“With very little resistance from party leaders,” my colleague Lisa Lerer wrote this summer, many Republicans “have elevated falsehoods and doubts about vaccinations from the fringes of American life to the center of our political conversation.”
‘Owning the left’
With the death count rising, at least a few Republicans appear to be worried about what their party and its allies have sown.
In an article this month for Breitbart, the right-wing website formerly run by Steve Bannon, John Nolte argued that the partisan gap in vaccination rates was part of a liberal plot. Liberals like Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Anthony Fauci and Howard Stern have tried so hard to persuade people to get vaccinated, because they know that Republican voters will do the opposite of whatever they say, Nolte wrote.
His argument is certainly bizarre, given that Democratic politicians have been imploring all Americans to get vaccinated and many Republican politicians have not. But Nolte did offer a glimpse at a creeping political fear among some Republicans. “Right now, a countless number of Trump supporters believe they are owning the left by refusing to take a lifesaving vaccine,” Nolte wrote. “In a country where elections are decided on razor-thin margins, does it not benefit one side if their opponents simply drop dead?”
How might more conservative Americans be persuaded to get vaccinated?
One intriguing anecdote involves the football team at the University of Mississippi, which is entirely vaccinated even though the state has one of the nation’s lowest vaccination rates. Coaches there emphasized the tangible, short-term costs of getting Covid, rather than the more remote chance of death: The players might have to miss a game, and the team might have to forfeit it, if they tested positive.
A related message is duty, Timothy Carney has written in The Washington Examiner. If Carney had refused to get vaccinated, he explained, he would have risked loading more work onto his wife, his colleagues and his partner in teaching Sunday school, as well as forced his children to miss school.
In The Atlantic, Olga Khazan has argued that fear remains the best motivator, based on her interviews with Tucker Carlson viewers who nonetheless have been vaccinated. And Daniel Darling, an evangelical author, has said that one-on-one conversations encouraging conservatives to talk with their doctors will have more success than any top-down campaign.