Trump Should Be a Celebrity Vaccine Ambassador

White Republicans are among the most skeptical about “the jab.” There’s one man who can change that.

Ms. Cottle is a member of the editorial board.

  • March 3, 2021
Trump Should Be a Celebrity Vaccine Ambassador 1
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

First, the good news for America: People are getting their Covid-19 vaccine shots — or jabs, as they’ve been dubbed. Daily vaccination numbers have topped 1.9 million, with more than 50 million Americans having received at least one dose. With Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine coming online this week, those numbers are set to grow even faster. On Tuesday, President Biden announced that there would be enough vaccine for every American adult by the end of May.

Now, the bad news: There’s still too much vaccine hesitancy in the land. “We’re going to go from a supply problem to a demand problem,” Dr. David Kessler, the chief science officer for the federal government’s coronavirus response, said at a conference this week. “We need to make sure that all people can trust the safety of the vaccine.”

While the numbers have been improving among some demographic groups, skepticism has stayed stubbornly high among one big cohort: Republicans. As of Monday, 42 percent of Republicans said they did not intend to get vaccinated, according to polling by Civiqs. Only 28 percent said they planned to. These numbers have grown slightly worse since the polling began in November.

By contrast, only 6 percent of Democrats said they would not get vaccinated, versus 66 percent who said they would. Among independents, 43 percent planned to get vaccinated; 30 percent didn’t. Breaking it down by race, 56 percent of African-Americans and 57 percent of Hispanic and Latino respondents said they planned to get their shots, compared with only 44 percent of whites.

Around a quarter of the U.S. population identifies as Republican. If less than half of these folks get vaccinated, this could put at least a hitch in the journey toward herd immunity. Clearly, America needs a big marketing push targeted at vaccine-skittish conservatives.

The obvious solution: Have Donald Trump become a celebrity vaccine crusader.

Don’t laugh. The former president himself sowed the seeds for this idea during his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Sunday, his first big post-presidential appearance. “Everybody, go get your shot,” he urged the audience.

Yes! What a fabulous idea! And what a perfect messenger for the cause.

The former president desperately needs something to do with his time. He has been stripped of his favorite hobby — rage tweeting — and there is only so much golf one man can play. Even one who owns a bunch of golf courses.

Complicating matters, he’s never shown much interest in policy, government or democracy, so there aren’t a lot of obvious causes for which he could be recruited. He’s not a good candidate to spearhead a relief mission, like former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton did in Haiti. Having him involved in monitoring foreign elections, à la Jimmy Carter, is only slightly less hilarious than the thought of him out building houses for Habitat for Humanity.

But if there’s one thing Mr. Trump does know, it’s how to sell stuff. And, as has become disturbingly clear over the past few years, the Republican electorate is willing to buy whatever he’s peddling. Why not put his gifts to productive use? Instead of pushing partisan fiction or dangerous conspiracy theories, direct it toward convincing his legion of fans of the benefits of protecting themselves — and their loved ones — from a lethal pandemic.

Admittedly, Mr. Trump did more than almost anyone to politicize the pandemic and downplay its dangers. His call to vaccination at CPAC was less a public service announcement than a boast, as he sought to remind the crowd that it was on his watch that the vaccines were developed lickety-split. “Some say it’s the greatest thing to happen in hundreds of years,” he proclaimed. Fine. The Covid vaccine development was quite the marvel. In the past, vaccine development usually took at least four or five years. Early in the pandemic, talk of getting something approved for emergency use inside of a year seemed absurdly optimistic.

Does Mr. Trump deserve all the accolades for this medical miracle? Of course not. But if he wants to claim a piece of the credit in exchange for getting these new vaccines into the arms of his vaccine-skeptical supporters, that seems like a reasonable deal.

More helpful still, the day after Mr. Trump’s CPAC speech, The Times broke the news that Mr. Trump and his wife had quietly gotten vaccinated in January. So the couple — both of whom had Covid-19 back in the fall and so probably already had some level of natural immunity — have firsthand credibility on this issue.

The former president could lead a major, multipronged public-service campaign: ads, interviews and, certainly, rallies. (The conservative Washington Examiner is pitching the “rally tour” idea, too.) There is nothing Donald Trump loves, and likely misses, more than arenas full of sweaty, screaming worshipers. As a vaccine ambassador, he could jet from Florida to North Dakota to Arizona, turning out throngs who would cheer him, buy a MAGA hat or two and, oh yes, get a jab before heading home — getting a Trump-branded bandage slapped on their injection sites.

If inclined, Mr. Trump could invite fellow celebrities to tag along. Kanye, maybe. Or, for a more explicitly conservative appeal, Ted Nugent, Kid Rock, Jon Voight, Gary Busey, Scott Baio, Sean Hannity. … It would mean sharing a sliver of the limelight. But no matter whom Mr. Trump appeared with, he’d always be the biggest star on the stage. It’s the ultimate win-win scenario. Mr. Trump gets his ego stroked while coaxing his most devoted followers to take the vaccination plunge.

Some critics will most likely object to allowing Mr. Trump to remake his image in this fashion. But public health emergencies occasionally require unpleasant measures.

As for getting Mr. Trump on board, someone just needs to make the case that this is a mission so worthy it could finally score him that Nobel Prize.

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