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California recall lesson: Telling the truth about Republicans and COVID is a winner


Trump is no doubt raising money off emails trashing Biden's vaccine mandate. But Texas and Florida polls suggest that's not a great way to win votes.

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The Constitution makes clear it is the responsibility of U.S. leaders to “promote the general Welfare.” At the very least that must mean keeping your citizens alive in a pandemic.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom did not seem like the ideal messenger for this message after dining maskless in November at a fancy restaurant, the now infamous French Laundry, with friends. But the raft of would-be Republican replacements hoping to oust him in this week’s recall election turned out to be far worse in that role.

Newsom’s resounding success in keeping his job shows Democrats can win simply by telling the truth about their Republican opponents – that they are threats to democracy, the common good, public health and life itself.

From former President Donald Trump to Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas to Larry Elder and some of the others who tried to succeed Newsom, the theme among a certain brand of GOP politicians today is that you have the right to do whatever you want no matter who it hurts, be they old and fragile, children too young to be vaccinated, or immunocompromised people who don’t get the full effect of vaccines.

“You either keep Gavin Newsom as your governor or you'll get Donald Trump,” President Joe Biden warned on Monday, the final day of Newsom’s campaign.

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Trump explained it all Tuesday in an email where he emphasized some points with bold or italicized type: “I told you Biden didn't care about you. He doesn't care about you or your freedoms. He just mandated the Covid vaccine for 80 MILLION Americans. The last time I checked, we live in a FREE Country. The Left is working overtime to CONTROL you, Fellow Patriot. First, they wanted to mandate MASKS, and now they're mandating VACCINES - can you believe it? I think the vaccine is brilliant and I'm very pleased with how quickly we turned it around, despite the Trump haters who said we'd never get it done. However, mandating vaccines is simply UN-AMERICAN.”

Trump is being both illogical and dishonest here. If a president is trying to improve your chances of surviving a pandemic, how can you say he doesn’t care about you? And mandating vaccines is, in fact, deeply American, starting with George Washington’s order that his troops get the smallpox vaccine and continuing right up to now with vaccine requirements for the military and for school students in all 50 states.

Stop with the nonsense: Just tell the truth about why you won't get a COVID vaccination

Elder, the radio host who emerged as the strongest contender for Newsom’s job, expressed the same opinion as Trump, but in less flamboyant terms. "Will you continue to prioritize personal choice over vaccine mandates and other measures that many experts say could end this pandemic?” he was asked Sunday. “Yes, I will,” he said. “I still think we have personal freedoms, personal choice.” And despite a huge spike in COVID-19 cases among children, he added that “in my opinion,” science doesn’t support the idea that children should be vaccinated.

In the end, after party fears that voters might sit out the recall, California Democrats cared enough to turn out for Newsom and avoid the path forged by DeSantis and Abbott, a pair of Trump understudies making occasional star turns on the national stage as they wait for the 2024 presidential race to take shape.

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DeSantis once worried me as a contender; his display of compassionate leadership after the Surfside condo collapse struck all the notes Trump never did on COVID. But his hard-line stand against vaccine and mask mandates is massively hypocritical and deadly. He is trying to slap financial penalties and other punishments on officials in school districts that mandate masks and against local governments that mandate vaccines. And in a stunningly unconservative intrusion into business decisions, he tried to ban vaccine mandates in the private sector (a federal judge shot that down last month in a cruise ship case).

Abbott has made recent headlines by signing dramatic new restrictions on abortion and voting, but he's no slouch on COVID. Like DeSantis, he has banned both vaccine mandates and local mask mandates

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Give me liberty or death wasn't a signal to skip the vaccine

From Trump on down, the Republican Party is kowtowing to hardcore conservatives and libertarians who are more concerned about themselves than their neighbors and their country. And it’s not playing well.

COVID etiquette: How to deal politely with the unvaccinated at work, parties, weddings

Biden is down in overall job approval, but majorities support the COVID vaccine mandates Trump complains about so bitterly. The former president is no doubt raising money off his email stink bombs. But votes? Polls of Texas and Florida suggest that's a tougher sell.

When Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death,” he was talking about freedom from an oppressive British monarchy – not from a lifesaving vaccine. Today’s vaccine resisters are putting their lives on the line for the freedom to score political points.

The preamble to the Constitution, in addition to citing the general welfare, also mentions securing “the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” But liberty is useless to the dead and the children they never had.

Jill Lawrence is a columnist for USA TODAY and author of "The Art of the Political Deal: How Congress Beat the Odds and Broke Through Gridlock." Follow her on Twitter: @JillDLawrence

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