“Wearing a face covering is not about politics — it’s about helping other people,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) said Tuesday in a plea over Twitter, echoing comments by North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) last week. “This is one time when we truly are all in this together.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) posted a photograph on Instagram of himself in a mask Tuesday night. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who faces a tough reelection fight, has added “#wearyourmask” to his Twitter handle, after photographing himself earlier the month wearing a mask in an airport as part of an appeal for the public to “remain vigilant.” Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), a member of the Republican leadership who is running for reelection this year, shared a photo of himself in a mask Monday, asking others to adopt the practice.
“We all have to do our part. Maintain social distancing but if you can’t, do this,” Cornyn wrote on Instagram. “Easy peasy. Go for it.”
The comments come as Trump continues to treat face masks as something to mock, refusing to wear one in public and joining his staff and family in ridiculing his Democratic rival Joe Biden for doing otherwise. White House staff members are required to wear masks in the building, though Trump is exempted from that rule.
The president retweeted a picture of a masked Biden taken Monday during a war memorial visit. The caption: “This might help explain why Trump doesn’t like to wear a mask in public.”
Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son and campaign surrogate, who traffics in zingers meant to anger liberals, posted a similar image on Instagram, calling the face mask “a muzzle so Joe can’t sniff anyone.” Dan Scavino Jr., the deputy chief of staff at the White House, shared doctored footage on Twitter on Monday that makes it appear as if Biden wore a face mask while eating.
Such jabs have sharpened a divide that recent polls show largely exists within the Republican Party, as clear majorities of Democrats and independents have embraced the need for mask wearing, in line with the scientific consensus that it is an effective method to slow the spread of the virus, potentially speeding a recovery of the economy.
A poll this month by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 89 percent of Democrats and 72 percent of independents report wearing a mask every time or most of the time when they leave home, compared with 58 percent of Republicans.
Three recent public polls have found that between 64 and 72 percent of the public says Trump should wear a mask. Between 38 and 48 percent of Republicans say Trump should do so.
“That is an issue that divides Republicans and not anybody else,” said Nick Gourevitch, a Democratic pollster who recently helped write a public memo to lawmakers and liberal interest groups recommending that they embrace the mask issue.
He noted that open-ended questions in a public Democratic tracking poll he conducts began to find the word “mask” repeated in mid-May when voters were asked what negative things they thought they had “seen, read or heard” about Trump’s response to the coronavirus.
The attacks from Trump and his allies over masks have similarly cheered Biden’s advisers, who view the debate as a way for showing the contrast Democrats see as the heart of their message for the fall. For Biden, the debate with the president over masks is a stand-in for their deeper disagreements over Trump’s handling of the pandemic.
When asked Tuesday by CNN if wearing a mask projected strength or weakness, Biden offered a third option, saying it projected leadership. He called Trump “an absolute fool” for his mockery of protective measures.
“Presidents are supposed to lead, not engage in folly and be falsely masculine,” Biden said. “It reminds me of the guys I grew up with playing ball. They would walk around with a ball, but they didn’t like to hit very much.”
On Tuesday Biden made his Twitter avatar a picture nearly identical to the one Trump mocked. He also posted it on Instagram, with the caption “wear a mask.”
Trump has said previously that he supports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations that face masks be worn by everyone “in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.” But he has also said, “I don’t think I am going to be doing it.”
On a visit last week to a Ford plant in Michigan, he wore a mask during a private tour but removed it to speak to the news media, saying he had been tested for the virus that morning, so he did not pose a danger, and he “didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it.”
At the White House on Tuesday, Trump said that his tweet about Biden’s mask was a response to the circumstance. He said he found it “very unusual” that Biden had worn a mask outside, even though the logistics of Biden’s appearance placed him near others at times and thus fell under the administration’s recommendations for wearing a mask.
Then the president accused the inquiring reporter of being “politically correct” for not removing his mask to ask the question.
“I wasn’t criticizing him at all,” Trump said of Biden. “Why would I do anything like that?”
While the president has stoked cultural divisions with his jabs, the Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign have not yet followed him into making masks a major part of messaging strategy.
But some Republican strategists said there was a clear logic to Trump’s tactics, assuming voters see them positioning Trump as a champion for the return to normal life. Male Republicans, a key part of Trump’s base, were more skeptical of mask wearing than other groups in the recent Kaiser poll.
Eric Beach, the co-chairman of Great America PAC, a pro-Trump effort that is working on the presidential race, said Trump had repeatedly shown leadership by challenging assumptions around questions such as when schools should reopen.
“There is this capitulation that Biden seems to have,” Beach said. “That capitulation seems to be: believe the science, don’t question anything and don’t show any leadership, whereas Trump understands that we should question science and should question data as he did with reopening the schools.”
Masks are recommended for the public by all state governments, while nine states have broad mandates and 24 states have more targeted mandates, largely requiring mask use in workplaces, according to tracking by the National Governors Association.
On Capitol Hill, the question of wearing masks has largely been settled.
All GOP senators wear masks when they are around the Capitol, on the Senate floor and into their lunch meetings — except Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), who has recovered from a coronavirus infection and considers himself immune. While speaking at hearings and on the Senate floor, they follow a standard set by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), removing the masks only to speak formally.
In the House, a minority of conservative lawmakers, most visibly Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), have embraced the symbolism of refusing to wear a mask.
Some House Democrats, by contrast, have taken to prominently wearing masks. Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (Md.) wore a mask in the pattern of the Maryland state flag while overseeing a recent pro forma session.
Others have delighted in seeing Trump using a mask at the Ford plant last week in images that were captured during a backstage moment before he stepped in front of the cameras.
“OMG! He actually wore one,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) celebrated when she shared the image online. “See, it didn’t hurt that much.”
Scott Clement and Paul Kane contributed to this report.