Speaking to One America News last week, Trump fired a shot at DeSantis. “They don’t want to say [if they’ve received a booster shot] because they’re gutless,” Trump said, obliquely referring to the Florida governor’s reluctance to say whether he had received a booster shot. “You gotta say it, whether you had it or not. Say it. But the fact is that I think the vaccines saved tens of millions throughout the world. I’ve had absolutely no side effects.” The idea here is to paint DeSantis as a typical politician, someone acting squirrely in a desperate attempt to cozy up to voters. Trump, in this version, is the straight shooter. DeSantis, meanwhile, is just another hack—exactly the type of spineless Republican that Trump easily cut through as he marched to the party’s nomination in 2016. But Trump’s own base may not have his back.
This isn’t 2016, and on vaccines, Trump is being outflanked on the right by many within his party. He, too, is trying to square a circle: appealing to his party’s rabid base by questioning “lockdowns” and other anti-Covid measures, while simultaneously insisting that he deserves credit for the vaccines themselves. As more boosters are required—something that seems increasingly likely as months go by—these shots will likely become even more of a political third rail on the right. Trump was, of course, booed by supporters for saying he was boosted at a rally late last year. DeSantis’s booster skepticism—which, by the way, is squirrely—is more in line with where Republican voters are right now than Trump’s own triumphalism.
That, of course, is disastrous from a public health and economic perspective and suggests that new variants of Covid-19, which have had a much more destructive impact on America than other more vaccinated countries, will continue to rage like a wildfire. But it also points to a growing, distressing political reality. Republican Party orthodoxy is now anti-vaccine, and particularly anti-booster. Ron DeSantis understands this. Donald Trump doesn’t.