My operating assumption with McConnell is that no words escape his lips unless he’s confident they’ll somehow increase the GOP’s chances of holding the Senate.
Including “and” and “the.”
So if he’s out there pushing masks, especially at a moment when Trump seems to be steering in the opposite direction, there’s a good reason. And it’s not just public health.
“There’s no stigma attached to wearing a mask. There’s no stigma attached to staying six feet apart,” the Kentucky Republican said at an event back in his home state, referencing social distancing guidelines recommended to stem the transmission of the coronavirus…
Asked what lawmakers and federal officials can do to impart the benefits of wearing masks on fellow Americans, the majority leader said that he tries to set “a good example,” noting that there are photos of him “all over the place” wearing his mask and offering to put his back on and pose for more if necessary.
“For anybody who cares what we think, [my advice is] to say what I said earlier which is: Just because you’re 21, it doesn’t mean you don’t have a responsibility to other people, even though your chances of having a problem are pretty slim.” McConnell continued. “I think the more we can say that the better.”
Can’t go wrong dinging 21-year-olds for recklessness, but people that age skew liberal and liberals are overwhelmingly pro-mask. No doubt there are some pigheaded kids out there who think they’re bulletproof against coronavirus (with good reason) and don’t much care that the older people around them aren’t. But there are people like this out there too and they’re neither 21 nor liberal, I’m guessing:
“Sorry, no mask allowed,” read the poster taped to the front door of his bar Friday. “Please bare with us thru the ridiculous fearful times.”…
“If we’re only allowed to be at 25 percent capacity, I want them to be the 25 percent of people that aren’t p—–, that aren’t sheep,” Smith told The Washington Post. “Being scared all the time isn’t good for your health. It suppresses your immune system.”
Another anecdotal example from Rod Dreher:
We surrendered to summer in Louisiana and call the bug man to come spray our house. First time we've seen him since early March. Wearing N95 mask, he told us he's had customers who won't let him in wearing a mask, bec masks are politically intolerable to them: "People are crazy."
— Rod Dreher (@roddreher) May 28, 2020
Those people, not the 21-year-old, are what McConnell is worried about, enough so that he’s volunteering to parade around in front of cameras with his mask on for the media to try to mainstream the idea that Republicans support mask-wearing. Which a majority of them do — for now. But Cocaine Mitch surely noticed a few days ago when Trump called a reporter “politically correct” for refusing to take off his mask when asking a question, and I’ll bet he noticed this wink of approval to mask-shaming last night on Twitter too:
McConnell knows that doctors and the general public support masks as a way to limit transmission of the virus. He knows that if antipathy to masks gains traction on the right due to Trump’s encouragement, Democrats will blame any new spike in transmissions on the president’s cultural influence and ask voters to punish his party for it. He knows that Trump is already vulnerable on how he’s handled the pandemic and can’t risk being seen as callous about preventing a second wave. So he’s going to use whatever influence he has to brand the GOP as pro-mask so that even if Trump tries to brand it otherwise, there’ll at least be a visible divide on the issue within the party for voters to digest. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that McConnell has quietly encouraged his Senate caucus to wear masks in public as much as possible, for reasons both political and hygienic. It wouldn’t even surprise me if he or some ally reached out to Hannity recently to encourage him to push a surprising (if low-key) pro-mask line on his Fox show.
The easy thing for him to do would be to ask Trump to tout mask-wearing, as no one has cultural influence over righties the way the president does. But Trump’s too vain and too insecure about being seen as “weak” (which is odd for a known germaphobe) and too reluctant to be labeled “politically correct” and at this point maybe too unwilling to ally with Democrats on anything for him to do it. He’d rather “vice-signal” by sporadically scoffing at masks. So McConnell has to go around him, both with personal advocacy for mask-wearing and by pulling whatever political levers he can to encourage it among Republicans.
Megan McArdle wonders in an op-ed today what happened to the Republican credo of personal responsibility. If you think state-ordered lockdowns are oppressive because citizens are perfectly able to act on their own initiative to limit infections then why would you have a problem wearing a mask?
If conservatives actually want a smaller, less-intrusive government, then they cannot talk only about liberty and rights; they also have to talk about duty and obligations…
Reasonable people can of course argue about how much economic sacrifice citizens can be asked to bear for the common good, or whether that good is best served by lockdowns. But I submit that if you are not willing to endure the minimal inconvenience of wearing a piece of cloth across your nose and mouth while shopping, you’re unlikely to make the really big sacrifices that a smaller government would require.
Well, again, most Republicans *are* wearing masks most of the time, or so they say. But I question her premise that the Trump-era right cares about less intrusive government in any meaningful way. As I write this, the president is getting ready to cough up an executive order purporting to regulate social media companies because Twitter hurt his feelings by fact-checking a pair of his tweets. Most rank-and-file Republicans will cheer him on. There are members of McConnell’s caucus, like Josh Hawley, who might be willing to go even further and start legislating away companies’ ability to moderate content posted on their platforms. The Trump-era GOP doesn’t want less intrusive government, it wants a government that intrudes and wounds its enemies on its behalf.
In lieu of an exit question, read this short but insightful piece on how Japan has managed to tamp down COVID-19 without lockdowns. Their secret: Sniffing out clusters of infections and avoiding “the ‘three C’s’ — closed spaces, crowds, and close-contact settings in which people are talking face-to-face.” And of course universal mask-wearing, which may explain why their crowded transit system hasn’t bred any New-York-style apocalypses.