BY SAUL LOEB/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES.
Amid the pandemic, a frequently disregarded portion of the GOP gained notoriety: Republican Governors. In a recent article, The Washington Post referred to Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida (R), Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota (R), and Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas (R) as the “vanguard of GOP resistance to public health mandates.” As the article aptly notes, both DeSantis and Abbott have banned mask mandates, but this hardly qualifies them as thought leaders. Yet, people seem to keep referring to them as such.
Liberal news sources from The Washington Post to Vice have made Republican Governors, particularly Greg Abbott, front page news. From Abbott banning local officials from mandating masks in their regions to the announcement that he has contracted COVID-19, journalists have reported on Abbott religiously– and Democrats, nationwide, have dutifully shared these articles and infographics so everyone can watch Texas in abject horror. Unfortunately for them, that’s exactly what Abbott wants.
Okay, maybe he doesn’t want everyone to be horrified, but in a political climate where “owning the libs” is the centerpiece of the GOP’s strategy, the coverage does exactly what he needs it to.
Gov. Greg Abbott is up for reelection in 2022, and despite facing several challengers in the primary, even Democrats are sharing articles calling him a leader. With that kind of press, how could he lose? While his polling numbers are starting to dwindle, he’s winning the optics game. Even with increasing criticism from his own party, the election is still considered “Abbott’s to lose.” That assessment seems fair, considering that Gov. Abbott has raised over $55 million for his reelection campaign, more than any Texas candidate has raised in the state’s 176-year history.
It’s insufficient to just say Gov. Abbott wants attention; that can be said of any politician. Instead, there is something unique about how the governor is covered in the news that works to his benefit. National headlines about state governance typically do one of two things: prompt outrage or elicit praise. For Greg Abbott, these headlines do both, often while furthering the causes he supports.
By now, every major news outlet has reported that Abbott has contracted COVID-19. While Abbott is firmly anti-mandate, he, through personal choice, is fully vaccinated, making this a breakthrough infection. CNN declared that this experience should teach Abbott that masks work, emphasizing that should reverse his stance on mask mandates. The article acknowledges that this is a lesson Abbott is bound to ignore, but the implications of Abbott’s infection and its coverage may go far deeper than the maintenance of the status quo.
As of August 16, only 45% of Texas is fully vaccinated and less than 60% of the state has received their first dose. While Abbott has encouraged his state to get vaccinated, his efforts appeared half-hearted and failed to convince many of his constituents to get the jab. Breakthrough infections are to be expected and cases involving unvaccinated patients now make up the vast majority of deaths, but when these breakthroughs happen at the highest level of vaccine-hesitant states, the greatest negative impact will be to that state’s vaccination rates. Spreading the news of Gov. Abbott’s asymptomatic case will not change his mind about mask mandates, but it can very easily convince the unvaccinated and the partially vaccinated that they don’t need the vaccine.
The discussion of Greg Abbott’s infection often includes one seemingly key and outrageous detail: he attended a maskless campaign event the day before. However, Democrats need to consider the consequences before grabbing their pitchforks. Can crowded, maskless events (where, statistically speaking, most people are unlikely to be vaccinated) be superspreader events? Absolutely! That’s why the CDC recommends even fully vaccinated people don masks in high transmission areas. Will the mass criticism of these events followed by limited to no outbreak encourage more of these events? Again, yes. When people share messages, they amplify their reach, but it’s not always clear what messages are gaining traction. Disease spread by asymptomatic vaccinated people, like Gov. Abbott, is something that the CDC has yet to publish data on. While this is an important thing to monitor, using an unknown to drum up concern is bound to panic the Left and bolster the Right. To raise concerns and be wrong seems to be one of the most dangerous things Democrats could do as we attempt to beat the pandemic.
It’s important that people remain informed and that constituents stay critical, so this is not to tell you to stop reading and writing about Greg Abbott and other Republicans. But if you’re a Democrat (or anyone who has a vested interest in not amplifying Republican messaging), here are a few ways to not do what Greg Abbott wants:
- To journalists, be cognizant of what you write. Do you really want to give someone you’re being critical of the reputation of a ‘vanguard’? How could your words be adapted for messaging you disagree with? Is the detail you’re adding something the people need to know, or is it just to maximize the clicks on your article?
- To Texans, don’t give up. Greg Abbott hasn’t won the gubernatorial race yet and, despite what experts have said, this race isn’t his. Learn about what Abbott has done and then amplify the message of a candidate who promises to do what you believe in. Talk to your neighbors and your peers about what can be done to improve your state. Channel your outrage into motivation and prevent the governor from getting the kind of attention he thrives on.
- To the vaccinated, talk to people about it! It’s easy to shame the unvaccinated and people hosting maskless events, and even easier to call them selfish and move on. However, the majority of unvaccinated people aren’t declining the vaccine out of malice for the human race. Data suggests that people who are not vaccinated are more likely to schedule an appointment if a friend or family member discusses it with them. (Technically, Greg Abbott doesn’t care about this one– it really benefits the country, though, so it’s staying on the list).
- To people on social media, stop spreading outrage and start spreading insights. Yes, the title of that slidedeck was eye-catching, but who does it help? Instead of sharing the things that make you angry, start looking for and sharing ways to solve it. The next time you want to share something about how another state is run, ask yourself if you want to give that event a national audience. And if you’re sharing it to start a discussion, know what direction you want to steer it in.
So, yes, people have given Republican Governors what they have wanted for months. Attn: Democrats─ today is the perfect day to stop.