Brett Giroir makes the right point here about why promoting the drug is a bad idea. It’s not that it’s dangerous, although it does cause side effects in some users. It’s not even that we’re facing the sort of shortage of it that we were facing in April, when the hype machine about HCQ revved up. The feds have acquired many millions of pills since then. It’s that touting it as some sort of easily available life-saver is apt to lead people to take more risks than they otherwise would in the false belief that they can always just scrounge up some hydroxy if they get sick and beat the disease that way. There’s no substitute for mask-wearing, social-distancing, and hand-washing right now, he says.
"The evidence just doesn't show hydroxychloroquine is effective, for now." pic.twitter.com/JrQGTGDnfg
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) August 2, 2020
The anecdotal reports and observational studies are mixed, but the randomized clinical trials all point one way.
Although some people with a medical pedigree less impressive than Giroir’s aren’t concerned about that:
At his event just now, Trump again touted hydroxychloroquine at length. When asked about Fauci's comments about the drug not being effective against the coronavirus, he said, "I don't agree with Fauci."
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) August 3, 2020
Who knows if even Trump thinks it’s effective? He went all-in on the idea of a miracle cure early and now he’s stuck defending it. Forced to choose between admitting that he’s wrong and his team of scientists is right on the one hand and on the other hand saving face by encouraging an unproven treatment to Americans who need good advice, there’s no question what his choice will be.
Is the president’s obsession with hydroxychloroquine hurting him politically? According to YouGov, yeah. They asked the question, “Do you approve or disapprove of President Trump promoting the use of hydroxychloroquine on Twitter?” Note the split among independents:
YouGov also asked people if they thought hydroxychloroquine is a cure for COVID-19. Independents split 15/53 on that. Republican numbers are more favorable to Trump’s position, but those voters are already in the bag — and even the Republican splits are less one-sided than you might expect. Thirty-nine percent of GOPers (and 44 percent of people who say they intend to vote for Trump this fall) say that they believe the drug is a cure. That’s embarrassing, but it’s tepid support by Trump’s usual standards within the party as around 25 percent of Republicans and intended Trump voters say it’s not a cure. By comparison, Democrats are much more lopsided in opposition (6/73). I sympathize with anyone who likes Trump and is normally inclined to believe him but is left struggling with the fact that doctors like Fauci and Giroir and Scott Gottlieb keep telling them that it looks like a bust. What are you supposed to do with a hash of information like that?
The parties may diverge in their views of HCQ but they’re broadly in sync now on masks:
Democrats are still more likely to say they “always” wear masks in public spaces, but 72 percent of Republicans agree. In fact, a majority of Republicans now favor mask mandates. Maybe that’s a reaction to Trump leading by example on masks lately, maybe it’s a reaction to GOPers worrying more about the pandemic as it spreads across red states, maybe it’s both. It’s good news, whatever the answer.
The Times has a story today about scientists in the feds’ employ beginning to worry that the White House will try to rush an unready, untested vaccine to market in October as a pre-election surprise to help Trump. “There are a lot of people on the inside of this process who are very nervous about whether the administration is going to reach their hand into the Warp Speed bucket, pull out one or two or three vaccines, and say, ‘We’ve tested it on a few thousand people, it looks safe, and now we are going to roll it out,’” said one advisor to the FDA. I’ve seen that theory raised before and I’m always left wondering why its adherents feel so sure that would do more to help Trump than to hurt him. Presumably many respected scientists would come out of the woodwork to warn the public if the data suggested that the vaccine’s not ready for primetime, and as we can see in the hydroxychloroquine polling above, the public would be more likely to believe them than Trump. (As further evidence, compare Fauci’s approval ratings to the president’s.) Trump has very little credibility on COVID-related matters, from his early pollyanna-ish assurances that the virus would disappear to his insistence on reopening ASAP would be a good idea to his inane refrain that the U.S. only has more cases than Europe because we’re testing more.
Add to that the fact that many Americans are already worried about the safety of the vaccine and it’s a recipe for political disaster. If he calls a presser on October 20 and says, “It’s ready!”, everyone except his most devoted supporters will react with suspicion that he’s pushing snake oil in hopes of getting an election bounce. The media will start digging into the vaccine’s approval process to see if shortcuts were taken; people will howl for Fauci, Birx, Giroir, and respected doctors outside the administration like Gottlieb to give their honest assessment of the vaccine. Unless we think they’re all prepared to chuck ethical obligations out the window and lie on Trump’s behalf by saying the vaccine is proven safe and effective when it isn’t, the “October surprise” will quickly turn into an October fiasco in which the president is accused of playing politics with the health of 330 million people for his own electoral benefit. The backlash might finish him off.