Dwindling Public Concern About COVID Is Handing Republicans a Gift

Of all the things I expected to say at this point in 2022, “it’s great to be a Republican right now” was nowhere among them. If you had told my a year ago that the post Trump GOP would be anything but a shattered shambles, I would have believed you. belly-laughed like Jabba the Hutt and then questioned your fitness as a political observer… yet here we are, so who’s the smart guy? But not me.

Despite all that has taken place since 2016 — Donald Trump’s crashing mismanagement of COVID, the economic and social upheaval caused by the pandemic, the loss of one million lives, the sacking of the Capitol Building by a mob of Trump voters wielding Confederate flags, and the disgraceful deportment of the former president as he licks his wounds beneath an indifferent Florida sky — the Republican Party is somehow presently occupying all manner of political catbird seats. If the pattern holds, it may come to be the best trick anyone has seen since “Lazarus, come forth.”

At present, President Biden’s approval rating hovers down in the depths where only Trump and George W. Bush have visited. This, despite the lowest jobless numbers since time out of mind, a shallowing of COVID infection rates across the board, as well as the president’s not-as-bad-as-it-could-be handling of an impossible situation in Ukraine.

Also, and not for nothing, it’s quieter now. That sense of waking up every day trapped inside someone else’s screaming headache has been dispersed with such vigor that pundits are able to spend time snarking about Biden’s “gaffes” after four years of televised Trumpy mayhem. Although I’m not a pollster, you would think that a new calm would be worth ten points more.

2021-2022 were both caused by Trump’s daily calamity in 2020. However, he currently squats with a $110 million campaign war chest. This amount is greater than any other PAC, super PAC, or party-affiliated commission. Trump’s hoardTowers over the sums collected by would-be challengers to the throne.

Aside from fees paid to lawyers representing defendants in the Capitol attack investigation, “Trump has done little to spend his largesse around the party,” according to Politico. This strongly suggests Trump will want that money for his own use when he runs for the White House in 2024.

A series of election-night debacles stripped the polish from the polling industry’s veneer over the last several cycles, leaving it a feeble stick to lean on. For all their faults, almost all of them are predicting Democratic doom at the upcoming midterm elections. The GOP is poised to regain control in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. This will set up a downhill race to 2024 and possibly the return to the White House of Donald Trump. Incredible? Yes. Impossible? It’s impossible?

For me, it all comes back to COVID and Trump’s generally ruinous, self-serving handling of the crisis. How is it possible for his party to be in such a strong place with so many grievous wounds that are still open and bleeding? Another pair of public surveys may have the answer. CNN reports:

Recent Gallup pollIt gives us great insight. Only 3 percent of Americans believe that the coronavirus and other diseases are the biggest problem facing the country.. That’s less than half the previous low for this answer (8 percent), which occurred in mid-2021 when case rates were also falling. A record 45% of Americans said that coronavirus was their top problem two years ago (April 2020). It’s not surprising that we’re nowhere near that level anymore. I still had to step back when I saw the 3 percent.

The Gallup poll isn’t the only one to show that the significance of the pandemic in the minds of Americans has fallen dramatically. Recent NBC News pollAlso, only 3 percent of respondents said that the coronavirus was their most important problem. The public is not the only one who cares less about the pandemic than they have ever been. Cable news had fewer mentions of “covid” in March (less than 2,700) than in any month since the beginning of the pandemic. At its peak, there were over 17,000 monthly mentions of “covid” on cable news.

(Emphasis added)

Wow, y’all. That was amazing! Fast … fast, and, I suppose, entirely predictable. It is obvious that after two long years, the COVID grind has made people desperate to care about anything and everything. “What’s that, you say? Food and fuel prices are over the moon, and it’s World War III in Europe? Huzzah, something else to think about, finally!”

Gallows humor aside, there is a reason why “it’s the economy, stupid” is considered political holy writ by both parties. Given the chance to vote their wallet or some larger concept, a majority of voters will infallibly vote “wallet.”

The Gordian knot of the matter lies here, however. None of the country’s current bread-and-butter concerns about rising inflation and wobbly international supply chains will be properly addressed until COVID-19 is properly addressed and dealt with both here and around the world. You’ll have to see Mr. Putin about the gas prices, but even those were heaving upward before the Ukraine invasion thanks to the aforementioned supply line problems.

… and no matter what the lowering numbers of the moment may preach, COVID is not finished with us. “On March 22 the World Health Organization announced that the Omicron subvariant BA.2 had become the dominant form of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, worldwide,” reports Scientific American. “BA.2 shares many genetic similarities with its close relative BA.1, which fueled a global resurgence in COVID infections in recent months. But BA.2 is between 30 percent and 50 percent more contagious than BA.1.”

Also, it’s back again, just as before, and we are still woefully unprepared. This woeful state in our preparedness could be described as an extraordinary act of self-sabotage. The latest spending package included $15 billion in COVID preparation funds. Congress just recently rescinded that amount. In the moment, states are being forced to limit or shut down their COVID defenses due to lack of these funds. This is just as B.A.2 really begins to stretch its legs.

I don’t know how you fix such irresponsible systemic indifference, especially when the political climate of the moment (3 percent?!) It doesn’t seem urgent to do so. As history shows, B.A.2 (or something similar) will make a huge impact on the country and we’ll all be in a familiar place. It will take us back to where we started. If Republicans gain momentum, we can bet our sorry pandemic preparedness level will sink further into the depths.