So says the Wall Street Journal. I wonder how they’ll be branded. “Trump 2020”? “Make America Great Again”? Or “Keep America Great”?
Either way, there’s serious backfire potential. Trump-branded pandemic paraphernalia will be exploited by Biden and the Democrats as symbols of what national “greatness” under Trump looks like in practice.
I’m glad the campaign’s doing it, though. Anything that mainstreams mask-wearing is a good thing. If the price of getting Trump to become a mask enthusiast is to logo-ize it for him, so be it.
The campaign has ordered red, Trump-branded face masks for supporters, according to people familiar with the matter. Campaign officials have discussed giving away the masks at events or in return for donations, one of the people said.
There’s real news lurking behind the surreal image of a red face mask with “MAGA” branded on it. This is part of an effort by Trump and the campaign to reingratiate themselves to senior citizens, one of the biggest electoral problems facing the GOP right now. I’ve written about that more than once lately. Americans 65 and older went big for Trump over Hillary in 2016, tilting towards him by seven points nationally and by wider margins in some key states, most notably Florida. In a state that Trump won by just 1.2 percent, senior citizens there broke 57/40 for him. They were decisive. And yet, Biden has led Trump among the 65+ group in numerous polls this past month, including and especially Florida. How come?
Republicans have a theory. More from the WSJ:
The Trump campaign tested the effectiveness of the Democratic ads last week, the first time the campaign has done so in either of Mr. Trump’s two races, according to a person familiar with the results. However, the data indicated that Mr. Trump’s drop was more directly related to his performance at the nightly task force briefings that he has since curtailed, according to the person. Mr. Trump’s news conferences, which often include political attacks, disputes with reporters and sometimes unreliable information about the pandemic, have drawn criticism from members of both parties…
Older citizens, already a politically attentive voting bloc, are the most at-risk of dying from Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. They are also closely watching the news conferences, said one Republican close to the campaign.
“I quit watching. I truly can’t stand it,” said Judy Hoffman, a 72-year-old Ohio retiree who said she had been considering supporting Mr. Trump until his handling of the pandemic. “I quit feeling like I was gaining any information. I started listening to podcasts.”
The White House has noticed his numbers falling among seniors:
Among those said to be involved in trying to improve the president's numbers among senior citizens amid concerns over coronavirus and the president's approach to health care is Kellyanne Conway, who helped orchestrate Thursday afternoon event.
— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) April 30, 2020
The event yesterday involved representatives from senior-citizen groups and hospice-care facilities, part of a new charm offensive organized by the White House to win back older voters. Trump said he’d form a commission focused on preventing outbreaks at nursing homes and promised to send more PPE to them. What he’s trying to do is reboot his image on how he’s handled the pandemic, not exclusively with seniors but first and foremost with seniors given how heavily Republican electoral fortunes rest on them.
I think the MAGA masks are a small part of that. The message is that the president has moved past his “reopen ASAP” phase, which may have spooked older Americans, and is now all-in on containing the spread, right down to offering his own personally branded protective face gear. His surprising response yesterday to MAGA diehards about Sweden may be part of that image makeover too. His base thinks it was foolish to close down businesses and wants him to follow the Swedish model. Too many deaths, says the president, mindful of which group will do most of the dying — and knows it’ll do most of the dying — if he embraces a Swedish approach.
“Our country could not be anything near what it is without our incredible seniors,” he said at yesterday’s event, per the Journal. “We will show them the same loyalty and love they have shown us.” Why, he’ll have them wearing MAGA masks before we know it.
I haven’t seen polling on it yet but I’m curious to know what the partisan breakdown is on mask-wearing. It’s a cinch that Democrats are more likely to wear them, but how much more likely? In 2020 nothing is immune from dumb blue/red partisan signaling, including one’s personal risk tolerance for contracting a deadly disease:
For progressives, masks have become a sign that you take the pandemic seriously and are willing to make a personal sacrifice to save lives. Prominent people who don’t wear them are shamed and dragged on Twitter by lefty accounts. On the right, where the mask is often seen as the symbol of a purported overreaction to the coronavirus, mask promotion is a target of ridicule, a sign that in a deeply polarized America almost anything can be politicized and turned into a token of tribal affiliation…
Visiting the White House, it’s striking how many people don’t wear masks. Very few Secret Service agents have them on. Some days, even the staff member performing temperature checks on reporters doesn’t wear one. In contrast, most, though certainly not all, members of the media wear some kind of face covering while in the press workspace or waiting to cover a presidential event. But very few keep them on during the televised briefings.
A sociologist wrote a few days ago in Scientific American that it’s no surprise Trump has personally refused to wear a mask. “Leaders who are more concerned with preserving a macho public image put our lives at risk as they prove their manhood by showing resistance to experts’ opinions, hypersensitivity to criticism and constant feuding with anyone who seems to disagree with them,” wrote the author. I don’t think it’s expert opinion that Trump is rebelling against by eschewing a mask; he’s followed Fauci’s and Birx’s advice on big-picture stuff. I think it’s driven by personal vanity plus the sense that masks are to some degree an admission of fear, which strongman leaders can’t abide even if they privately are afraid and have good reason to be. But having the campaign start selling MAGA masks is a step in the right direction: Even if Trump won’t personally wear one, his tacit approval of his fans wearing them will send a message that masking up won’t cost you your MAGA cred. Can’t wait for when Team Biden puts out its own blue mask with the slogan “It Never Happened.”