Donald Trump's COVID-19 Vaccine Dissonance

Donald Trump thinks Joe Biden is doing a bad job with the vaccines. He doesn’t think Biden is the legitimate president, either. And he wants his supporters—and anyone else who’ll listen—to know it.

Trump’s latest statement comes as vaccinations have plateaued in the United States. It’s hard to say whether he’s gone full anti-vax here, but it’s close. Either way, it’s a humorous moment of cognitive dissonance for Trump, even in a life that’s surely full of them.

You might remember Trump was quite jealous of vaccine progress earlier this year. He went out of his way to try reminding people who they should be thanking for the vaccine. Biden’s popularity was soaring, and things were moving so fast his vanity could hardly keep up. Now, as vaccines have slowed, Trump’s changing his tune. It’s an easy opportunity to take a pot shot at Biden for blowing what his administration “accomplished.”

But it almost goes without saying there’s no evidence to Trump’s claims. Tying in voting results is a dead giveaway, of course. Still, a variety of factors play into vaccine confidence; some are political, but many aren’t. The same people hesitant about the vaccine now likely would’ve been hesitant if it were distributed while Trump was in office. Many Democrats voiced their pause as Trump tried to rush the vaccine through before the 2020 election, going so far as to overrule FDA guidelines last October.

Is that cognitive dissonance wholly different? Are Democrats hypocrites for trusting a vaccine rolled out by the Biden administration under similar rushed conditions? Maybe. Biden didn’t call out his scientific advisors and overrule the largest federal health agency, though. And even still, there’s still a fair chance Democrats would’ve shown more confidence in a vaccine than their Republican counterparts. It would’ve been interesting to see Trump and his team deal with those mental gymnastics. But we’re probably better off never finding out how they would have.

So why does what Trump says matter? It might seem hard to believe, but he hasn’t been in office for six months now. Trump is mostly out of the public eye, existing primarily on the fringes of American political discourse. He pops up every now and again to launch a bummer social media site or make a CPAC speech. He’s a peripheral figure at best, but still commands the Republican Party through his outsize influence and voter base.

Trump remains a power broker as long as his voters listen (or pledge their voting allegiance) to him, and that makes pretty much everything he does or says newsworthy. He still drives conversations because he matters, and partially because mainstream news outlets use him to drive ratings. Less coverage of him and things he says would be more ideal, of course. But given his political pull that doesn’t seem realistic, at least not anytime soon. And as long as he’s leaning into public vaccine slowdowns or voicing his distrust of the vaccine—one that he took almost as soon as it was available, by the way—he’ll grab headlines.