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Why Trump's pitiful pleas for credit on vaccines matter

Cutting through the nonsense, Trump is more or less pushing a pro-vaccine message. It's one Republican voters clearly need to hear.
A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 Vaccine at a mass vaccination site at The Forum arena in Inglewood, Calif., on Feb. 26, 2021.
A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 Vaccine at a mass vaccination site at The Forum arena in Inglewood, Calif., on Feb. 26, 2021.Eric Thayer / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

A new television ad was released overnight featuring four living former American presidents, each of whom came together to stress the importance of the COVID vaccine. Viewers not only see and hear from Presidents Obama, Bush, Clinton, and Carter in the minute-long commercial, they also see the former leaders -- and their spouses -- rolling up their sleeves and getting their shots.

The Ad Council also released a separate video featuring Obama, Bush, and Clinton encouraging vaccinations during a joint appearance at Arlington National Cemetery.

There are, however, five living former American presidents, not four. Politico reported, "Asked whether Donald Trump was invited to participate in the new videos, a spokesperson for the Ad Council reiterated that the project started last year and that one of the videos was filmed on Inauguration Day, when Trump was not in attendance."

The Republican does, apparently, have something to contribute to the public discussion. Yesterday, Trump issued the latest in a series of recent written statements, this time on vaccinations. It read in its entirety:

"I hope everyone remembers when they're getting the COVID-19 (often referred to as the China Virus) Vaccine, that if I wasn't president, you wouldn't be getting that beautiful 'shot' for 5 years, at best, and probably wouldn't be getting it at all. I hope everyone remembers!"

Even putting aside the fact that the poor guy still doesn't know how quotation marks work, this was unusually pitiful. Over the course of just 46 words, Trump pleads for credit, pretends other presidents wouldn't have expedited the vaccine development process last year, squeezes in a gratuitous "China Virus" reference, and uses the phrase "I hope everyone remembers" twice.

It's also one of those appeals that the Republican almost certainly wrote himself.

But as pathetic as Trump's statement was, it could've been so much worse. Because at its root, after sorting through the nonsense, the statement is fundamentally pro-vaccine. Sure, the former president's goal is to desperately seek acclaim for the vaccine, and his focus is on himself instead of the rest of us, but the unstated point is that Trump sees the vaccine as a good thing.

It comes on the heels of the former president appearing at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), where he eventually got around to telling his followers, "[E]verybody, go get your shot."

This wouldn't ordinarily be especially notable, except for the fact that there's unsettling polling evidence, across multiple surveys, that rank-and-file Republican voters are some of the nation's most persistent skeptics about getting the COVID vaccine -- its extraordinary efficacy notwithstanding.

There are real public-health consequences to this: we need as much of the public to get the vaccine as quickly as possible, not only to prevent infections and illnesses, but also to prevent the emergence and circulation of COVID variants. The more elements of the Republican base balk at the vaccine, the greater the risks for everyone.

With this in mind, Trump can continue to feel sorry for himself, and continue to beg people to give him credit for vaccines, just so long as he also continues to signal to GOP voters that the vaccines are worth getting. It'd be nice if he was as high-minded and responsible as the other living former presidents, but with Trump, it's a relief when he clears a much lower bar.