You would consider that odd only if you also consider it odd that people who wear seat belts are more likely to survive car accidents or that those who jump out of airplanes with parachutes are more likely to reach the ground intact than those who don’t.
In fact, some prominent Democrats have caught the virus, including Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. But many more Republican leaders have been diagnosed. Fourteen Republican members of the House and Senate have tested positive or are presumed positive compared with only six Democrats. Add to the ranks of Republican victims not only the president and first lady but also at least eight of their aides and associates, including the chair of the Republican National Committee. The White House is a bigger coronavirus hot spot than all of New Zealand (which had just one new case in the past 24 hours).
How could this possibly be? Perhaps — I’m spitballing here — it is related to the Republican Party’s rejection of science, its embrace of conspiracy theories and its transformation into a cult of personality? Having long been in denial about climate change, the Republican Party this year has also been in denial about the novel coronavirus.
Many of the president’s followers have been vociferously opposed to lockdowns, face masks and social distancing. Researchers have shown that those who rely on right-wing sources such as Fox “News” and Rush Limbaugh are much more likely to hold mistaken beliefs about the coronavirus than those who look to the mainstream media for information. One such study found that a 10 percent increase in Fox News viewership within a Zip code reduced its residents’ propensity to abide by a lockdown by 1.3 percentage points. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released in September found that 51 percent of Republicans say that “hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment for COVID-19” and 36 percent say that wearing a mask is harmful to your health.
Trump himself is the Fox viewer in chief. He has been claiming from the start of the pandemic that the virus was about to magically disappear. He has risked spreading it by holding rallies and fundraisers, sometimes indoors, even after former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain died of covid-19 after attending one such event. Trump has cast doubt on medical experts such as Anthony S. Fauci and turned to dubious advisers such as Scott Atlas, a physician with no background in immunology or infectious disease who has advocated discredited “herd immunity” theories. Trump even retweeted a video from a pediatrician who praises hydroxychloroquine and opposes masks — and who also has warned about the dangers of alien DNA and of people having sex in their dreams with witches and demons.
It would be nice to think that Trump’s illness would persuade his followers to take the disease more seriously, but so far there is little evidence of that. Trump supporters are holding get-well-soon rallies without benefit of masks or social distancing, thereby potentially spreading the disease while supporting one of its victims. Even on Sunday morning, Trump aide Jason Miller was mocking Joe Biden for using his mask as a “prop.” A few hours later, Trump needlessly exposed Secret Service agents by taking a joy ride to wave at his fans outside of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. In the videos Trump has posted from the hospital, he has notably failed to advise his followers to wear masks or obey public health guidelines.
Instead of blaming Trump for ignoring medical advice, many of his followers take refuge in bizarre conspiracy theories. DeAnna Lorraine seems to be torn between blaming Trump’s illness on China (“Could Trump catching COVID-19 technically be viewed as an assassination attempt on our President by the Chinese?”) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) (“Remember when Nancy Pelosi said she had a few arrows in her quiver?”).
Trump’s followers — some of whom have suggested that sacrificing the lives of older people is a reasonable price to pay for restarting the economy — continue to view the virus with a curious mixture of fatalism and passivity. In a telling example of Republican illogic, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) told Fox News on Friday: “There is no lockdown that can be a panacea to save everyone from everything, and this is proof positive that’s the case.” So the president’s failure to abide by public health guidelines is evidence that those guidelines don’t work?
Longtime Republican consultant Edward J. Rollins is right: “Now we’re sort of the stupid party.” Trump and many of his associates are now paying a heavy price for the right’s rejection of reason. They might ignore the virus, but it won’t ignore them.