Republicans Need to Get Serious About the Genesis of Lockdowns if They Want Voters
Politically, the GOP has a lot to gain from the response to Covid-19. But if Republicans want voters to take this issue seriously, voters have to see Republicans taking it seriously themselves.
For those hoping for vindication for the unprecedented damage that’s been done during the response to Covid, the midterm election results have been a bit of a disappointment. The “red wave” that many were expecting dissipated into a “red ripple.” Republicans still appear likely to take control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, but by a narrower margin than many expected.
The results can be attributed to a number of factors, from Republican leaders’ focusing on the wrong issues to Democrats’ successful whitewashing of lockdown harms. Without question, Democrats played an outsized role in America’s catastrophic response to Covid-19. Lockdowns and mandates were far longer and stricter in left-leaning states and cities, doing incalculable harm to their own residents, economies, and societies.
Given that Democrats played such an enormous role in this policy catastrophe, it’s reasonable to expect that voters should respond by rewarding Republicans at the polls. But if Republicans want voters to take this issue as seriously as it should be taken, voters first have to see Republicans taking it seriously themselves.
Thus far, Republican leadership and those seeking to please them have generally tried to shape the narrative surrounding lockdowns as having been all Democrats’ idea. This has meant focusing almost entirely on Democratic leaders in the White House like Anthony Fauci and Rochelle Walensky, while highlighting the impact of Democratic tribalism and downplaying the role of Republicans in the genesis of lockdowns. Vote Republican—any Republican, so this narrative goes—and these problems will be solved.
The problem with this narrative is that it’s transparently untrue, and voters aren’t that dumb. No adult voter alive today has forgotten that the lockdowns actually began in Italy and spread throughout Europe in a domino effect before making their way to America. Nor have voters forgotten that a Republican president, Donald Trump, was in office when lockdowns went into effect, and that Trump signed the original order for “15 days to slow the spread.”
As I and others at the Brownstone Institute have written about extensively, the provenance of Covid lockdowns is a complicated and opaque story (many would argue, deliberately complicated and opaque). They had their theoretical rationalization in the shady vein of medieval pseudoscience recently resurrected as “social distancing,” and the strict lockdowns of spring 2020 were instigated to a significant degree by right-wing national security officials, a sudden pro-lockdown blitz across all media channels with the go-ahead of military leaders, the actions of political leaders in China and Europe, and an unprecedented campaign of propaganda and influence by the Chinese Communist Party.
When the average Democratic voter sees Republicans twisting the story of the initial lockdowns to whitewash the role of their own leadership, they roll their eyes and assume this is just ordinary partisan squabbling. “Both Republicans and Democrats tell me Democrats came up with lockdowns,” so these voters think, “and I trust Democrats. Therefore, Democrats must have done it to keep me safe.”
Instead, if Republicans want the response to Covid to be a top-priority issue among voters, they need to be more honest about both the unprecedented harm these policies caused and the role that some of their own cadres played in instigating them. This means being forthcoming with the public about the unbelievable number of excess deaths among young people which can’t be attributed to the virus, as well as the severity of the mental health, economic, and education crisis these policies have caused. It also means admitting error in their own support for these policies. Ron DeSantis is the closest that any Republican has come to doing these things, and he’s been rewarded handsomely for it at the polls.
Republicans also need to prioritize finding out who exactly instigated lockdowns, and why. This could potentially implicate some Republican bigwigs—but then, who would want them as leaders, anyway?
For example, Jared Kushner backed Deborah Birx as White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, telling Scott Atlas that Birx was “100% MAGA!” But after leaving her post, Birx leapt into the arms of Democrats in Congress, who’ve defended her from scrutiny for her role.
Birx was 100% red alright—the other red.
The benefit of being on the right side of history is that all you have to do is be honest. Democrats played an outsized role in the worst policy catastrophe of the 21st century to date. All Republicans have to do is treat voters like adults, being forthcoming about the magnitude of the devastation caused by lockdowns and mandates and their illegitimate provenance.
It’s tempting to focus on the instances in which large groups get things wrong, and to conclude that people are stupid. But on the contrary, democracy works because, most of the time, there’s a wisdom to the reasoning of the electorate. In the presidential election of 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War, most voters cited the Chinese Communist Party as their top issue of concern. If voters knew the real story of how lockdowns came about, there’s no doubt that it would be now as well.
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