Kaci Hickox, the nurse who fought to get out of a quarantine instituted by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), won the first round of her PR battle.
Winning the second round will be very difficult.
Since being transferred to another state-ordered quarantine at her home in Maine, Hickox has said she wouldn't abide by that quarantine, arguing that it's pointless and illegal to force her to do so. So on Thursday, she went on a well-publicized bike ride.
It's clear that Hickox believes in her cause and that she'll continue to fight against such quarantines in a case that could affect future efforts by governors to institute such measures (she might even sue Christie over her treatment). But when it comes to convincing the American people that her cause is just, she's got her work cut out for her.
A CBS News poll released Wednesday showed a whopping 80 percent of Americans believe that some kind of quarantine is warranted for U.S. citizens traveling from West Africa back to the United States. I would argue that number is probably a little bit inflated -- CBS didn't mention that such quarantines last 21 days or where they would take place -- but it's pretty clear the vast majority of Americans are on-board with a whatever-it-takes approach to containing the spread of the disease.
Another case in point is the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, which shows 70 percent of Americans want some kind of travel restrictions when it comes to people traveling to the United States from West Africa.
We're sure plenty of these people haven't heard of Kaci Hickox or studied the White House's reasons for resisting such measures, which include the idea that they discourage health-care workers from going to West Africa. Doctors Without Borders said Thursday that the quarantines in a few states are already making it harder for them to recruit people to fight Ebola in West Africa.
But for those who feel strongly about an abundance of caution -- whether travel bans or quarantines -- Hickox's decision to flout her quarantine is turning her into an easy foil. And the detractors are getting louder, particularly among conservatives.
A writer at the conservative National Review Online labeled her a "selfish hero," for fighting Ebola in West Africa and then returning to demonstrate a "peculiar and repulsive sense of entitlement."
A Fox News host surmised Thursday that Hickox was enjoying the attention she was getting.
Other conservatives have labeled her a liberal and criticized her sense of entitlement.
Meanwhile, on the left, The Nation has hailed Hickox for standing up to the Republican governor, Christie.
Whether people like it or not, Ebola has pretty predictably turned into a partisan issue, with Republicans not trusting the Obama administration's guarantees and criticizing it for not getting more ahead of the disease, and Democrats believing Republicans are feeding hysteria about the whole thing. The Washington Post-ABC poll showed 50 percent of Democrats believe the U.S. government is doing all it reasonably can to stop the disease, but just 24 percent of Republicans agree. And while 78 percent of Democrats are confident the government can handle the situation, just 53 percent of Republicans agree.
For Hickox, it's not yet a chorus of criticism, but it's picking up, particularly in the conservative blogosphere. And given the very real fear in the American public and the overwhelming support for the kind of quarantine that Hickox is flouting, she's turning into the face of a cause that very few Americans believe in.
Her goal -- and the White House's goal -- is to change that.