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The one thing vaccination rates have in common with Jan. 6

The Jan. 6 attack and vaccination rates have one thing in common: Republicans pushing back against reality with an ugly counternarrative.
Image: Amy Coney Barrett
Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., speaks during the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.Patrick Semansky / Pool via AP

In the weeks and months that followed the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, assorted voices on the far-right fringe tried to rewrite the history of the insurrectionist violence. It wasn't long before Republican officials, recognizing the damage the mob violence could do to their party and its base, embraced the effort.

As the New York Times noted in an interesting analysis last week, Republicans are no longer content to absolve Donald Trump from his responsibilities for the attack, they've also "completed their journey through the looking-glass, spinning a new counternarrative of that deadly day." The new narrative tries to shift the blame to, among others, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), indifferent to how little sense this makes.

The piece added, "Their new claims, some voiced from the highest levels of House Republican leadership, amount to a disinformation campaign being promulgated from the steps of the Capitol, aimed at giving cover to their party and intensifying the threats to political accountability."

But it's not just Jan. 6. The COVID crisis is intensifying in parts of the country in part because of Republicans' reluctance to get vaccinated. That, too, risks making the GOP and its base look bad.

And so, the party is reading from an eerily similar script, spinning a new counternarrative, and launching a public-relations initiative that amounts to a disinformation campaign aimed at giving Republicans cover.

Republicans, especially supporters of former president Donald Trump, increasingly make up a large share of people refusing coronavirus vaccines, according to various surveys. With Democrats claiming that Republicans are not trusting science, [Republican Rep. Steve Scalise], the House minority whip, decided to go on the offense, releasing a video claiming that Democrats actually are purveyors of vaccine misinformation.

The Washington Post's report on this explained that the video is wildly deceptive: "Scalise's framing is ridiculous. Viewed in context, these clips provide no evidence that these Democrats distrusted science or distributed misinformation. They distrusted Trump."

It's likely Scalise knows his video attempts to mislead the public. But Republicans have a problem: reality paints their party in a tragically unflattering light, since it's GOP voices -- and GOP voters -- who are helping keep vaccination rates lower than we need them to be.

Rather than addressing the problem, Republicans have decided a disinformation campaign -- rooted in the idea that it's Democratic leaders who've discouraged vaccinations -- will at least muddy the waters long enough to lessen the political hit the GOP might otherwise feel.

It's precisely why Wyoming's John Barrasso and Arkansas' Sarah Huckabee Sanders are peddling the same demonstrably ridiculous counternarrative, though they almost certainly know better.

It's also why Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) was on Fox News yesterday, complaining that former President Barack Obama's planned birthday party is the "single biggest thing that has undermined our efforts to make the American people understand we are in a fourth wave."

Told that the Democrat had already scaled back the scheduled festivities, the Louisiana Republican added, "He needs to cancel it, scaling it back won't get it."

In reality, the idea that an Obama birthday gathering is the "single biggest thing that has undermined our efforts to make the American people understand we are in a fourth wave" is obviously bonkers and a reminder of why it's so difficult to take the GOP senator seriously.

But it's the point of the nonsensical rhetoric that matters: Kennedy, like so much of his party, wants to effectively tell the public, "It only looks like Republicans are the problem here. Let's blame Democrats instead."

It's foolish and ugly. It might work anyway.