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In the fight against COVID-19, Republicans pick the wrong fights

The more Republicans take counterproductive stands on the pandemic, the more observers will wonder which side the party's on.

The pandemic is taking such a severe toll in Mississippi that the state's public health network is approaching systemic collapse. As the Texas Tribune reported, the health system in the Lone Star State is facing a similar threat.

Texas hospitals are on the brink of catastrophe, close to being completely overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients, leaders of some of the state's largest hospitals told state lawmakers Tuesday.... "This crisis right now is really driving us to a place where it is really unsustainable," said Dr. Joseph Chang, chief medical officer for Parkland Health and Hospital System in Dallas.

Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, the CEO of Harris Health System in Houston, told state officials this week, "While more vaccination is the only thing that can ultimately bring this pandemic to an end, we need more decisive actions now to prevent a catastrophe the likes of which we only imagined last year."

The good news is, Texans are seeing "decisive actions" from top state officials. The bad news, these ostensible leaders are taking decisive actions that are likely to make conditions worse, not better.

Backed by a court ruling, Dallas County's Clay Jenkins (D) this week announced that all local public schools, child-care centers, and businesses in Dallas County must require face coverings to help stem the tide of COVID-19 infections. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) are ready to fight -- not against the pandemic, but against the policy designed to address the pandemic.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton are asking Texas' 5th Court of Appeals to block Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins' newly issued mask mandate, they announced in a joint press release.... "Attention-grabbing judges and mayors have defied executive orders before, when the pandemic first started, and the courts ruled on our side -- the law," Paxton said in the release. "I'm confident the outcomes to any suits will side with liberty and individual choice, not mandates and government overreach."

And if "liberty and individual choice" leads to a breakdown in Texas' public-health system, as infections, hospitalizations, and deaths rise, so be it. That's a price the state's Republican governor and state attorney general are willing to pay.

After all, governing and protecting the public during a pandemic is fine, but they're no match for conservative ideological goals, which must take precedence.

Developments in Texas are difficult to watch from a distance -- The Atlantic's Adam Serwer noted, "Abbott and Texas Republican legislators have undermined virtually every effort to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus" -- but they're by no means unique. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) also refuses to abandon his passivity toward the crisis, and is investing much of his energies into fighting against local officials who are eager to take potentially life-saving steps.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) is also threatening to withhold funds over schools that dare to require masks, while the Associated Press reports that Republican legislators in Tennessee are prepared to hold a special session for a single purpose: limiting local officials' ability to make rules aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.

At the national level, Republicans in Congress have far less power than GOP governors, but they're hardly playing a more constructive role. For example, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has falsely questioned the efficacy of masks, prompting a YouTube suspension, and called on the public to "resist" safeguards intended to prevent the spread of the virus.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is railing against mandates that would help address the crisis. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) is still Ron Johnson. Assorted far-right House Republicans appear incredibly eager to undermine public confidence in basic truths, most notably about vaccines.

It's against this backdrop that much of the GOP is also turning public-health authorities into punching bags. CNN added yesterday, "As Republicans head back to their districts for the August recess, they are hammering the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and seizing on the backlash to new mask and vaccine mandates -- part of a GOP-wide effort to use the fears and frustrations of Americans worried about another round of school closures and lockdowns as cudgels against their Democratic opponents."

It would be unfair to argue that the Republican Party, broadly speaking, is somehow siding with COVID-19, as opposed to being against it. That said, the more GOP officials take counterproductive stands, the more observers will wonder which side the party's on.