It's never been altogether clear why, exactly, Republicans like Gov. Ron DeSantis fight so aggressively against mask protections during the pandemic. At an event this week, the Floridian briefly explained his perspective.
"Politicians want to force you to cover your face as a way for them to cover their own asses," the governor claimed. "That's just the truth. They want to be able to say they are taking this on and they're doing this even though it's not proven to be effective they want to continue to do it."
The rhetoric was bizarre for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that mask protections have, in reality, proven to be effective.
Nearly as curious is the politics of DeSantis' posturing. The governor isn't just quietly taking on school districts trying to help protect children, he's embracing the fight as if he were convinced that indifference to viral infections will prove to be a political winner. The New York Times' Jamelle Bouie marveled yesterday at the Florida Republican's willingness to make COVID-19 "the center of his national political persona," even as the pandemic takes a brutal toll on his state.
As a matter of public health, the tactics Americans have seen from DeSantis and others like him are disastrous, as evidenced by overflowing hospitals in several parts of the country. But as a Washington Post analysis noted yesterday, it's also striking to see prominent Republican voices take dangerous stands that are broadly unpopular with the American mainstream.
[O]n the central battleground -- masks in schools -- 69 percent of Americans support the mandate, per a new Axios/Ipsos poll. And when it comes to both vaccine mandates and the methods to fight mask mandates that some Republicans are floating, the verdict is also pretty strongly against the GOP. The Economist and YouGov released a new poll Wednesday asking Americans whether they would support vaccine mandates for a number of groups. And in every case the survey asked about, there was majority -- and often 2-to-1 -- support.
The same article added the aforementioned Axios-Ipsos poll that that nearly 80% of Americans oppose withholding funding from local school districts that require masks, which happens to be the approach preferred by the DeSantis administration.
We're accustomed to thinking about political disputes in left-vs-right and Democrats-vs-Republicans terms. But when it comes to public-health protections during a pandemic that's killed over 628,000 Americans, survey data suggests this is more an instance in which Republicans are up against the broader American mainstream, not their rival party.
For these GOP officials, it would appear to be the worst of both worlds: putting people at greater risk, while simultaneously ignoring popular will.
But for DeSantis and others, there's an assumption that pleasing the Republican base is all that matters. The question isn't whether an idea is popular in general, the question is whether an idea is popular with those who vote in GOP primaries, consume conservative media, and donate to the right's causes.
The Post's analysis concluded, "[O]n the political front, the Republican Party has rather clearly marched itself into a minority position." It just doesn't seem to care.