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Partisan divide over virus deepens as Republicans push Trump on masks

Fact: The number of new coronavirus cases in America hit a single-day high on Tuesday, the fourth time in just a week that the country had shattered a previous record since the pandemic began.

Fact: New cases in the United States has surged 80 percent in just the last two weeks.

Other Fact: Nearly two-thirds of Republicans in a Pew Research poll say the “outbreak has been exaggerated.”

The debate over the biggest threat to our public health in a century has become hopelessly politicized, and the same goes for the seemingly common-sense practice of wearing a mask.

In the Pew survey, the 63 percent of Republicans who said in early June that Covid-19 has been exaggerated is up from 47 percent in April. Just 18 percent of Democrats consider the outbreak exaggerated, up slightly from 14 percent in April. (Of course, the curve did seem to be flattened in early June before the surge that has rocked so many states since then.)

As with so many other issues, some of this revolves around President Trump:

“Of those who said they rely most on Trump and the White House for news about the outbreak, fully 68% say that the coronavirus has been ‘made a bigger deal than it really is.’ No more than four-in-ten of those who rely on any of the other sources say the virus and its impact have been blown out of proportion.”

A couple of other numbers: Some 65 percent of those surveyed say Trump and his administration get the facts right “some of the time” or “hardly ever,”” compared with 16 percent who say that about the media.

But here’s the partisan chasm again: Among Democrats and independents leaning Democratic, 60 percent say the media get the facts right about coronavirus all or most of the time. Among Republicans and Republican learners, only 25 percent say that about the media.

There is little question that the president has been focusing less on Covid-19, at least in public. And that this dampened the media coverage, at least until the surge that produced 47,000 new cases on Tuesday and has pushed the story back to the top of television news).

And it’s no coincidence that Mike Pence led the first coronavirus task force briefing in two months last week, which wasn’t at the White House and did not involve the president.

Politico says such Trump advisers as Jared Kushner, Mark Meadows, Kayleigh McEnany and Hope Hicks are arguing against resuming regular briefings because they want to focus on the economy “without scaring too much of the country about a virus resurgence when infections are rising at different paces in different regions.” The vice president and his team argue that it’s important to keep updating the country on a pandemic that has claimed more than 126,000 lives.

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One unnamed official told Politico that sidelining the briefings “left a void that was filled by the media and the president’s political opponents in order to mislead people, and it resulted on the administration being put on the defensive.”

It has also meant vastly reduced airtime for Anthony Fauci, who made headlines when he testified this week that “we could be back to 100,000 cases a day if trends aren’t reversed. If things don’t turn around, It could get very bad.” This guy has been working on infectious diseases since the Reagan administration, and I don’t get conservatives keep attacking him for offering his unvarnished view.

 

At the same time, a whole bunch of prominent Republicans are urging people to wear masks to protect themselves and others. These include Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, Chuck Grassley and Dick Cheney. Such Fox News hosts as Sean Hannity and Steve Doocy have also joined the chorus. They were, in effect, breaking with the president.

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“The recent shift on the political right has left Trump isolated, with the president and his White House staff openly resisting the calls for mask-wearing,” the Washington Post reported.

Sen. Lamar Alexander nailed it at a hearing: “Unfortunately this simple life-saving practice has become part of a political debate that says: If you’re for Trump, you don’t wear a mask. If you’re against Trump, you do.”

The Tennessee Republican says he’s suggested that the president wear a mask occasionally, even though it’s not necessary, because others will follow his lead.

Trump has resisted wearing a mask in public and sounded ambivalent about whether it’s good advice. But yesterday, the message from his party seemed to have gotten through.

“I’m all for masks. I think masks are good,” Trump told Fox Business Network. He said he has worn one and “I sort of liked the way I looked.”

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