Juan Williams: The GOP is criminally reckless on COVID

Here comes trouble.

What happens if President Biden, facing a new surge in COVID, asks people to start wearing masks again? What happens if he suggests people stay home for a while to get the virus under control?

Here’s my bet:

The Republican Party — and former President Trump — will exploit public frustration to stir up votes in the 2022 midterms.

{mosads}They will exaggerate public anger and sound economic alarms. Their goal will be to amplify the backlash against any renewed safety measures as a campaign issue.

Of course, that requires GOP leaders to conveniently ignore that Biden got one shot of vaccine into nearly 70 percent of adults — and reopened an economy that was shut for over a year due to Trump’s mismanaged federal response.

In a preview of these coming political games, many Republican politicians and conservative talk-show hosts are already trying to distract from the fact they’ve been discouraging Republicans from getting vaccinated.

Instead of admitting guilt for the virus gaining strength in Republican strongholds, the Trump crowd is positioning themselves as the lifesavers — betting that enough voters will forget they were the arsonists who started the blaze.

This grim political game is underway as 42 states have seen a spike in COVID-19 infections in the first week of July.

New daily cases have more than doubled in the past three weeks.

The single biggest reason is that millions of Republicans refuse to get vaccinated.

Overall, 86 percent of Democrats have had a least one shot of the vaccine, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, but only 45 percent of Republicans have done so.

Ali Mokdad, of the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, told NPR he expects deaths to start climbing from 200 per day this summer to more than a 1,000 per day by fall.

If that happens, Biden will be constrained from taking steps to limit COVID’s spread by fear of the political fallout. Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top virus doctor, have already rejected the idea of a national vaccination mandate.

Meanwhile, Republicans are positioning themselves to blame Biden and Fauci if schools and workplaces have trouble opening in the fall.

“I’m perplexed by the difficulty we have in finishing the job,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recently told reporters.

He appeared to never have heard the defiant, anti-vaccine message coming from so many Republicans, in statehouses, in Congress and in conservative media.

McConnell said he only speaks for himself when asked about vaccine skeptics within his own conference.

One such figure, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), recently held an event to attract television attention to people who said they had a bad reaction to a COVID shot.

Johnson’s political act prompted Dr. David Kessler, the head of the White House COVID response, to say: “Look around with your own eyes and you can see the hundreds of millions of vaccines that have taken place with a remarkable safety record.”

McConnell also had nothing to say when a right-wing crowd at this month’s Conservative Political Action Conference cheered the assertion that the government was trying to “sucker” Americans into getting vaccinated.

“It’s horrifying,” Dr. Fauci told CNN, of the crowd’s reaction.

“I mean, they are cheering about someone saying that it’s a good thing for people not to try and save their lives…I just don’t get that. I mean, and I don’t think that anybody who’s thinking clearly can get that. What is that all about?”

The answer is the GOP refuses to stand up to conspiracy theories, beginning with Trump’s “Big Lie” about the 2020 election.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), a former QAnon backer, tweeted last week: “Thousands of people are reporting very serious life changing vaccine side effects from taking covid vaccines…Social media is censoring their stories…Just say NO!”

Similarly, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) is playing on the GOP appetite for grievances.

Biggs, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, recently lashed out at Biden for a “blatant abuse of government authority” because Biden called for volunteers to encourage vaccinations “community by community…door to door.”

{mossecondads}There will be no mention in the Trump-media echo chamber of this bad faith if the virus continues to spread.

And there will also be no mention of Missouri Gov. Mike Parsons (R) signing a bill in June to limit local governments from calling for restrictions to prevent COVID’s spread.

By early July, the highly contagious Delta variant of Covid was deeply rooted in Missouri, making up about 70 percent of the state’s new cases in some areas.

The Missouri story is reflected nationwide.

In counties won by Trump, only 35 percent of the population is fully vaccinated compared to 47 percent in counties that Biden won, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

And 99.5 percent of all the Americans now dying from COVID-19 are people who are not vaccinated.

I understand mistrust of big government — particularly on matters of health, given our sordid history with tragic episodes like the Tuskegee Experiment.

But healthy skepticism is very far from a crass political game in which Republicans put the lives of people listening to them at risk in order to stir up votes for the midterms.

That’s criminal.

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.

Tags 2020 midterms Anthony Fauci Coronavirus COVID vaccine Donald Trump Joe Biden Marjorie Taylor Greene Mitch McConnell Pandemic Ron Johnson vaccinations

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