But the ad experiment, the apparent effectiveness of simply highlighting Trump’s pro-vaccine rhetoric to a receptive audience, is an example of a different kind of creativity. Republican vaccine skepticism was hardly monolithic: Most Republicans got the shots, many prominent conservatives — politicians, Fox News personalities, etc. — urged people to take them, and many right-wing figures insisted they were pro-vaccine, anti-warrant. All of this could have been the material for more Republican-friendly and therefore more persuasive forms of advertising and outreach than what the Biden administration, with its focus on mandates and disinformation, ultimately provided.
Or so I tend to think. But in the end, it was the Republicans themselves — office holders, media personalities, Trump — who had the best opportunity to educate their own vaccine-reluctant supporters, cut ads and organize events and break the most understandable and sincerely motivated. forms of skepticism. It is therefore within conservatism that the failure of the past year has been the clearest.
The best way to understand this failure is to relate it to the things that conservatives got right, or partially, over the course of 2020 and 2021. In particular, as we look back on the pandemic era, the doubts of the right on the various mitigation strategies — mask mandates, school closures, lockdowns, social distancing — now have a fair amount of data to back them up.
For example, there was a lot of talk throughout 2020 about how rapidly reopening red states were killing their residents while blue states were protecting them. But as my colleague David Leonhardt has pointed out, “by the end of Covid’s first year in the United States, the virus had swept the country and there was no significant partisan divide in deaths.” More recently, as Omicron swept the country, he noted that it was difficult to discern a clear difference in infection rates between liberal and conservative counties, even though liberal areas were still implementing more protective measures. ‘mitigation. Or get out of the US: A study published last month in The Lancet examining excessive death rates around the world in the age of Covid found that two European countries often criticized for being too lax compared to their neighbours, Sweden and the UK did not t perform significantly worse compared to their peers.
These trends are suggestive; they do not mean that all non-pharmaceutical interventions have been in vain. But they imply that they have often been oversold, their all-caps scientific basis underlined at the expense of reasonable doubts. Combine that reality with the obvious damage of some interventions, particularly school closures, and you have the pattern of fact that made a figure like Ron DeSantis a conservative folk hero for resisting many of these measures.