He deserves a pat on the back for this, although I had to laugh at the idea of making a plea to young adults on a cable news network. The average age of Fox’s primetime viewership is 66! The Fox audience isn’t at risk of infecting grandma and grandpa because they behaved recklessly at a pool party over the weekend. They are grandma and grandpa.

Still, good for him for making the effort. There’s always a slight subversive thrill to watching a top populist media personality undercut populist orthodoxy, just because it happens so rarely. Hannity’s probably thinking big-picture, though — the more reckless people are, the greater the odds of a second wave and all the attendant human and economic misery that’ll result as consumers hunker down again. The country needs this reopening to be durable. And so does Hannity’s friend, the president, whose reelection may depend on it.

Speaking of which, yesterday Trump needled a reporter who declined to remove his mask while asking a question by calling him “politically correct.” That’s what makes Hannity’s plea so surprising. Politically correct is normally the last thing a populist would allow himself to be.

On the other hand, it’s unfair to Republicans to imply that mask-wearing is some great heresy within the party. Trump has worn one (away from reporters). Two-thirds of GOPers say they’re wearing one most of the time around other people. A majority of the party describes itself as pro-mask:

There is a wide partisan gap, though, which makes me wonder if Hannity is worried about anti-mask sentiment growing within the GOP and eventually becoming a political problem (not to mention a public safety problem). I noticed that CNN made a point of noting Trump’s ambivalence to mask-wearing in an interview yesterday and Biden leaped at it:

There’s strategy to that. I’m sure Biden has seen the polls showing independents strongly in favor of masks and his own party overwhelmingly so. Republicans are solidly in favor right now but Trump’s influence over the party is such that that might change. If new cases slow down over the summer and he continues to take potshots at Biden and other Democrats for wearing them, GOP opinion could shift against mask-wearing — but maybe not independent opinion, since indies are less beholden to Trump for their political identity than Republicans are. In other words, Republicans could end up on the wrong side of an issue that most voters view as a matter of basic safety. And Democrats will gleefully leverage that by tying it to Trump’s handling of the pandemic more broadly. “Our Republican president didn’t care enough early on to stop the virus before it spread and he doesn’t care enough now to wear a mask to keep it from spreading.”

But don’t take my word for it:

“That is an issue that divides Republicans and not anybody else,” said Nick Gourevitch, a Democratic pollster who recently helped write a public memo to lawmakers and liberal interest groups recommending that they embrace the mask issue.

He noted that open-ended questions in a public Democratic tracking poll he conducts began to find the word “mask” repeated in mid-May when voters were asked what negative things they thought they had “seen, read or heard” about Trump’s response to the coronavirus.

The attacks from Trump and his allies over masks have similarly cheered Biden’s advisers, who view the debate as a way for showing the contrast Democrats see as the heart of their message for the fall. For Biden, the debate with the president over masks is a stand-in for their deeper disagreements over Trump’s handling of the pandemic.

Yesterday Biden changed his Twitter photo to one of him wearing a mask and tweeted this in the evening, in case it wasn’t clear enough that he thinks there’s political value in this issue:

Maybe Hannity’s trying to get out in front of that by signaling that Republicans, including populist Republicans, support mask-wearing too. He probably has the biggest audience of any right-wing commentator in America; he can influence the bounds of populist orthodoxy more than most people can. And of course he can influence Trump, both privately and with his show. It could be that he sees a liability in the making for POTUS as masks become (more) politicized and is doing his best to avert it.

Now all he needs to do is convince the other populist influencers out there on the right that mask-wearing is smart and considerate.