Tucker: Have you heard about Nicki Minaj's cousin's friend's balls?

Gotta be the first time ever that a Fox News host has felt compelled to share Nicki Minaj’s opinion about anything, right?

Certainly it’s the first time one has shared her opinion approvingly.

It warms my heart that people as different as her and Tucker Carlson can find common ground in casually discouraging their fans from protecting themselves against a killer disease.

Last night she tweeted this:

“My cousin’s friend got the vaccine and his balls exploded” sounds suspiciously like an urban legend passed around by kids to scare each other. “My friend’s roommate’s cousin ate Pop Rocks and then drank Coke and his stomach exploded.” Even if what she claims about his condition is true, it’s a classic “correlation doesn’t equal causation” fallacy. Did the guy’s sack swell up as a side effect of the vaccine or did he get the vaccine and later his nuts ballooned due to one of a dozen other health problems from which he might be suffering?

Half of Twitter speculated last night, not unreasonably, that what we have here is a case of infidelity that’s been opportunistically blamed on the vaccine. The friend probably caught an STD because he was playing around on his fiancee and when she noticed something amiss in bed, he mumbled, “Uhhhhh, must be that vaccine I got.” Now that the wedding’s been canceled, I’m guessing she didn’t buy it.

Although Nicki Minaj evidently did.

And so did the host of the most-watched show on the most-watched cable news network, which is evidently willing to pass along a rumor without verifying it if it flatters the paranoia of anti-vaxxers who are watching:

Other populist heroes were also surprisingly credulous about a second-hand story told by a hip-hop star:

Yesterday Jonathan Chait wrote about the predicament in which “anti-anti-anti-vax Republicans” find themselves. That’s a clumsy term but I’ve used it myself to describe politicians and media figures who won’t explicitly argue against vaccination but work hard to create political or logical space for the unvaccinated to avoid their shots. Tucker has never told his viewers not to get immunized — but he’s happy to amplify thin claims like Minaj’s that’ll raise their anxiety about it. Marjorie Taylor Greene is practicing the same shtick. (Although, Greene being Greene, she may believe her own BS.) Ron DeSantis has recommended vaccination but has also battled legally and politically to reduce pressure on the unvaxxed to get immunized, from barring vaccine passports imposed by private businesses to banning employer vaccine mandates for government workers down to the local level, even though conservatives typically prefer to let local authorities set policy.

Chait noticed the same moment at yesterday’s DeSantis press conference that I did, when a guest speaker followed him to the podium and claimed, falsely, that the vaccines alter your RNA. DeSantis looked visibly uncomfortable but didn’t correct the guy because he understands what’s required of populists now:

Republican party elites found anti-vaxx sentiment embarrassing and unhelpful. Most of them have endorsed the vaccine as a choice, with varying levels of enthusiasm. Yet they have found themselves stuck with an anti-vaxx core too large to risk alienating. This has set off the same kind of finely parsed calculation that they employed to respond to various Trumpian outrages…

The gambit works in theory, as long as everybody can stay on message. The problem with the theory is that hardly anybody actually cares about the abstract principles DeSantis is claiming to defend. The idea that bodily autonomy trumps personal responsibility, property rights, and local control is a hierarchy of values invented for this circumstance. (“My body, my choice” is not a notable Republican slogan.) The real point is to signal political solidarity with anti-vaxxers, to show that he believes their views are deserving of respect.

The trouble is that his message that anti-vaxxers have a legitimate point of view has the effect of legitimizing their message.

It’s the pandemic equivalent of GOP pols feeling obliged to humor Trump’s “rigged election” claims to some greater or lesser extent. Not one in a hundred Republican officials actually believes the election was stolen, I’d conservatively estimate. But the share of the base that believes it is even larger than the share that’s resisting vaccination. It’s a populist litmus test, one that an ambitious politician dare not fail lest he call into question his “one of us” cred. So just as all (well, most) GOP governors and members of Congress have to pay lip service to “irregularities” last November to reassure MAGA fans that their election suspicions warrant respect, Tucker and DeSantis have to show varying degrees of respect for the choice made by the unvaccinated to endanger themselves and those around them. They’re not anti-vax, but they’ll defend your honor against pro-vaxxers of various stripes.

Sad to say, MSNBC handled Minaj’s fearmongering more responsibly than Fox primetime did…

…and was savagely attacked by Minaj for it with vicious racist demagoguery:

I’ll leave you with this, in which Minaj clarified last night that she’s pro-vaccine herself — not because she believes in it on the merits but because she’s willing to comply with vaccine mandates to avoid a hassle. Her stature as a new populist hero will be short-lived.