Trump: Certain "gutless" unnamed politicians need to admit they got a vaccine booster; Update: DeSantis responds, sort of

Why, Mr. President, whomever do you mean?

“I’ve been saying since the day after the election that Trump would come up with a bunch of uncomfortable loyalty tests if anyone looked too strong for 2024,” wrote Benjy Sarlin after watching that clip, “but I admit I didn’t think ‘why won’t he endorse vaccines more’ would be one of them.”

Trump didn’t name the “gutless” politician whom he had in mind but it’s perfectly clear. December 19:

Is this it? The first hard shot of the 2024 primary?

Sounds like it’s more of a brushback pitch from Trump to DeSantis:

“Actually, if you think about it, [endorsing vaccines] plays to Trump’s strength and why voters were attracted to him to begin with — you may not like what he has to say, but he calls them like he sees them and doesn’t try to mince words like typical politicians,” [a Trump] adviser said.

Asked about DeSantis as a challenger, the adviser pointed out that no poll shows him beating Trump in a theoretical 2024 matchup, and DeSantis’s evasive comments about getting a booster were damaging to the governor because it made him look evasive.

“Tough to be Trump 2.0 if you can’t be a straight shooter,” the adviser said.

That goes for you too, Ted Cruz.

I’m curious to see how DeSantis responds, whether he continues being evasive about his booster status or responds to Trump’s command like a good puppy and confirms that he’s had a third shot. He must have had one: His wife has cancer and naturally he’d want to do everything he can to protect her. Boosters can’t prevent infection but they do reduce the risk of it happening, and they probably help an infected person clear the virus more quickly. Normally it’d be an easy call for DeSantis to do Trump’s bidding in the name of staying on the right side of MAGA but the politics of this question scrambles that assumption. After all, many populists prefer DeSantis’s ambivalence towards vaccination to Trump’s recent full-throated support. Even normally loyal Trumpers have taken to grumbling about him publicly since he started pounding the message that boosters are safe and effective.

So what does DeSantis do? He could defy Trump by insisting that whether or not one’s received a shot is a “personal, private decision.” Or he could roll over and affirm that he’s gotten dosed, hoping to defuse tensions with Trump.

Because there are some tensions, reportedly:

Vanity Fair also heard rumblings of irritation at DeSantis within Mar-a-Lago a few months ago:

DeSantis’s biggest challenge, though, will be navigating his fraught relationship with Trump. “Trump f***ing hates DeSantis. He just resents his popularity,” a second Trump confidant told me. (“Ron is a good guy,” Trump said.) According to a source, advisers for Pompeo have been promoting DeSantis in hopes of stoking Trump’s jealousy. “Pompeo’s people are building up DeSantis as the leader of the Republican Party to piss Trump off,” the source said.

Part of Trump’s irritation with DeSantis is that Trump feels that DeSantis doesn’t give Trump enough credit for his rise. “Trump tells people, ‘I made Ron.’ Trump says that about a lot of people. But in this case, it’s actually true,” a prominent Republican said. (“He gives me good credit,” Trump told me.)

That probably explains what motivated Trump’s “gutless” jab. He fears being supplanted by DeSantis as populist-in-chief and he resents not getting more credit for the success of the vaccines. Choosing to bash him for his vaccine ambivalence is a pure test of power, aimed at gauging whether DeSantis will still show fealty to him even on a subject where DeSantis, not Trump, is more closely aligned with populist opinion. We’ll see.

In the meantime, the circuits of every Never Trumper in the country are frying this morning. We’ve arrived at a place where Donald Trump is the voice of sanity on vaccines vis-a-vis Ron DeSantis, the traditional Republican who’s supposed to bring about a turn back towards reason and normalcy in the post-Trump GOP.

By the way, just to egg Trump on in his weirdly righteous pro-vax crusade, let me point out here that he might want to start mentioning the latest data from Singapore in his interviews about this. The most successful vaccine used in that country turns out to be Moderna, the pride of Operation Warp Speed, which allowed just one death from COVID per 100,000 people. The least successful vaccines? China’s, the worst of which permitted 11 deaths per 100,000. America is great again!

Update: What do we think of this reply from Team Ron?

In a statement to CNN on Wednesday, DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw claimed it wasn’t clear that Trump was referring to the Florida Republican in his criticism.

“President Trump did not mention Governor DeSantis in that interview, so I wouldn’t want to make assumptions. Governor DeSantis has always been clear about his position on Covid-19 vaccination and boosters: the shots should be available to all but mandated for none, and the choice to get a vaccine or booster is an individual’s private medical decision,” Pushaw said.

He did stick to his guns by refusing to confirm his booster status. But the idea that Trump maybe wasn’t talking about DeSantis is a ludicrous dodge.