The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump touts boosters. Biden credits Trump. Trump appreciates Biden. Oh my.

President Donald Trump departs after signing an executive order on coronavirus vaccines on Dec. 8, 2020, in D.C. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Earlier this month, when asked about a claim that Donald Trump may have exposed him to the coronavirus during a 2020 debate, President Biden responded dismissively, “I don’t think about the former president.”

Turns out, just three weeks later, Biden and others in the White House have decided that thinking about Trump is cool again. Facing a threat from the omicron variant that’s dwarfing previous incarnations of the coronavirus in infection rates if not (thankfully) serious illness or death, Biden on Tuesday played the Trump card.

“Just the other day, former president Trump announced he had gotten his booster shot — maybe one of the few things he and I agree on,” Biden said. On top of that, Biden credited “the prior administration” with helping rush new vaccines to market in record time.

Trump’s announcement that he had received a booster had come Sunday during a joint appearance with former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly — and was greeted by boos.

“Look, we did something that was historic,” Trump told the audience earlier in the show. “We saved tens of millions of lives worldwide. We, together, all of us — not me, we — we got a vaccine done, three vaccines done, and tremendous therapeutics. This was going to ravage the country far beyond what it is right now. Take credit for it. Take credit for it. ... Don’t let them take it away. Don’t take it away from ourselves.”

Trump’s “Warp Speed” vaccine push is one of the most underrated achievements of his presidency, and it understandably galls Trump to be blamed for covid-19 deaths when, in fact, he could more justifiably be credited for saving millions of lives.

That said, the art of manipulating Trump to do something should be easily understood by White House officials. The formula is simple: give him credit. By finally acknowledging Trump’s contributions to the coronavirus vaccines, Biden opened the door for Trump to express his appreciation in return.

“I’m very appreciative of that. I was surprised to hear it,” Trump told Fox News. “I think it was a terrific thing, and I think it makes a lot of people happy.”

“A lot of people” was, most importantly, Trump himself, and such goodwill — limited as it’s destined to be — between the former and current president on the subject of coronavirus vaccinations could break down more barriers than the typical lectures from Anthony S. Fauci or other health officials.

There’s more. In a Tuesday episode of conservative pundit Candace Owens’s talk show, Trump dismissed Owens’s observation that despite the vaccine, deaths this year under Biden have surpassed covid fatalities in 2020 under Trump — which is true, and could have served as red meat for the former president to devour.

Instead, Trump refused to take the bait and insisted, “Oh no, the vaccines work. ... The ones who get very sick and go to the hospital are the ones that don’t take the vaccine. But it’s still their choice. And if you take the vaccine, you’re protected.”

On Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted Trump’s response to Owens, with the comment, “Just going to echo former President Trump here on the safety and efficacy of the vaccines.” Oh my.

Trump has often been unfairly maligned for not promoting the coronavirus vaccine. While he has refused to get behind mandates, a position he reiterated this week, he began touting the vaccines long ago. Back in February, Trump told attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to “go get your shot.” In March, he told Fox News’s Maria Bartiromo, “I would recommend it, and I would recommend it to a lot of people that don’t want to get it, and a lot of those people voted for me, frankly. … But it is a great vaccine. It is a safe vaccine, and it is something that works.”

Those who blame Trump for not adequately cheerleading the vaccine are often among those operating under the delusion that Trump’s base is composed of sheep who will follow their leader’s every command — something again disproved by the negative crowd reaction to Trump’s comments about getting a booster. Trump’s supporters love him not because he’s their Svengali, but because he thinks like they do, and when he veers from their opinions, they let him know.

To his credit, Trump seems undeterred. He considers the vaccines his babies, he believes in their efficacy, and he wants more Americans to embrace them. As Biden pointed out, for once he and Trump are on the same page.

Do we dare imagine a joint public service announcement with Biden and Trump side by side advocating vaccines? Do we dare imagine peace, goodwill toward all? ’Tis the season.

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