New PSA from Glenn Youngkin: Please get the vaccine

Interesting timing here, cutting a pro-vax ad in the wake of a major culture-war victory over the left on school mask mandates. A Republican in charge of a Biden +10 state will need to know how to triangulate, rewarding the conservative minority while placating the liberal majority. Youngkin’s only been governor for a month and already seems deft at it. Watch:

“Pro-vax but anti-mandate” is a perfectly defensible position logically but in the wild the “anti-mandate” part tends to steer practitioners towards anti-vaxxism or what we might charitably call “vaccine ambivalence.” Look no further than Ron DeSantis, who endorsed vaccination in the first half of 2021, heard grumbling from populists about it, then piped down and went all-in on blocking mandates instead. Nowadays he won’t even tell reporters whether he’s been boosted. “You could not as a Republican candidate run for office if you told people to get vaccinated or if you said Joe Biden won fair and square,” tea partier turned Never Trumper Joe Walsh told the Guardian recently. “If you said either one of those two things, you couldn’t win a Republican primary.” He’s probably right. And DeSantis, who wants to run for president, knows he’s right.

In fact, that same Guardian piece quotes a few Trump fans warning 45 to rein in his vaccine enthusiasm if he wants to maintain their loyalty.

“He said take the vaccine but we all booed and said no,” she recalled of Trump’s event with broadcaster Bill O’Reilly in Orlando, Florida. “He heard us loud and clear because the Amway Center was packed. We let him know ‘no’ and a couple of us even hollered out, ‘It’s killing people!’”…

She said: “I don’t trust the government. I don’t trust the pharmaceutical companies. I’m active in politics here and found out lots of people were having complications and dropping dead. There’s a lot of jobs I wont’t even take because they want me to get a vaccine.”…

“I trust him on certain things, but he’s not my God,” she said [of Trump].

A writer at the Spectator declared today that he’s hanging up his MAGA hat. Among the reasons: “[I]t’s not just his endorsements. When Trump decided to cast himself as Vaxxer-in-Chief, we started to get déjà vu. There were distinct notes of 2017, when the president enraged his base by ordering airstrikes on Syria.”

According to a recent Pew poll, the gap between Democrats and Republicans who have received at least one vaccine dose is now almost 30 points:

For all the hype about African-Americans being reluctant to get vaccinated, more than three-quarters of them have had their shots. Fewer than two-thirds of Republicans can say the same.

That helps explain why Youngkin cut the ad. Having just beaten Democrats in the great mask death struggle, he’s leveraging his newfound COVID credibility among MAGA populists in Virginia to nudge them to get the shot. He’s also showing Virginia Democrats that he’s not opposed to precautions as a rule, just precautions whose costs may outweigh their benefits. Essentially he’s offering the same culture-war compromise that Democrat Jared Polis has offered in Colorado. Mass vaccination can get us back to something resembling pre-pandemic normalcy, so let’s focus on that and not sweat the non-pharmaceutical interventions.

The politics of the PSA are intriguing too, though. Youngkin is term-limited so he doesn’t need to worry about an anti-vax MAGA backlash in Virginia in 2025. He would need to worry about an anti-vax MAGA backlash if he ran for president in 2024 — a nonzero possibility if his next two years are successful and if Trump ends up declining to run for whatever reason. Does this ad mean Youngkin has ruled out a national candidacy?

Or is he gambling that there would be a lane in 2024 for a candidate who’s got cred in fighting mandates but is also outspokenly pro-vaccine? Vaccinated Republicans may be a much smaller majority in their party than vaccinated Democrats are in theirs but they’re still a comfortable majority. Youngkin might be calculating that DeSantis has erred by pandering too much to MAGA anti-vaxxers, leaving a huge swath of pro-vax GOP voters on the table who dislike mandates but also dislike seeing Republican leaders flirting with vaccine skeptics. Youngkin would position as the “normie” alternative to DeSantis’s stridently populist posture. And the fact that he flipped a state Biden won easily two years ago would be a powerful draw potentially for Republicans who like Trump but like beating Democrats even more. Much will depend on how DeSantis’s reelection bid goes in November, but it’s possible that Youngkin would have the strongest electability cred of any candidate in the Republican 2024 field. GOP voters might overlook a few heresies against populism in return for maximizing their chances of retaking the White House.

But hey. Why nominate a guy like that when the party could nominate a twice-impeached conspiracy theorist who tried to overturn an election and has never won the popular vote?

In lieu of an exit question, read Helen Branswell’s Valentine’s Day valentine to vaccination: “Why Covid-19 vaccines are a freaking miracle.”