Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Trump: RFK Jr. Is a Fake Anti-Vaxxer

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is doing something that no other politician has been able to do: He makes Donald Trump squirm. Trump's problem is that he doesn't have a good position on vaccines. As president, he practically demanded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for starting Operation Warp Speed, in which the federal government doled out $18 billion to pharmaceutical companies to allow them to develop and distribute COVID-19 vaccine much faster than their own resources would have allowed. Pfizer and BioNTech didn't take any government money (to avoid the accompanying bureaucracy and reporting requirements), but Moderna took $2.5 billion in government money and used it to produce one of the two viable vaccines.

At the time, Trump bragged that his funding vaccine development was "one of the greatest miracles of the ages." He even complained later that he hadn't been given enough credit for avoiding another 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. He also went after the Biden administration later on, saying that all the credit for producing the vaccines that tamed the pandemic belonged to him and none to Biden.

Now that RFK Jr., a solid-gold, no-holds-barred anti-vaxxer, is starting to make inroads with the anti-vaxx crowd, nearly all of whom are Trumpers, Trump is trying to make all of his history as a vaccine champion go down the rabbit hole. He is seriously worried that Kennedy could pull votes from those supporters for whom anti-vaxness is the biggest issue in their lives.

So how does Trump pull this off? He is accusing Kennedy of being a "fake" anti-vaxxer, and implying that he is the only true anti-vaxxer in the race. But he has to tread lightly because the 20% of Republicans who keep voting for Nikki Haley in the closed primaries, months after she dropped out, are probably mostly normal Republicans and not anti-vaxxers and he can't afford to alienate them. In other words, to his anti-vaxxer supporters, he is the true anti-vaxxer but to his normie Republican supporters, he is the hero who developed the vaccine that ended the pandemic. Having it both ways is not going to be easy and will get only worse if and when the Democrats begin running ads highlighting Kennedy's anti-vaxx stances and telling people: "If you don't trust vaccines, Bobby is your man."

This is not Trump's first vaccine problem, but it keeps coming up. During the early primaries, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) ran on a record of being the biggest vaccine hater in town. Trump tried to deal with that by claiming, no, he hated vaccines more than the governor. After DeSantis was vanquished, Trump moved back to the center and was once again proud of Operation Warp Speed. Now with Kennedy biting his ankles, Trump again wants to be the anti-vaxxer-in-chief. The base will believe whatever they're fed, but college-educated Republicans, who are leaving the party in droves, won't be so easy to fool, especially if the Democrats start running ads showing Trump flip-flopping more than a just-caught fish dropped on the dock.

Kennedy doesn't threaten Biden on vaccines at all. Biden's position is simple: "I believe in science and support vaccination against all diseases for which a proven vaccine is available." Very few Democrats have a problem with that. (V)

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