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Crowd heckles Lindsey Graham for suggesting they might want to get vaccinated

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

I’m conflicted, being both strongly pro-vax and strongly anti-Lindsey-Graham.

Maybe they were heckling him because they’re anti-Graham too, not anti-vax?

Eh, I wish. This happened at a GOP event at a country club outside Charleston, South Carolina, by the way, a reminder that vaccine skepticism within the party isn’t limited to downscale supporters.

Along with Donald Trump and Asa Hutchison, this makes him at least the third prominent Republican to be booed by an audience of other Republicans for promoting vaccination. Graham tries to get the crowd back on his side by shifting to an area of common ground, opposition to Biden’s federal vaccine mandate for large companies. But that goes up in smoke when the guy in the back who’s shouting about losing his job in 60 days tells Graham that he works for the Navy, not for some private company. Graham knows that Biden’s on solid legal footing in mandating vaccines for the federal government, particularly for the military in his role as commander-in-chief, so he quickly moves on to the next question.

In the end, there’s little he can say to the guy — although he does mention, provocatively, that things might be different if Republicans controlled both houses of Congress. Does he mean to imply that GOP majorities in the House and Senate would undo Biden’s COVID vaccine mandate for the military? There’s little chance they’d succeed — they’d need veto-proof majorities in both chambers — but the idea that they might try makes me think Scott Gottlieb was onto something in what he said on Sunday. Gottlieb’s worried that as views of vaccine mandates become tangled up in partisan identity, Republican officials might start using their power to nibble at the edges of them. And not just mandates for the COVID vaccine. That’s where it would start, but once they’ve established the ethic that individual choice takes precedence over community benefit in mitigating an infectious disease, there’s no reason logically why they wouldn’t eventually start repealing school vaccine mandates for all diseases.

Graham’s chumming those waters here in the interest of galvanizing 2022 turnout. Just hand us back Congress and we’ll make your anti-vax dreams come true.

The GOP has another electoral incentive potentially to flirt with anti-vaxism. They might be able to build on Trump’s modest gains with black voters by doing so:

Such displays of Republican solidarity with prominent Black athletes threaten to create headaches for Democrats as they crack down on the unvaccinated, who are mostly White in terms of numbers but disproportionately Black in terms of percentages.

A Sept. 20 Kaiser Family Foundation analysis based on data from 43 states found that 45% of the Black population has received at least one dose of a vaccine, behind the 49% for Hispanics, 53% for Whites and 69% for Asian Americans.

“One of the elephants in the room with the whole vaccination debate is that the media portrayal of the ‘unvaxxed’ is these rural Trump supporters that are just too pig-ignorant to get vaccinated,” said Wilfred Reilly, an associate political science professor at Kentucky State University. “The reality is that the least-vaccinated group is Black Americans.”…

“They’ve made these vaccine passports freedom papers, to where police, to where business owners, to where people who do not like Black people can use these vaccine passports as a way to harass and oppress Black people,” [BLM activist Hawk] Newsome said.

We’ve published multiple posts here in the past few weeks about Biden’s sharp decline with African-Americans, particularly those who are unvaccinated, after he announced his vaccine mandate. The GOP will be tempted to make a play for those voters by dangling promises about easing vaccine requirements despite what it would mean for public health.

And even if they resist that temptation, Graham’s clearly sensitive enough to anti-vax sentiment within his own party that he can’t bring himself to encourage his audience to get vaccinated. The most he can do is ask them to just consider it. Just think about it. You’ve already heard the reaction for yourself.

I’ll leave you with this scene from NYC yesterday as a reminder that anti-vaxxers aren’t limited to red states, of course. Why someone who’s opposed to vaccine mandates would also oppose testing for COVID to the point that they’d feel the urge to wreck a streetside testing site is unclear to me, but I suppose it makes sense in the “COVID isn’t real” worldview.