This cannot come soon enough. A confluence of new factors is making it obvious that Democrats need to take on this argument much more forcefully, not just for the good of the party, but for the good of the country.
The memo from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee directly ties GOP extremism on covid to the health of the country — and, importantly, to our prospects for economic recovery and a return to normalcy.
“House Republicans have lied about its impact” and “dangerously rejected medical guidance to wear masks and social distance,” the memo says, adding that “extremist Republicans” have “even encouraged Americans to consume horse and cattle dewormer.”
House Republicans and GOP candidates have spread disinformation about the virus, have staged epic fake-outrage fests about mask mandates, have demagogued about vaccines in ridiculous, hallucinogenic and obscenely wretched ways, and have pushed the rankest of absurdities to undermine confidence in federal health officials.
Critically, the memo notes that if Republicans continue impeding our covid response, that will stand in the way of “getting Americans back to work.” And it’s true that the backsliding on covid is showing serious signs of harming the economic recovery.
Democrats might also point out that GOP governors like Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas are doing all they can to block local officials from implementing mask requirements to protect their communities. They might note the covid surges in their states, as cautionary tales about a return to GOP rule.
Democrats should engage this forcefully not only because the majorities who favor sensible collective action on behalf of public health need to hear officials giving voice to their aspirations for recovery. It’s also because Republicans themselves will make the midterms about covid.
To see how, check out this quote that a GOP operative gave to CNN:
“Democrats ran an entire campaign dishonestly promising that they alone could fix a once-in-a-generation pandemic. Now that they’ve completely failed and their poll numbers are tanking, they are desperate to shift blame,” Michael McAdams, National Republican Congressional Committee communications director, said in a statement.
After having gone to great lengths to impair our response to covid at best, and to actively sabotage it at worst, Republicans will claim the covid resurgence is only the fault of President Biden and Democrats.
Democrats can respond by directly calling out the ways that Republicans are standing in the way of recovery. The reason this could matter in the midterms is demographics.
In a great new analysis, David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report explains the factors that will impact the 2022 battle for the House. Among these are redistricting, Biden’s approval and the dynamics of turnout.
The shift of suburban and educated whites to Democrats could make a difference here. As Wasserman notes, Democrats have at least a chance at defying patterns in which the out-of-power party is more engaged, because educated voters also tend to turn out in midterms.
In an interview, Wasserman said engaging on covid might help activate those voters. As Wasserman told me: “It’s probably one of Democrats’ best issues.”
That’s counterintuitive, but it makes sense: Republicans are badly divided over the covid response, forcing GOP candidates in swingy areas to oppose even mask mandates in schools to keep GOP base voters happy, while trying to appear moderate at the same time.
Meanwhile, Democrats are united on vaccines and masks. And at a time when Biden’s approval is sliding over Afghanistan, independents could be alienated by anti-mask, anti-vax posturing.
“If independent voters begin to see Republicans as interfering with their ability to get back to normal, because they are flirting with things that are contrary to medical expertise,” Wasserman told me, “it makes it easier for Democrats to cast Republicans as a political fringe movement.”
That, Wasserman notes, could speak to voters who believe impeding our covid recovery is keeping us from “getting the economy back to normal,” and enabling them to “get back to their pre-covid lives.”
This debate could also “resonate with the highest propensity voters who are college graduates,” Wasserman said. The Virginia gubernatorial contest is a test: Democrats are aggressively engaging the debate on vaccines and masks, and if they win with good turnout among suburban and educated voters, that could be a “template.”
None of this is inconsistent with the idea that Biden and Democrats must reset their own response to covid. In his speech Thursday, Biden can do many things to sharpen up his public communication about how we can defeat covid and to place the government on a more aggressive footing toward that end.
But part of this reset should also include a much more forthright indictment of the role of Republicans in impeding that recovery. The country’s health depends on it.