Before Donald Trump's event in Alabama even began, it was easy to imagine the kind of rhetoric that would generate boos from the conservative audience. The former president would condemn the usual suspects -- Democrats, journalists, immigrants, et al. -- and his followers would respond on cue.
But Saturday night in Cullman, Ala., there were a couple of unexpected moments of derision from the audience.
The first came when Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) spoke and encouraged attendees to "look forward" to the 2022 and 2024 election cycles, rather than dwell on 2020. The Republican congressman may have a far-right ideology, and he may be as fervent a Trump ally as exists on Capitol Hill, but Brooks nevertheless faced booing -- from his own constituents -- for his political apostacy.
He felt the need after the event to issue a “Let me be clear” message, re-endorsing conspiracy theories about "massive" 2020 election fraud that did not occur in reality. Brooks clearly got the message: Alabama Republicans have no interest in moving on from their fantastical grievances.
Soon after, Brooks introduced the former president, and as NBC News reported, Trump heard some unexpected boos when he recommended his supporters get vaccinated.
"[Y]ou know what? I believe totally in your freedoms. I do. You've got to do what you have to do," Trump said. "But I recommend take the vaccines. I did it. It's good. Take the vaccines." Some boos rang out from the crowd, who were largely maskless.
The Republican clearly noticed the response. "No, that's OK. That's all right. You got your freedoms," Trump quickly added. "But I happened to take the vaccine. If it doesn't work, you'll be the first to know. OK? I'll call up Alabama, I'll say, 'Hey, you know what?' But [the vaccine] is working. But you do have your freedoms you have to keep. You have to maintain that."
Let's not miss the forest for the trees. Alabama has the nation's lowest vaccination rate and among the nation's worst infection rates. Gov. Kay Ivey (R) has blamed "the unvaccinated folks" for the state's ongoing crisis. The community that hosted Saturday night's event found it necessary to declare a COVID state of emergency late last week.
It was against this backdrop that Donald Trump -- a man who enjoys an almost religious reverence among his diehard supporters -- recommended that his allies protect themselves with a safe, free, and effective vaccine.
And they booed in response.
There's probably room for conversation about whether members of the crowd were booing the former president for offering unwelcome advice or booing the mere mention of the COVID-19 vaccine itself, but either way, it was a reminder that the nation's self-imposed fourth wave is likely to persist for a while.