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GOP line on vaccines, anti-voting measures has one thing in common

The parallels are plain between Republican arguments on vaccine mandates and the GOP's rejection of the 2020 election.
Image: Pete Ricketts
Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts gestures during a news conference in Lincoln, Neb. on Wednesday, May 20, 2015. He voiced his opposition to a bill to abolish the death penalty and promised to veto the bill should it pass.Nati Harnik / AP

Much of the Republican Party remains hysterical about President Joe Biden's new vaccine policy, though there's a contradiction at the heart of the GOP's position: Republican officials, even in ruby-red states, tend to be perfectly comfortable with all kinds of vaccine mandates. They've simply adopted a position that makes an exception to Covid-19 vaccines.

As The New York Times noted over the weekend, fierce opposition to the White House's policy from GOP governors "reflects the anger and fear about the vaccine among constituents now central to their base, while ignoring longstanding policy and legal precedent in favor of similar vaccination requirements."

Fox News' Chris Wallace yesterday tried to unwrap the contradiction during an interview with Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, who insisted that vaccinations must be "a personal health care choice."

The host reminded the Republican governor that in order to attend a school in Nebraska, students must be vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, and chicken pox. Wallace asked the obvious question: Why are these vaccine mandates uncontroversial, while Biden's vaccine directives represent an unconscionable attack on personal freedom?

HuffPost highlighted the governor's surprisingly interesting response:

Ricketts responded that people "don't know who to trust right now" and that "we have trust in those other vaccines" due to their "long history."

The idea that Americans "don't know who to trust right now" is, of course, wrong. The safe, effective, and free vaccines have received the enthusiastic backing of the FDA, NIH, CDC, World Health Organization, and every leading organization representing the nation's physicians, clinicians, scientists, and public health authorities. Knowing "who to trust" is easy.

The only reason that some Americans are nevertheless uncomfortable with the one tool that can efficiently end the pandemic is that they've been misled by an aggressive group of cranks, quacks, and charlatans – many of whom are in the Nebraska Republican's Party.

But there was something oddly familiar about Ricketts' pitch: Accommodations must be made, the governor suggested, because so many are now confused by a ridiculous national debate. This happens to be the same argument GOP officials push when justifying new voting restrictions and damaging "audits" of the 2020 presidential election.

Indeed, the parallels are unambiguous: Republicans and their allies promulgate nonsense; too many Americans grow confused by the misinformation campaign; and GOP officials push for policy solutions designed to address the confusion they helped create. After all, the argument goes, people "don't know who to trust right now."

Remind me, whose fault is that?

As for the other part of Ricketts' argument – the Covid-19 vaccines are new, while the others are not – Wallace also reminded the Nebraskan that when the polio vaccine first came out, families embraced it as a blessing and government officials quickly created mandates.

At that point, the governor largely tried to change the subject, explaining that his administration is principally focused on "preserving hospital capacity." The host soon after reminded Ricketts that many hospitals throughout Nebraska are struggling, and facilities have been forced to, among other things, limit elective surgeries due to the surge in Covid-19 cases.

The governor concluded that he's nevertheless trying to coordinate with state attorneys general to push back against the White House's efforts in the courts. How would that help end the pandemic? It wouldn't, but as we've seen too often, ending the pandemic simply isn't the principal goal of many Republican officials.