Rich Lowry: There was never a Republican death cult

Neither Democrats nor Republicans want their constituents to get infected and die.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses The American Legislative Exchange Council annual meeting July 28, 2021 at The Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City.

Washington, D.C., is now the epicenter of the pandemic.

As of Dec. 23, it had 158 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents, a 541% growth in cases over the last two weeks. This was much more than Alabama, Mississippi or South Carolina, all of which had cases in the 20s or below per 100,000.

Is this because D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser cares less about controlling the virus than the governors of those three Southern states? No, if anything she’s been overly zealous. It’s just that the omicron surge has hit at a time when the winter season means that places like D.C. — and especially the Northeast — are particularly susceptible.

Other jurisdictions that have seen big increases include Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey and Illinois.

The omicron wave should finally put paid to the perfervid fantasy, a staple of center-left thinking, that the coronavirus is somehow primarily a red state phenomenon, fueled by Republican recklessness and heartlessness.

It’s been obvious for a long time that there’s an enormous seasonal element to COVID-19 and that the virus itself has the most influence on the patterns of its spread and severity. The South got slammed last summer by the hard-hitting delta surge and now omicron — which, hopefully, will be milder — is roaring through blue states.

Of course, this context doesn’t make for a useful political narrative, so the media and the left have ignored it in a hunt for cartoon villains. Last August, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman slammed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for his state’s surge and unfavorably compared it to low numbers in New York. Of course, at other junctures of the pandemic he easily could have done the opposite.

Krugman said that DeSantis “has effectively acted as an ally of the coronavirus,” a charge widely lodged against him and other GOP governors supposedly responsible for running a “death cult.”

DeSantis has never been anti-vaccine, but has opposed vaccine mandates, vaccine passports and masking in schools. Even if one stipulates for the sake of argument that DeSantis has been wrong about all of these policies, it is ridiculous to suggest Florida would have been spared the ravages of the delta variant if he had come down differently. A New York Times analysis of vaccine mandates concluded that they “have not provided the significant boost to state and local vaccination rates that some experts had hoped for.”

As it happens, positions that once were characterized as the height of Republican irresponsibility — opposition to lockdowns and closing schools — are now such a matter of consensus that even President Joe Biden takes them for granted.

Biden more than anyone should realize that the facile belief that Donald Trump or other Republicans had it within their power to shut down the pandemic at any point was partisan opportunism and tripe.

By the unreasonable standards he and others created over the last 18 months, he stands exposed as a miserable failure. On January 20, 2021, when Biden was inaugurated, there had been roughly 25 million cases of the coronavirus in the United States; now there have been 50 million. On January 20, 2021, roughly 415,000 Americans had died; now, more than 800,000 have.

The truth is, even though DeSantis and Bowser have different philosophies and a different willingness to let individuals make their own risk calculations in dealing with the virus, neither wants their residents to get infected or die, and neither is responsible for a highly transmissible variant of virus hitting their jurisdiction at a time of maximum seasonal vulnerability.

Back in August, when everyone was saying he had blood on his hands, DeSantis noted that the virus was here to stay, and vaccines and treatments — not ham-fisted restrictions — were the best weapons against it. The virus is now hitting a different part of the country hardest, but this view remains the correct one.

Rich Lowry Courtesy photo

Rich Lowry is editor of National Review.

Twitter, @RichLowry