better.
In July of 2020, New York’s COVID death rate was highly elevated, and New York City - the epicenter of the virus for most of that Spring - was registering a nutty 3,872 deaths per million residents. At that time, Florida was registering 276 deaths per million (below the national average of 453), which was regularly pointed out by various conservative commentators. Fast forward to October of 2021, and Florida has added almost exactly two thousand “points” to its death rate, bringing it closely in line with New York, which has a death rate of 2,929. We are now well-past the summer and winter of 2020, have highly effective vaccines, and Florida has a staggering death rate of 2,770. In fact, Florida now has the highest post-vaccine death rate in the world. This will surely come as hard news to conservatives, who routinely made DeSantis into some sort of COVID-19 genius, even though the evidence said otherwise.
After Florida’s disaster this summer, conservative commentators again began to celebrate DeSantis’s “triumph” over the virus, even though the Delta variant had just swept through the state and killed 20,000 Floridians. Christopher Ingraham addressed this narrative head-on:
Cases are low right now in Florida simply because the Delta wave burned through the state, virtually uncontrolled, earlier in Florida than elsewhere. But what these arguments elide is that the state’s Delta outbreak was the worst in the country, due in large part to DeSantis’ refusal to support bare minimum mitigation measures. […] Looking nationwide, no other state comes close to Florida in terms of Delta wave mortality — the rate in Florida is 93 deaths per 100,000, compared to a nationwide average of 39 per 100k (again, these figures only calculate death since August 1).
The problem isn’t DeSantis on his own. In November of 2020, North Dakota earned the “title” of having the world’s worst COVID death rate, and South Dakota wasn’t far behind. Both states imposed little, if any COVID restrictions, with South Dakota in particular openly bragging about its total lack of any precautions.
A few paragraphs up, we talked about the COVID death rate in the early days of the pandemic. I remember logging on to Worldometers.com and checking the “deaths per million” tab pretty religiously and seeing states like New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts at the top. Here’s what it looks like now:
Of the 15 states with the highest COVID death rates, 11 of them are under Republican control.1 To put it simply, the conservative messaging on COVID has been wrong in just about every single way possible. Study after study shows that local governments that enact some mitigation techniques are more successful than governments that let COVID go YOLO. Masks are effective at reducing COVID’s spread. School districts that imposed mask rules for students saw not only fewer COVID cases, but also fewer school closures. States that issued stay-at-home orders and mask mandates saw far greater reductions in COVID cases than states that did not. If conservatives put maybe one-tenth the effort into criticizing their own leaders that they put into criticizing Tony Fauci, then perhaps they might have gotten better results.
But the point isn’t to go after the GOP for “not following the science,” because - as we have seen this year - COVID sort of does what it wants. Is it possible that there will be a winter surge of cases in the Northeast as COVID fades in the South? Yep, totally possible. In fact, there are some signs that’s already happening in Vermont. But the point is that in November of 2021, we know what strategies work against COVID, and we know which ones don’t.
That’s why Vermont is especially relevant: Although the Green Mountain State has seen really high case levels lately, deaths are not following. As of this writing, Vermont’s weekly COVID death rate is 2. As a whole, the state has seen only 364 deaths due to COVID throughout the entire pandemic. Perhaps coincidentally, Vermont is also the most vaccinated state in the country. And note that I said, “state,” because it’s still behind Puerto Rico’s vaccination rate. This ties back into DeSantis in two ways:
After Florida’s surge of COVID deaths, cases began to subside and DeSantis subsequently bragged about having the nation’s “lowest transmission rate” (spoiler: It is harder for a disease to spread if it kills a huge chunk of its potential hosts). But even that wasn’t true: Puerto Rico has the country’s lowest rate of COVID transmission.
DeSantis - and other GOP leaders - have subtly pushed back on the easiest and safest way to end the pandemic: The vaccines.
As Jonathan Chait lays out in a recent piece, DeSantis has gone from winking at the anti-vaccination movement to full-on open mouth kissing them:
After months of carefully walking this balance beam, DeSantis has fallen off. He has thrown in fully with the anti-vaxxers, and whatever thin plausible deniability he tried to maintain is gone.
You can see DeSantis’s progression from anti-anti-anti-vaxxer to simple anti-vaxxer by observing the increasingly strident tone and content of his stances. DeSantis has:
– blocked cruise lines from requiring their customers to be vaccinated. This stance is both a violation of traditional conservative deference to property rights (why should a business owner be forced to permit onto his property infected customers he doesn’t wish to serve?) and a practical economic threat to an important Florida industry (who in their right mind would set foot on a cruise ship that didn’t require everybody to have a vaccine?)
– blocked cities from requiring that their public employees get a vaccine. DeSantis threatened to impose a $5,000 fine per infraction on any Florida town that imposed a vaccine mandate on its city employees
– refused to participate in a federal plan to give $100 checks to everybody who got a vaccine
– appeared at a rally beside an anti-vaxxer who told the audience the vaccine “changes your RNA” and then declined to contradict this absurd claim when his turn came to speak
– and appointed a state surgeon general, Joseph Ladapo, who has repeatedly questioned vaccine safety.
If you’re keeping score, this means that Republicans not only resisted the mitigation techniques that were used to stop the virus from spreading, but they also have resisted the easiest way to bring the pandemics to its knees. Why isn’t the GOP doing whatever it can to keep its constituents alive? The answer is Sarah Palin. Seriously.
