Donald Trump unleashed the feral id that establishment Republicans had been carefully controlling to their electoral benefit for years. By talking about the “very fine people” in white supremacist groups, by encouraging police brutality, and by promising to “lock up” his political opponents, Trump has put the GOP firmly on the path of authoritarianism, with his followers expressing a cult-like devotion to him.
Not any more. While Trump has tightened his hold on the GOP, he has slowly been losing his control over his hard core followers. The reason has to do with Trump’s vanity.
Trump wants to claim credit for the COVID vaccine, only so he keeps talking about how great it is. His erstwhile followers think the vaccine is some kind of bioweapon designed to render women infertile and change DNA.
In what would have once been considered an almost impossible to imagine situation, Trump has actually been booed for promoting the vaccines. “We saved tens of millions worldwide by creating the vaccine,” Trump told disgraced former Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly during an event in December. The crowd immediately began to boo, prompting Trump to tell them to stop.
It wasn’t the first time that happened. It happened at a rally last August as well.
Some Trump supporters tried to explain away Trump’s support for the vaccines on the grounds that he’s just confused.
“He needs an intervention from a friend because he’s the greatest president of my lifetime,” right-wing radio host Wayne Allyn Root said. “I love him. I will always love him…He’s been right on everything except this issues. He’s so horribly wrong on this issue.”
Others were a lot less forgiving. Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones complained, “Hell, we’re fighting Bill Gates and Fauci and Biden and the New World Order and Psaki and the Davos Group. And now we’ve got Trump on their team!”
Worst still are the rank-and-file Trumpists, the ones who followed Trump’s counsel and marched on the Capitol on January 6. “A lot of people in the MAGA Patriot community are like, ‘What is up with Trump?’” Paul Davis, a Texas lawyer, told The New York Times. “With most of us, the vaccines are anathema.”
People like Davis see themselves as the footsoldiers in a new American revolution. But now they are questioning whether Trump is really their general.
Of course, who else could they turn to? Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is doing his best to nudge Trump aside by exploiting the Trumpists’ queasiness about vaccines. DeSantis has refused to say whether or not he has received a booster, for which Trump has called him “gutless.” But this is a case where DeSantis is reading the crowd better than Trump is. The governor is probably a hypocrite who has been boosted, but he wants to appeal to the vaccine haters in the base. By promoting the vaccine, Trump is just irritating the MAGA crowd even more.
Maybe by 2024, vaccines will no longer be such a hot topic. Certainly, Trump has been playing with other themes, including a naked appeal to white resentment. He recently claimed that white people are at “the back of the line” when it comes to COVID vaccines and treatment.
If Trump’s career has taught us anything, it’s never to count him out. But it may also be true that the forces that Trump unleashed are so large that they can turn even on him.