Making sense of conservatives’ sudden vaccine endorsements
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Over the past week, a number of prominent Republican lawmakers and conservative media outlets have spoken out strongly in favor of vaccinating against COVID-19.
"These shots need to get into everyone's arms as soon as possible," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said during a press conference Tuesday. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, House No. 2 Republican, emphasized the importance of vaccines after receiving his first dose. A number of GOP governors have begged their citizens to get vaccinated - including Florida’s Ron DeSantis, who has vocalized in favor of denouncing tough COVID containment strategies like mask mandates and business closings.
The trend among GOP legislators was repeated in conservative media. "I believe in the science of vaccination," Fox News commentator Sean Hannity said during his primetime show, pleading with viewers to "take COVID seriously." Although Hannity has since said that he didn't specifically recommend his audience to get vaccinated, some of his peers have been more direct. Fox News also aired a PSA urging its viewers to get the vaccine. The CEO of Newsmax, a burgeoning conservative network, wrote an editorial praising President Biden's vaccine launch.
The statements come at a time when the US is facing a surge in COVID-19 deaths, almost exclusively among the unvaccinated. Polls show that Republican voters are vaccinated far less often than Democrats. Some of the worst outbreaks in the current wave of infections have been concentrated in red states with relatively low vaccination rates.
Why there are discussions
It's too early to know whether this sudden change of heart will convince skeptical conservatives. But the change of tone on the right is remarkable in itself, after several months in which many mainstream conservatives were mostly quiet on the subject while right-wing voices advocated anti-vaccine conspiracies without scientific justification.
The simplest explanation for the change is that high profile figures on the right, given the stark reality of the new wave of infections ravaging conservative parts of the country, believe that a more assertive message for vaccination is needed to save lives. Some conservatives have also pushed back the idea that there has been a shift, arguing that many high-profile Republicans have long been advocating vaccines.
Left-wing experts were more critical. They argue that the sudden flurry of Republican vaccination recommendations is mainly a political strategy to divert blame, as the Delta variant is prevalent in undervaccinated areas. Media Matters, a progressive nonprofit that monitors right wing news, argues that if the network continues to air anti-vaccine segments from its star hosts like Tucker, it is wrong to give Fox News credit based on some pro-vaccine statements Carlson.
Some Republicans deserve credit for supporting the vaccines all along
“Some conservatives have long been in favor of vaccinations. A group of Republican Congressmen who are doctors issued a PPE for vaccination this spring, and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has been as ardent with COVID-19 precautions as anything else. - David A. Graham, Atlantic
The GOP doesn't want voters to blame them for the new surge in infections
"Apparently Republicans are beginning to realize that a Republican-led pandemic flare-up could be bad for Republicans." - Tom Nichols, Conservative Commentator
Republicans put politics aside to save lives
“Too many people want to politicize this issue. That's a big mistake: The vaccines developed under President Donald Trump are perfectly safe. ”- Editor, NY Post
The new wave of infection has pierced the right media bubble
“I think with all of the propaganda and political behavior, a lot of Republicans have convinced themselves that it really isn't that big a deal that they could just get away with a hands-free approach. But guess what? We learn the same lesson over and over, don't we folks? ... We could be done with COVID. COVID isn't done with us yet. ”- Chris Hayes, MSNBC
The reasoning doesn't matter if the end result is saving lives
“It excites some Americans to hear Sean Hannity, Mitch McConnell, Ron DeSantis and others belatedly and seemingly in unison call out for the Americans to be vaccinated. ... Instead, we greet these prominent Republicans and Conservative commentators in the Pro-Vax camp with the sincere hope that they will continue to speak and that the message will reach millions. ”- Editor, New York Daily News
Negative media coverage harmed the GOP
“The Republican elites didn't suddenly grow hearts. It's just much harder to blame Biden for the ongoing pandemic when the press rightly blames Republicans. What we're seeing is probably just Republicans throwing the media off track, and not a move that, if anything, will do much to help get more shots in the gun. ”- Amanda Marcotte, Salon
Mainstream Republicans want to counter marginal conspirators within their party
"Immunization policies have changed and Democratic strategists see a thread running through the GOP's conspiracy theories, which include misinformation about the vaccines and Trump's lie that the last election was rigged." - Jonathan Allen, NBC News
GOP numbers are genuinely trying to promote the vaccine but the message is drowned out
"The glimmer of responsible behavior among elite Republicans is real, but they are overwhelmed by the indulgence of fear, resentment and conspiracy theories that literally cost lives every day." - Paul Waldman, Washington Post
Fox News is still fueling vaccine resistance in its coverage
“Amid all this vaccine skepticism and hostility, there were noises here and there from hosts (even Carlson) that could be interpreted as advocacy of vaccines. These bites don't reflect the network's broader coverage of the pandemic, but they do at least provide an excuse for Fox spokesmen to try to push back claims that its coverage was irresponsible and are good enough to convince casual Fox watchers that the network is panning it's panning. ”- Aaron Rupar, Vox
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Photo illustration: Yahoo News; Photos: Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images, Nicholas Kamm / AFP via Getty Images, Getty Images
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