During the onset of the pandemic, a pretty hilarious image stuck out to me as anti-lockdown protestors screamed into the the void/at the walls of each State Capitol:
Although now that I searched for this and got to see the related images, I think I might like this one more:
Just before I left for paternity leave, we talked about the “infantilism” that was currently plaguing a large part of the country. Some people really do want to die at Hooters simply because liberals hate dying and also possibly Hooters. What I think is a really significant political story (that the overwhelming majority of media outlets failed to pick up on) is how this has long been a growing movement within conservatism.
It really had its onset with Sarah Palin, Senator John McCain’s running mate in the 2008 election. Although the McCain/Palin ticket went on to lose to some guy named Barack Obama, Palin’s reputation with the GOP base soared. She suffered from a lot of embarrassing moments during the campaign, most notably the Katie Couric interview where she failed to cite to a single newspaper that she read. But Couric herself noted recently that the infamous CBS interview wouldn’t hit the same way today, and Palin’s ignorance would be “seen as a badge of honor.” Even though she sucks, Couric is 100% right; Donald Trump basically took Sarah Palin’s mojo on ignorance and disinformation, huffed 200 kilos of cocaine, and then turned it into his own political philosophy.
I think one of the biggest misconceptions out there is that Donald Trump leads the base of the GOP. That isn’t true. Trump follows the base; he just happens to know where it’s going.
Trump learned where the GOP was going by doing his research, which mostly meant watching Fox News for about eight years. And while Sarah Palin had her half-assed, mainstream GOP defenders who were “doing their jobs” and protecting their Party’s Vice-President, nearly all of them knew that Sarah Palin was dumber than a bag of hammers. What’s happened since is that Palinism has become the dominant philosophy thanks to its weaponization by Trump, with conservative media lending a hand.
With anti-intellectual Palinism as the dominant force within the GOP, it’s no wonder that the base of the Party now demands that its leaders be anti-mask and anti-vaccine; anything that the “smart people” are doing needs to be opposed, even if it means we all have to die at Hooters. Trump was able to see that this “infantilism” was a large portion of the Republican Party’s base, and that it was being ignored by most of its national leaders. He allowed this section of the Party to carry him to the GOP nomination in 2016, even though the majority of Republicans voted against him in that Primary, and then watched as the rest of the Party lined up behind him. Now, the GOP is synonymous with Trump, and it’s all because he paid a little bit closer attention to Sarah Palin than the rest of us.
I’m sure there are some rational Republicans out there who have hope and think that maybe the Party can resist having Donald Trump, Jr., be the nominee in 2028. They may even point out that Vermont (the state that I praised above) has a Republican governor, and Larry Hogan in Maryland and Mark DeWine in Ohio all did decent jobs with COVID and they are big boi Republicans. But when was the last time you heard about them before reading this post? When was the last time you heard a national Republican figure say, “You know who did a great job on COVID? Larry Hogan, and he’s a conservative!” Then think about the last time you heard a Republican praise Ron DeSantis, if your brain can work that fast.
The actual Party doesn’t care about the Republican governors who “followed the science” because the science is boring and the Libs followed the science so it must be bad anyway. Think of the successful GOP governors as the base now thinks of Mitt Romney, both as a Senator and as a Presidential candidate: The GOP went from the excitement of Sarah Palin, a populist governor who enraptured the base; to the buttoned-up Romney, who did not excite the base; and then back to Palin on quaaludes, Donald Trump.
And here’s where it’s really significant: Although Ron DeSantis, Kristi Noem, Tate Reeves, and Greg Abbott are not every single GOP governor, they have all woken up and chosen Trumpism/Palinism over Romneyism/Hoganism. And in the same way that some portions of conservative media defended Palin when she was McCain’s running mate, they are doing the same thing with the “Trumpist” approach taken by the aforementioned GOP governors and amplifying it by a thousand. It is a clear sign that the takeover is complete.
So, if you are wondering why your previously “smart” Republican friends who were skeptical of Trump are starting to sound more and more Trumpy/DeSantisy, it’s just a reminder that tribalism is real.2
OK, so who is going to win in Virginia on Tuesday? We hate polls now, but it’s worth noting that - as of this writing - the GOP nominee (Youngkin) is in the lead. But, if you want the DPOD GUT LEVEL PREDICTION, I would say Youngkin is going to win. He has done three things that I think will make him successful:
He kept Trump out of the race. He flirted with Trumpism early on when the electorate wasn’t paying attention but the base was and has now forgotten Donald Trump’s name.
He has chosen a successful campaign topic (Critical Race Theory), even if it is made up.
He has successfully tricked Terry McCauliffe into running one of the worst campaigns in recent memory.
That said, anyone who tells you that this means this or that for the midterms is worth ignoring; polls on that do not become even mildly predictive until December, and right now they still show Democrats with an advantage.
That’s it for me this week. I will say this: Being a Dad is really the best thing on the planet. After I held our baby for the first time, I kept thinking it was the first full breath I had ever taken in my life. We are still in the throes of newborn life, but it has been amazing.
That said, I really did miss writing a lot. The holidays are coming, so that usually means fewer Jackals, but I’ll try to pump out as many as I can.
Louisiana has a Democratic governor, but the GOP legislature and Attorney General have successfully fought his efforts to impose COVID restrictions at every step.
I’m inventing a new thing: Krauthammering. During the 2008 race, Charles Krauthammer “did his job” and defended Sarah Palin, even though I think, deep down, he knew she was wrong. That happens in media from time to time. But Trump was a bridge too far for him to cross and he routinely opposed him, even going as far as to say he “colluded” with the Russians. To sum it up quickly: The sign of a Republican who resisted the Party’s slide into Stupidism and kept their principles is mostly that they oppose Trump.