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Sunday, December 12, 2021

Republican leaders have gotten their wish

Their own base is now dying from COVID-19

Hunter for Daily Kos

Reps Justin Price, Blake "Flip" Filippi and Sen. Elaine Morgan, anti-vaxxers all.
As Fox News and Republicans work to kill off their own voters, they hope the resulting panic will help ... get Republicans elected.

We've long known that the national COVID-19 pandemic has been transforming into a predominantly Republican disease, with infections in Republican-voting, Republican-governed counties far outstripping those in less Republican regions. We also know that anti-mask, vaccine-hostile Republican states have been begging their better-governed neighbors to take COVID-19 patients after their own hospitals filled with unvaccinated cases.

A new NPR analysis answers the only remaining question: Are Americans in Republican-voting counties now dying more than Americans in other parts of the country? The answer, after a grueling summer of surges that didn’t have to happen, is now a resounding yes. Republican-voting counties across the nation have been seeing death rates several times higher than those in Democratic-voting ones.

That may not exactly be a shock, but it should be. Doctors have gotten better at treating severe COVID-19 cases than they were early in the pandemic, there's now better access to drugs that help prevent those serious cases, we now have mountains of data showing which safety measures work and how well—but in many parts of the country still loyal to Republicanism, hospitals are still full of dying patients.

The data collected by NPR shows that new COVID-19 fatality rates are strongly correlated to a county's support for Donald Trump in the 2020 elections. In counties where Trump gathered 60% or more of the vote, death rates since May—the first month of widespread vaccination efforts—were 2.7 times higher than in those that voted for Biden. 

Even that may be underselling things: NPR cites COVID-19 tracker Charles Gaba (who has been highlighting similar statistics for months now), who reports that death rates in the "reddest tenth of the country" have in recent months been between 5.5 and 6 times those of the "bluest" tenth.

It was already established that living in a Republican-voting, Republican-governed county means you're at much greater risk of contracting COVID-19 than other Americans. Now the data is there to show that residents of Republican-held counties are substantially more likely to die from the disease as well.

The reasons are straightforward. The best possible way to prevent serious COVID-19 symptoms is to be vaccinated against the virus; even if you are exposed to it, the vast majority of those who have received vaccinations are able to fight off an infection with only mild symptoms. 

Republican-voting counties, however, have substantially lower vaccination rates than other counties. Nearly all COVID-19 cases that require hospitalization are now among the unvaccinated.

But low county vaccination rates correlate strongly to Republican support, and Republican leaders and networks have been relentless in spreading pandemic disinformation while attacking public safety measures. Republican leaders (and, of course, Fox News) have been spreading dangerous conspiracy theories elevating fake cures while belittling actual pandemic safety measures.

Republicans have even been actively hostile towards efforts to encourage vaccination of children.

Does that mean that Republican leaders—and Fox News talking heads—have been actively killing people? The data certainly suggests it! Hundreds of accounts of recent COVID-19 deaths show, time and time again, Americans repeating Republican misinformation in the months, weeks, or days before they succumb to the disease they didn't believe was a threat. 

Republican anti-safety rhetoric is definitely being absorbed into the party's base—and the party's base is suffocating to death in hospital rooms because of it.

While it seems obvious that pandemic death rates would soon begin to match up with vaccine hesitancy and, therefore, Republican partisanship, the transformation of a national pandemic into one that primarily targets Americans in Republican strongholds ought to be astonishing. 

Early pandemic deaths were in places like New York City, where population density and frequent international travel conspired to create conditions ideal for viral spread. The images of tented emergency hospitals, of trucks doubling as mobile morgues—most of those images were from "Democratic"-leaning cities and states.

But despite all we now know about COVID-19 and how to stop it, Republican-held counties have now topped, and lapped, pandemic death rates dating back to those months when experts were still arguing over whether the virus was "airborne," whether masks worked, and whether you could catch the virus from touching your mail or groceries. 

We now not only know how to prevent infection, we've got "miracle" vaccines that can nearly eliminate the possibility of getting seriously sick.

Republican leaders, however, have only gotten louder in their demands that each of the discovered, proven safety measures not be followed. There's been no stronger correlation for dangerous pandemic behaviors than loyalty towards Republicanism, and now the movement is literally dying for that cause.

It is worth it? What do Republican leaders like Ron DeSantis or Ted Cruz gain from these deaths? Is there any point at which Tucker Carlson will consider the deaths of his own viewers as net disadvantage, compared to whatever advantage he believes he's getting from stoking disinformation about the vaccine that would prevent them?

We don't know, because it's not clear what value a DeSantis or a Carlson sees in stoking pandemic disinformation to begin with. It is certainly true that an agitated base is more "motivated" than an unagitated one, but you know what group is least motivated of all?

Dead people. Once you've reduced a loyal viewer to a corpse, they're not going to be motivated about anything. Corpses don't buy overpriced pillows, gold coins, or "survival buckets." And corpses don't give a damn whether you're running for president.