COVID-19 rules boomerang on Democrats
Coronavirus policies are beginning to boomerang on Democrats as polls underscore public fatigue with both the pandemic and the rules and mandates intended to keep it from spreading.
Democrats have been generally unified in backing vaccinations and the use of masks and mask mandates by local communities to stop the spread, but the party’s voters are becoming more divided on the continued aggressive use of such restrictions, and frustration is mounting.
In San Francisco on Tuesday, three school board members were recalled in a special recall election. The recall wasn’t entirely related to COVID-19, but voters in the liberal enclave were partly upset the board members had focused on renaming schools instead of reopening them swiftly and safely.
A number of Democratic governors have taken note of the frustrations, moving to lift their mask mandates even as the Biden administration has signaled it would stick to stricter guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Still, the party’s generally strict stance on coronavirus safety measures could end up backfiring as Democrats find themselves on defense going into the midterm elections.
Republicans are already using the issue to go on the offense against Democrats, calling it hypocritical.
“The science never changed. The science didn’t matter,” said Joanna Rodriguez, deputy communications director at the Republican Governor’s Association. “The science was an excuse they used in order to control people’s lives and rule people in a way that they felt was appropriate while they played by their own rules.”
Republicans point to examples of Democrats appearing maskless in public settings as signs of what they say is their hypocrisy on the issue. California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D), along with most fans, appeared maskless in photos at the Super Bowl on Sunday despite Los Angeles County’s mask mandate for large outdoor events.
Meanwhile, Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams became the subject of GOP backlash when she appeared maskless in a photo with masked schoolchildren. Abrams later apologized.
“People are realizing that at the end of the day they are tired of having leaders who aren’t going to live by the rules that they’re forcing on everyone else,” Rodriguez said.
Democrats argue that the decisions being made by their leaders on the coronavirus vary from state by state and are influenced by the science learned from the latest stage of the pandemic.
“Democratic governors have led the way in combating the pandemic, and the results show it. Instead of basing any decision on politics, their recommendations use the best science available to implement evidence-based policies that will work best in their states and for their constituents,” said Christina Amestoy, a senior adviser with the Democratic Governors Association. “While the execution may vary state to state, there is no ambiguity about the overarching goals: get the economy growing and keep people safe.”
Amestoy and Democrats have also hit Republicans over “dangerous anti-vax rhetoric” or what they say is the denial that the pandemic is still ongoing.
“The contrast in leadership, and the lack thereof, could not be starker,” she said.
But Democratic leaders are also facing pushback from members of their own party on the issue of rolling back mask mandates.
The moves to lift mask mandates are in stark contrast with the Biden administration, which is sticking to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, at the end of last year while the omicron variant was surging in communities across the U.S., President Biden said the surge needed to be solved at the state level.
Washington, D.C., lifted its vaccine mandate this week and is set to lift its mask mandate next month, leading to one Democratic D.C. Council member to propose legislation that would reinstate the city’s vaccine mandate.
And Democratic voters do not appear to be warming to the idea of lifting mandates. A Politico-Morning Consult survey released on Wednesday found that 65 percent of Democrats think it’s too early for states to rescind mask mandates.
Democratic strategists and operatives maintain that its voters and leaders are not divided on COVID-19 strategy but say the pandemic has entered a new stage.
“We’re at a different stage because of the result of good policymaking decisions backed by scientists, by Biden and by Democratic governors,” said one Democratic strategist.
Strategists argue that it’s too early to tell how the rollback of restrictions will impact the midterms but acknowledge the party is on the defense going into November.
“We’re struggling right now because I think a lot of people see us as out of touch on inflation, they see us as out of touch on crime, and we just simply can’t afford to be viewed as out of touch on COVID,” said Tyler Law, a Democratic strategist and former national press secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
A Monmouth University poll released last month found that 70 percent of respondents said they agreed with the sentiment “It’s time we accept that Covid is here to stay and we just need to get on with our lives,” including 89 percent of Republicans, 71 percent of independents and 47 percent of Democrats.
Democrats say the partisanship on the issue is unsurprising but warn the party should be cognizant of the views of voters in the middle.
“What we are seeing is the folks in the middle, who themselves are extremely likely to be vaccinated and boosted, they are starting to lose patience with the slow speed at which we return to normalcy,” Law said. “And so we can’t afford politically to lose those voters in the middle.”