There’s no hard evidence of which I’m aware that Trump’s full-throated support for getting vaccinated will move the needle meaningfully among Republicans. There’s some evidence to the contrary, in fact. But it’s natural to want him to join the PR effort given the singular influence he wields over the American right. It’s not that Trump saying “get your shot!” will flip a switch in anyone’s brain from anti-vax to pro-vax, it’s more that it might help knock down one of the various pillars holding up a given person’s resistance to the shot. If you worry that the vaccine’s development was rushed and you’re nervous about as yet unknown side effects and you don’t trust Biden’s team of Democrats to tell you the truth, having Trump vouch for the vaccines because they came to market on his watch might help soften you up on the last point. And if doctors can soften you up on the other two, suddenly you’ve gone from anti-vax to vax-curious, at least.
But certainly there are people for whom no amount of persuasion will suffice to get them to rethink.
Like, Trump could show up to this dude’s house with a shot in hand, ready to dose it out personally, and he’d get called a “pussy” and have the door slammed in his face:
— Aubrey Huff (@aubrey_huff) March 15, 2021
The important question for the feds right now is how many vaccine-resistant righties are resolute in their opposition a la “Huffdaddy” and how many are willing to be softened up. The latest poll isn’t great:
At the same time, a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll found that a full 50 percent of unvaccinated 2020 Trump voters now say they will “never” get vaccinated for COVID-19, up 6 percent from last month.
According to the survey of 1,629 U.S. adults, which was conducted March 4-8, no other unvaccinated group is nearly as likely to say they will “never” get inoculated: not Biden supporters (8 percent), not Black Americans (33 percent) and not Hispanic Americans (22 percent), all of whom have moved in the opposite direction and become less hesitant over time.
It could be that the reason the share of unvaccinated Trumpers opposing the vaccine is “rising” is that many Trump voters got their shots over the past month, shrinking the pool of unvaccinated ones to a hard core of ardent resisters. But that 50 percent figure reminds me of the NPR poll from last week finding that 49 percent of all Republican men and 47 percent of Trump 2020 voters currently say they won’t get the vaccine once it’s available to them. That’s a lot of Americans; it’ll be much harder to get to herd immunity in the near term without them. Go figure that the Biden White House is thinking about ways to influence them and arriving at an obvious possibility:
[B]ehind the scenes, there has been a quiet effort to persuade Mr. Trump to get involved. Joe Grogan, the former director of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, under Mr. Trump, has been working with the Covid Collaborative on addressing vaccine hesitancy among conservatives.
Mr. Grogan has fielded calls about what the best message would be to take to Mr. Trump to persuade him to get involved — one that would inevitably underscore his desire for credit for developing the vaccines under Operation Warp Speed…
“Having President Trump doing a public service announcement would be very helpful,” Mr. Grogan said. The Biden White House, however, appears split on how effective Mr. Trump’s involvement would really be.
Biden was asked yesterday about getting Trump on board and answered, probably correctly, that the former president’s opinion is likely to have less sway over the average Republican than a friend’s or doctor’s or preacher’s will:
"The thing that has more impact than anything Trump would say…is what the local doctor, what the local preacher, what the local people in the community say," Pres. Biden says, about former Pres. Trump getting involved in vaccine messaging. https://t.co/0Mp4owZm8W pic.twitter.com/V94vQ4cQzX
— World News Tonight (@ABCWorldNews) March 15, 2021
The problem, as I said up top, is that *some* Republicans may be holding out on ideological (or cultural, which we’ll call ideological-adjacent) grounds and Trump really could help with that. That’s why I can’t understand why Biden hasn’t been more willing to share credit with Trump’s team on the speedy vaccine rollout. It’s short-sighted partisanship at a moment when the White House should be taking the long view of how to reduce vaccine hesitancy. The more bipartisan the national effort is, the fewer political reasons there’ll be within the population to resist it.
As for why I say there’s evidence that Trump’s opinion probably won’t move Republican opinion much, just look again at the polling numbers above. Both surveys were taken in the days after his televised CPAC speech, when he told the audience to go out and get their shots. Around the same time, news broke that he and his wife had been vaccinated at the White House sometime in January. It’s not a secret, in other words, that Trump is pro-vaccine and wants credit for his role in rolling out the vaccination program — and yet, even so, Republicans continue to resist in high numbers. More recently, Frank Luntz asked his focus group of skeptical Republicans whether a Trump endorsement would make them more likely to get vaccinated and received a “meh” response. “Those people are beginning to move on,” said Luntz about the panel’s reaction to a hypothetical PSA from him. Hearing from doctors and those who’ve had COVID and recovered were more effective in swaying opinion.
But every little bit of persuasion helps, right? Here’s Brett Giroir, Trump’s former “testing czar,” calling on him and Mike Pence to get involved yesterday. Deborah Birx echoed that in a separate interview: “I hope President Trump lends his voice to that. I think it is important. But to every Trump supporter out there: Protect yourself, protect your family. Get vaccinated.”