Talking Points

Don't question Trump's reversal on vaccines — praise it

I come now to praise Donald Trump.

It's weird! He's awful! But it's the right thing to do, because this week the former president did a rare good thing: During a joint appearance Sunday with the former Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, he told his followers that he had received a booster vaccine for COVID. The crowd booed — anti-vax sentiment has become a core Republican tenet in 2021, so much so that GOP officials who have gotten their shots tend to hem and haw around the question. Trump himself has at times been hesitant to challenge his followers on the topic. 

On Sunday, though, he leaned into his administration's role in getting vaccines into production — and invited his followers to share in the achievement. "We did something that was historic," Trump told the audience. "We saved tens of millions of lives worldwide … Take credit for it. Take credit for it."

On Monday, he doubled down with a handwritten note to the New York Times' Maggie Haberman: 

Now, this is what Trump should have been doing all along. If he'd been willing to get his initial vaccine shots publicly, or if he's spent 2021 urging Republicans to do the same, it's possible that a lot of lives would have been saved. Would Fox News have done so much work to sow doubts about vaccines if Trump had argued more vocally in their favor? Unlikely. Instead, people living in pro-Trump counties were three times as likely to die of COVID during most of this year as people living in places that supported President Biden in last year's election. That's a lot of terrible, unnecessary carnage. 

Why did Trump suddenly embrace his vaccine legacy? Maybe he wants more credit for their existence — right now his presidency is remembered mostly for what it got wrong on COVID. Or maybe he has decided that it's not a great idea for the Republican Party to keep putting its most ardent voters at risk of premature death. Maybe it's just a Christmas miracle. Who knows? It's Trump: Whatever the reason, it's probably selfish and narcissistic, and he'll probably do something in the next few days to make me regret writing something even minimally favorable about him.

For now, though, he has done the right thing. Let's hope that his followers take note and that it's enough to save a few more lives.