Which is what appears to be happening now with masks and the coronavirus.
Trump has steadfastly refused to urge people to wear masks, repeatedly stressing it’s voluntary and even casting doubt on their efficacy. But in recent days, as U.S. coronavirus cases surge, there has been a massive uptick in high-ranking Republicans offering a much more forceful case for them, including making arguments that seem intended for the Audience of One: that masks will help the country reopen.
Fox News host Sean Hannity offered just such a message Monday night.
“I went to my grocery store every week, guess what? They wore masks,” he said. “Nobody at my grocery store, thank God, got coronavirus. I think they work. And I said, especially, if I wear a mask, and if it opens up baseball, concerts, NFL football — I’d rather wear a mask to go to the game to protect Grandma and Grandpa, Mom and Dad, and watch the ballgame.”
Hannity added: “I’ll wear the mask. I want to go to the game. It’s a short period of time.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday offered his most powerful comments to date on masks.
“We must have no stigma — none — about wearing masks when we leave our homes and come near other people,” he said on the Senate floor. “Wearing simple face coverings is not about protecting ourselves; it is about protecting everyone we encounter.”
“Fox and Friends” host Steve Doocy also had an apparent message for his show’s No. 1 fan Tuesday morning.
“I think that if the president wore one, it would just set a good example,” Doocy said. “He’d be a good role model. I don’t see any downside to the president wearing a mask in public.”
Here’s a sampling of what other top Republicans and Trump allies have said about masks in recent days:
- Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.): “Everyone should just wear a damn mask.”
- Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.): “We’ve got to — every one of us — to take this seriously, wear your mask, social distance.”
- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott: “I know some people think wearing a mask is inconvenient or an infringement on freedom, but I also know it will keep Texas open.”
- Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey concluded his remarks Monday by emphasizing: “Arm yourself with a mask. It’s your best defense against this virus.”
- Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.): “I am encouraging everyone to WEAR YOUR MASKS!”
- Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3-ranking House Republican, tweeted an image of her father, former vice president Richard B. Cheney, wearing a mask with the hashtag #RealMenWearMasks
- Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.): “The president has plenty of admirers. They would follow his lead. It would help end this political debate. The stakes are too high for this political debate about pro-Trump, anti-Trump masks to continue.”
- House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.): “I do not want to shut the economy back down. … Wearing the mask is the best opportunity for us to keep this economy open, keep us working, keep us safe and help us as we build toward that vaccine where we’re in a much stronger position than any country before.”
That last message is one that should logically appeal to Trump. But it hasn’t compelled him. Although Vice President Pence has adjusted his tone — he declined an opportunity to urge people to wear masks at Friday’s coronavirus briefing but then reversed course Sunday — Trump is still a holdout.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked at Monday’s news briefing about Trump’s stance and made it clear there was no change.
“So I talked to the president before coming out here,” she said, adding: “It’s the personal choice of any individual as to whether to wear a mask or not. He encourages people to make whatever decisions is best for their safety, but he did say to me he has no problems with masks and to do whatever your local jurisdictions request of you.”
Saying Trump wants people to make their own decision and you have “no problems” with masks is the latest in a long line of mealy mouthed attempts to avoid taking a firm stance. That could be because Trump loves the culture war this has engendered or because he truly has doubts about masks — or even because he doesn’t want to give in to the pressure, as he has previously alluded to. But the practical effect is the same.
And it’s clear that it’s beginning to wear on Trump’s fellow Republicans, who recognize how simple it would be for Trump to send this important message. Some Trump allies will believe this is nitpicking, but look no further than Alexander’s comments Tuesday: Many people are declining to do this, but they would probably follow Trump’s lead.
Given the fast-increasing pleas from Alexander and his fellow Republicans, the longer Trump holds out, the more conspicuous it will be.