Despite the president’s efforts to open up the economy, he has repeatedly and consistently avoided a forceful push to do something health officials say is vital in that regard: wearing masks. That simple step has often been ridiculed by Trump and White House aides such as Chief of Staff Mark Meadows — particularly when it comes to Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s adherence to them.
But even more often than that, it has been cast as a negligible choice that might or might not help, with Trump regularly saying that masks are “fine” and that people can wear them if they want but also that they might be counterproductive. Trump’s addiction to fomenting culture wars and undercutting the experts around him has apparently won the day when it comes to one of the most basic of steps to combat the coronavirus.
As the pandemic wears on, though, and cases spike particularly in recent days, Trump’s posture is increasingly at odds with even many of the most prominent members of his own party. A strong majority of GOP governors who have dealt with and borne the brunt of outbreaks in their states have embraced masks in a way Trump simply hasn’t. And the disconnect is increasingly striking.
To date, 21 of 26 Republican governors have urged masks in a way Trump hasn’t, with more than half of that group issuing some kind of mask mandate. While many have spurned such orders, only a handful of Republican governors — most of them in the Midwest — talk about masks in the manner Trump has.
Here’s a look at where GOP governors have stood on masks:
- Alabama’s Kay Ivey: Last month extended a mask mandate, despite opposition from Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth (R), saying, “The fact is … our mask ordinance is working.”
- Arkansas’s Asa Hutchinson: Signed a mask mandate in July and said this past weekend, “Primarily, it’s [the] individual responsibility by our citizens to do what is necessary and pull together: Increase usage of masks.”
- Indiana’s Eric Holcomb: Recently extended a mandate until Nov. 14.
- Massachusetts’s Charlie Baker: Issued a mask mandate in July.
- Maryland’s Larry Hogan: Expanded the state’s mask mandate in July.
- Mississippi’s Tate Reeves: Instituted a statewide mask mandate, then lifted it, then reinstituted it for nine counties last week.
- Ohio’s Mike DeWine: Issued a statewide mask mandate and has repeatedly pleaded for mask usage.
- Texas’s Greg Abbott: Issued a mask mandate for counties with 20 or more cases back in July.
- Utah’s Gary R. Herbert: Has repeatedly urged mask usage and recently instituted a mask mandate for public gatherings in hard-hit areas, after months of holding out.
- Vermont’s Phil Scott: Mandated masks for all public places.
- West Virginia’s Jim Justice: Issued a mask mandate and said this weekend, “I know wearing a mask is a nuisance, but for crying out loud, compared to people dying, how much is it a nuisance? We’ve got to buckle down West Virginia.”
Strongly encouraged them
- Alaska’s Mike Dunleavy: “Nothing is going to replace individual action and responsibility, including social distancing, wearing a mask around others, and washing your hands.”
- Arizona’s Doug Ducey: Authorized localities to mandate mask usage, saying, “We have promoted mask use and common sense. Masks work.”
- Georgia’s Brian Kemp: Went on a “wear a mask” tour of his state, but has fought against local mandates.
- Idaho’s Brad Little: “The words ‘Take Care’ continue to ring true. Take care for your family, friends, the world, and yourself. Wear your face mask, keep a good social distance, wash your hands often, and stay home as much as possible.”
- New Hampshire’s Chris Sununu: Repeatedly encouraged masks and required them for large gatherings.
- North Dakota’s Doug Burgum: While resisting a mask mandate, has repeatedly pleaded for mask usage in moral and occasionally emotional terms, urging people not to make it a partisan issue.
- Oklahoma’s Kevin Stitt: Resisted a mandate but repeatedly urged their usage. “Do the three W’s: wash your hands, watch your distance, and wear a mask.”
- South Carolina’s Henry McMaster: Recently made his strongest plea yet for masks, telling people not to be “stupid.”
- Tennessee’s Bill Lee: Has cast masks as a “choice,” but last week launched an ad campaign promoting them and is now encouraging mayors in hard-hit areas to mandate them.
- Wyoming’s Mark Gordon: Has issued strong pleas for mask usage, saying in July, “If you’re dead-set on taking down Wyoming’s economy, don’t wear one of these. These are the things that are going to keep us open and they will keep us moving forward.”
- Florida’s Ron DeSantis: While he has occasionally suggested mask usage, he has also spurned mandates and recently rescinded local penalties for noncompliance with mask mandates.
- Iowa’s Kim Reynolds: Has urged people to wear masks while indoors without social distancing, but has echoed Trump’s argument that they may not be effective and has dismissed a statewide mask mandate as a “feel-good” action.
- Missouri’s Mike Parson: Resisted a mask mandate and has declined to wear one in public. “You don’t need government to tell you to wear a dang mask,” he said in July. “If you want to wear a dang mask, wear a mask.” He tested positive for the virus last month.
- Nebraska’s Pete Ricketts: Has threatened to sue and withhold federal funding from localities who require masks.
- South Dakota’s Kristi L. Noem: Has echoed Trump in casting masks as a choice, while not forcefully encouraging them but also saying she’s not discouraging them. “If folks want to wear a mask, they are free to do so,” she tweeted last week. “Those who don’t want to wear a mask shouldn’t be shamed into it, and govt should not mandate it.”
I’ve written before about how Trump’s mask position was also at odds with many GOP senators, who back in late June seemed to make a concerted effort to steer this debate in a different direction. That clearly didn’t work with Trump, whose position is pretty much unchanged since then and whose fellow Republicans can’t seem to convince him of the wisdom of much of anything.
But as the above examples show, Trump is increasingly out on a limb on this, even when it comes to people in his own party. Some of them have held out for a while or have sought to talk about things in ways that seek to avoid alienating those who oppose mandates, but the vast majority of them have come around.
We’ll never know whether things might have been different if Trump had taken a different tack — both politically and from the standpoint of combating the virus. But studies suggest masks could have a significant impact on preventing deaths and helping the country reopen, with one saying 130,000 deaths are preventable by February. For many chief executives in a similar position to Trump’s, this is apparently an easy call. For Trump, though, for some reason it’s not.