Trump: I got boosted. And anti-vaxxers are playing right into "their" hands.

I can’t believe Trump turned out to be a more enthusiastic vaccine salesman than Ron DeSantis.

DeSantis was asked yesterday whether he’s received a booster, the easiest question he’ll ever face in an interview. He stammered through it, though, because he’s spent months repositioning himself as an ally of anti-vax Republicans in hopes of winning their votes when he runs for president. He encouraged vaccination at the start of the national rollout but that didn’t sit well with certain constituents. So, fearing that his populist credibility was in jeopardy, DeSantis began diverting more of his vaccine rhetoric to inveighing against mandates. He banned vaccine passports in Florida, banned local governments from issuing vaccine mandates to government workers, brought in a new surgeon general whose key credential is being lukewarm about vaccination, and even appeared onstage once with an anti-vax conspiracy theorist. Most recently he signed into law a slate of legislation aimed at further reducing pressure on holdouts to get their shots.

At least twice I’ve seen him publicly downplay the vaccines’ ability to prevent infection and transmission while acknowledging their ability to prevent severe illness. That’s DeSantis’s way of justifying his anti-mandate posture. If he admits that the shots can reduce the spread in a community, which they can, the case for requiring vaccination among resisters grows stronger. He’d rather load the dice on what the science says than embrace a policy that would be good for the people of his state but would complicate his chances in a Republican primary.

He’ll never flatly discourage vaccination, as that would be politically suicidal and morally irresponsible, but he’ll do everything he can short of that to align himself with anti-vaxxers. Did you get boosted, governor? Er, ah, I’ve “done whatever I did. The normal shot.” Whatever that means.

He’s barely finished admitting that he’s vaccinated before lunging for the caveat that it’s a personal choice. Pitiful.

But there’s good news from an unlikely source. The leader of the party and the most influential populist in all the land just delivered the strongest pro-vaccine statement of his life.

Where did that come from? Three months ago, Trump told a reporter that he probably wouldn’t get boosted. And in fairness, given his history with COVID, he’d likely be fine if he hadn’t. As someone who had the virus and then got vaccinated, Trump has hybrid immunity, the most effective form one can have. He’d have strong protection whether he got an extra dose or not. But he did.

And not only is he willing to admit it, he’s now openly scolding Trumpers who scoff at the vaccine.

Did someone show him these numbers from the Commonwealth Fund, maybe?

“My policy saved a million lives” isn’t something most former presidents — and future candidates — can say with plausibility but Trump can. I don’t know if we’ve reached the point globally where the vaccines have saved “tens of millions,” as he claims, but if we haven’t yet we’ll get there eventually. I also don’t know who the “they” is when he warns the crowd at his event that they’re playing into “their” hands by opposing the vaccines, but I assume he means Democrats. Trump being Trump, he probably resents that the antipathy some of his fans feel towards vaccination is letting the Dems essentially take credit for the Trump administration’s achievement, presenting themselves as the pro-vax party when it was Operation Warp Speed that brought the vaccines to America.

But this is one case of culture war in which the end justifies the means. If Trump can convince holdouts to get vaccinated or booster by warning them that they’re playing into Democrats’ hands by refusing, even if his motive is as petty as simple credit-seeking, that’s fine. Whatever works.

Having watched that clip, I wonder if DeSantis will respond differently the next time he’s asked if he’s been boosted. He may be populists’ second-favorite Republican but his stature isn’t as secure as Trump’s is. Trump is a singular figure and therefore can cross the anti-vaxxers without fear of losing their support; DeSantis is just one of many Republican populists who’d run in an open 2024 primary, leaving him at risk of being outflanked on the right if he sounds too enthusiastic about vaccination. Now that the pope of populism has signaled that it’s okay to be pro-vaccine, though, maybe DeSantis will feel emboldened to admit his own boosted status. If Trump says it’s okay to get a third dose, how can Trumpers hold it against the governor for getting one? We’ll see how DeSantis handles it going forward.