Republican handling of the this new COVID-19 phase has been bizarre. It’s clear that they’re less and less interested in killing off their own voters in the name of “owning the libs,” yet they must now escape the rhetorical corner they’ve backed themselves into. 

There’s Republican Rep. Clay Higgings of Louisiana, who announced a couple of days ago that he, his wife, and his son all have COVID-19. “I have COVID, Becca has COVID, my son has COVID,” he wrote on Facebook. “Becca and I had COVID before, early on, in January 2020, before the world really knew what it was. So, this is our second experience with the CCP biological attack weaponized virus …”

He can’t admit that his stupid behavior—refusal to get vaccinated and opposition to common-sense precautions—likely led to his infection. So like so many other conspiracy-minded Republicans, he’s blaming it on the Chinese, who he says have deployed a “biological attack weaponized virus.” 

Higgins can’t actually believe that, can he? If attacked, isn’t the obvious response to, you know, protect yourself against that attack? If he truly believed that, wouldn’t he want to deploy countermeasures such as—just spitballing here—a vaccine

The whole “China attacked us” line is just as ludicrous now as it was when Donald Trump tried to use it to excuse his own inept handling of the pandemic. Because if true, it wouldn’t just damn the Chinese, it would also damn Republicans who have so ineffective worked to keep our country and its people safe. Like Clay Higgins of Louisiana. 

Speaking of Trump, he just had one of his creepy cult rallies in Arizona, and he couldn’t quite bring himself to urge his supporters to not die in the name of who-knows-what. “How about the vaccine? I came up with the vaccine,” he boasted, despite the obvious ridiculousness of the claim. Odds that he even knows what “mRNA” stands for are pretty much zero. Yet instead of begging his people to sensibly take the jab, the best he could manage was to weakly say he “recommended” it before reiterating that he “also believes in your freedoms 100 percent.” Meanwhile, Trump explained conservative vaccine hesitancy by claiming that people “don’t trust the president, people aren’t doing it.”

Of course, it’s clear at this point that Republicans won’t jab out of any sense of civic or neighborly duty to protect themselves and those around them. As Politico blithely declared a few days ago, “Many people are turning down Covid vaccines because they are angry that President Donald Trump lost the election and sick of Democrats thinking they know what’s best.” They’d rather die than give libs the satisfaction of … seeing them live? 

Except that when they start dying, many begin to change their tune. You may have read about the Louisiana doctor who wrote about her patients begging for vaccines just as they were about to get intubated.

I’m admitting young healthy people to the hospital with very serious COVID infections. One of the last things they do before they’re intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late. A few days later when I call time of death, I hug their family members and I tell them the best way to honor their loved one is to go get vaccinated and encourage everyone they know to do the same. They cry. And they tell me they didn’t know. They thought it was a hoax. They thought it was political. They thought because they had a certain blood type or a certain skin color they wouldn’t get as sick. They thought it was ‘just the flu’. But they were wrong. And they wish they could go back. But they can’t.  

Oof. 

We’ve seen this dynamic play out in Tennessee, where conspiracy theorist conservative radio host Phil Valentine is fighting for his life in a COVID-19 ward. All of a sudden, the whole family’s tune on vaccination has changed. “If Phil were able to conduct this interview, he would tell you while he has never been an anti-vax person, he has always been a pro-choice person,” his brother Mark Valentine said. “What he regrets is not being more vehemently pro-vaccine, and when he gets back on the air, that’s exactly what he’s going to tell people.”

Right. “Pro-choice.” Women not need apply. And of course, no one has to look hard to see that the radio host was, indeed, anti-vaccination. But hey, having his brother beg people to vaccinate isn’t a bad thing, and we should all be glad they’re beginning to change their tune. But how to explain away a year of vaccine craziness? See how his brother did it in this Facebook post

Remember it was Trump who caused this vaccine to be available. For the record, I don’t believe there is a chip in the vaccine and I don’t believe 5G is gonna trigger some sort of mass casualties or any of that stuff. The reason roughly half of the population hasn’t taken it is because they (formerly me) assumed we were being lied to for any number of nefarious reasons. The reason I assumed that was because we have been lied to relentlessly for the past 5 years…about everything, so yes I was hesitant.

He’s so close to admitting that he’s a f’n moron! But of course, his stupidity is not his fault. It’s because he was lied to the last five years. Not by Trump, mind you. Rather, the Deep State, science, the media, and all that other conspiracy bullshit conservatives have built in their alternate-reality bubble. So how do they back themselves out of that corner they’re in? You blame people. You blame others. It’s everyone else’s fault. And even that isn’t enough, because Trump must enter the narrative. So it’s everyone’s fault, and oh yeah, Trump is the savior. 

Former Trump lickspittle and White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders, currently running for governor in Arkansas, pulled those same threads together to construct the ultimate Trumpian argument for vaccines

A few months ago, I decided to take advantage of President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed and get vaccinated.

Hopefully she didn’t take the Pfizer, which took no development money from Operation Warp Speed. She also called it the “Trump vaccine.” So having given proper deference to their Lord and Savior, Sanders set out to find people worthy of blame. Because remember, the “party of personal responsibility” never takes any. 

[N]o one did more to undercut public confidence in the vaccine than Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Biden doubted that the vaccine would be “real,” while Harris said in a nationally-televised debate that she would not take any vaccine the Trump administration had a hand in creating.

You see, conservatives haven’t taken the vaccine because they’ve been listening to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris all along! Had those two Democrats not criticized Trump’s pandemic response efforts, all those conservatives would be happily jabbing! 

Who knew that conservatives were taking their cues from liberal Democrats? Sanders has discovered a new, hitherto undiscovered American political dynamic! 

Of course, that’s not what Harris or Biden said at the time. They very clearly said that they would trust science and the scientists, not Trump’s endless stream of bullshit and lies. Even Trump has happily admitted that he is full of crap, telling Bob Woodward that “I wanted to always play [the pandemic] down. I still like playing it down because I don’t want to create a panic.” He even admitted to flat-out lying, contradicting his public utterances to the contrary by admitting: “It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu.” 

Of course, Sanders still has to walk that “freedom” tightrope, saying “I believe in freedom and personal responsibility” and “I have many friends who have expressed sincere concerns about being vaccinated, and it isn’t my place to tell them what to do.” But then she spends several paragraphs explaining the data, and how effective the vaccine is at protecting not just individuals, but the communities around them—which is exactly what “Dr. Fauci and the ‘because science says so’ crowd of arrogant, condescending politicians and bureaucrats” have been saying all along. 

Will it work? Will branding the vaccine the “Trump vaccine” and blaming the Black woman in the White House finally get conservatives to vaccinate? Can conservative opinionmakers shift base sentiment away from refusing to vaccinate to own the libs, to vaccinating to own the libs? 

Let’s look at some data:

Woah, it’s working! Or at least, something is. Whether it’s this new messaging, or Sean Hannity changing his tune, or Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey bluntly saying, “Folks are supposed to have common sense. But it’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down,” or stuff like Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt holding a press conference and reading news clips of people who regretted not getting the vaccine, something is finally moving numbers. Or maybe all of the above.
 
In the last week alone, per Civiqs, we’ve gone from 47% of Republicans saying they had been vaccinated and a stubborn 44% saying “nope,” to 52% being vaccinated and the “no”s inching down to 39%. Amazingly, those Republicans are not moving them to “unsure,” but straight to vaccination sites. If that trend maintains, all those conservative arguments—the smart ones and the stupid ones—will all be worth it. We need to stamp out this disease, stop the unnecessary funerals, and get back to normal life. And we can’t do that as long as 40% of our population remains unvaccinated.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.

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