Get a coronavirus vaccine.
Trump, as he is wont to do, couched it in an attack on his successor, President Biden. Trump claimed that Biden hadn’t actually won the election, and he used the vaccine to cast Biden as weak and indebted to Trump for the vaccines being developed on his watch — but not, notably, for actually getting it, which Trump encouraged people to do.
“We took care of a lot of people — including, I guess, on December 21st, we took care of Joe Biden, because he got his shot, he got his vaccine,” Trump said, before suggesting that Biden’s vaccination shows how few side effects come with the vaccine. “It shows you how unpainful that vaccine shot is.”
“So everybody, go get your shot,” Trump added.
These quotes with the juvenile Biden attacks contained within — as though Biden is scared of getting a shot — are newsworthy, because this is the kind of thing Trump avoided pushing as president, in a very conspicuous way. While he repeatedly and constantly sought to take credit for the production of the vaccines, he did little to actually encourage people — especially Republicans, who were more skeptical of the vaccines — to actually get them.
Lurking in the background was not just the GOP’s skepticism of the need for or efficacy of the vaccine, but also Trump’s past baseless linking of other vaccines to autism, including during the 2016 campaign. Reports indicated as the vaccines were rolled out that Trump wanted credit for them but also feared that actively pushing them would alienate some of the more extreme portions of his base. Trump, who had the coronavirus in the fall, did not get the vaccine on camera, unlike then-Vice President Mike Pence.
Polls suggest that’s a valid concern for him — not for the good of the country, mind you, but at least politically. A recent poll from Monmouth University showed that 72 percent of Democrats either planned to get the vaccine as soon as possible or had already received it, compared with just 39 percent of Republicans — a bigger gap than even last year. Even as GOP politicians have pushed a reopening of the economy and things such as schools faster than many Democrats, the lack of a fully vaccinated public looms as a huge hurdle.
Trump also did curiously little to further that goal in another way — with regard to masks. He repeatedly cast doubt on the need for them or their efficacy, including at one point demonstratively removing one upon returning to the White House after his hospital stay with the virus. It was a clear base play, given the GOP skepticism not just of vaccines but also masks, but it also worked against his desire to reopen the economy. And that skepticism about both mask guidelines and the mandates surrounding them was front and center in his speech and in other speeches this weekend at CPAC.
But Trump’s urging of people to get the vaccine should be a message that sticks from this speech — because little else in the speech broke new ground, but also because it’s news that could actually matter in the near term.