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Trump's rhetoric on vaccines takes a dramatic turn for the worse

In March, Trump took a pro-vaccine message to the public. Now, he's peddling a much more dangerous line.

On March 1, as public access to COVID-19 vaccines became more common, Donald Trump appeared at a far-right gathering and eventually said the right thing. After insisting that he wanted credit for the development of the vaccines, the former president told a CPAC audience, "So everybody, go get your shot."

About a week later, the Republican issued a related statement that meandered, and was annoyingly whiny, but which was nevertheless pro-vaccine: Trump called the shots "beautiful" and suggested that "everyone" would be receiving them.

As we discussed at the time, much of the former president's statement was pitiful -- his goal was clearly to seek acclaim for himself, prioritizing his ego over public needs -- but the underlying point remained the same: Trump framed the distribution of vaccines as fundamentally a good thing.

Four months later, the Republican's message has taken a dramatic turn for the worse. Trump issued this written statement yesterday:

"Joe Biden kept talking about how good of a job he's doing on the distribution of the Vaccine that was developed by Operation Warp Speed or, quite simply, the Trump Administration. He's not doing well at all. He's way behind schedule, and people are refusing to take the Vaccine because they don't trust his Administration, they don't trust the Election results, and they certainly don't trust the Fake News, which is refusing to tell the Truth."

The shift in posture is unmistakable: In March, the former president encouraged people -- most notably his own conservative followers -- to do the right thing, roll up their sleeves, and get vaccinated. In July, Trump's new message implicitly suggests that only those who believe President Biden, election results, and independent news organizations are getting the shots.

As infection numbers inch higher, this is plainly dangerous. The more vaccinations are politicized, the more it undermines public health.

Also note the degree to which Trump is blaming Biden for far-right vaccine opponents' refusals. The rhetoric introduces the possibility of a twisted incentive: Those who want to keep the Democratic White House "behind schedule" suddenly have another reason to avoid vaccinations.

Alas, it's not the former president whose rhetoric is taking a ridiculous turn. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), a medical doctor by training, was asked on Fox News yesterday morning for his thoughts on the public dynamic -- especially the fact that his home state of Louisiana is among the nation's worst when it comes to vaccinations.

Cassidy immediately blamed the president, saying "people don't trust government" because Biden described GOP voter-suppression measures as the "next Jim Crow laws." In the next breath, Cassidy went on to blame Democratic leaders for "not cooperating" with Republicans on an infrastructure bill -- even as Biden cooperates with Republicans on an infrastructure bill.

By most counts, only about 36% of Louisiana residents have been fully vaccinated, and the state's senior U.S. senator's response to this is to peddle lazy partisan nonsense on national television. Does Cassidy seriously expect people to believe there are voters saying to themselves, "I might have been vaccinated, but then I heard Biden criticize voter-suppression laws, so now I'll just take my chances"?

No good can come of this. The Biden administration is engaged in a desperate campaign to protect public health and save lives -- without regard for party or ideology. Everyone would benefit if the president's Republican critics at least tried to be responsible.