January 21, 2022 - 11:00am

Although the 2024 presidential election remains two years away, the Republican Party’s moderate position on Covid-19 management has coalesced. Glenn Youngkin, Virginia’s new Republican governor, distilled the policy in a series of recent initiatives: vaccinated and boosted himself, he extolled the virtues of vaccines and boosters while simultaneously rescinding a mask mandate for his state’s public schools and a vaccine mandate its public employees.

Perhaps more surprisingly, this line has been echoed by former president Donald Trump, who has received a booster after initially expressing scepticism about them. He regularly touts the development of the vaccines as a significant policy achievement of his administration. This puts Trump at odds with many members of his own base and even longtime supporter Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. DeSantis has played it coy with regard to whether he intends to receive or has received a booster for his single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, stating only that he had “done whatever I did, the normal shot.” Trump, perhaps sensing the shifting of the political winds, fired back at his erstwhile ally, claiming that failing to disclose one’s booster status was “gutless.”

Even if tensions between Trump and DeSantis have been exaggerated for the sake of gossipy New York Times deep dives, the ex-president appears to have seized upon a critical differentiator between him and possible opponents: not mask and vaccine mandates, which most mainstream Republicans oppose, but actually receiving the vaccine or its approved boosters, which many Right-wing or “based” constituents have opposed. Beyond that, Trump has exposed a possible weakness with DeSantis’s approach: the dangers of trying to fudge one’s vaccine status to survive a primary, similar to past politicians trying to gloss over their dicey draft exemptions or conceal their sexual peccadilloes.

However, obscuring the facts regarding the receipt of a booster surely wouldn’t be the end of the world for DeSantis or other politicians in his situation. Moreover, there is a notable vaccination divide between Republicans in the House and Senate, as evidenced from reporting last summer indicating that 97 congressional Republicans refused to reveal their vaccination status while 46 of 50 Republican senators stated they had received the vaccination. That gap at least hints at a generational split within the party, with more senior upper-chamber Republicans heeding the call to get jabbed while their junior lower-chamber colleagues continue to express some degree of resistance even as they refrain from sharing their vaccination status.

It seems that Covid safety measures have created two parallel states of deception, one in which a politician like DeSantis attempts to conceal a booster shot he may have received and another in which sceptical employees faced with vaccine mandates, including NFL wide receiver Antonio Brown, respond with acts of civil disobedience such as obtaining counterfeit vaccination cards to provide the illusion that they received theirs.

The question of whether Trump’s trademark sneakily-shrewd bluster can damage DeSantis remains to be seen, but it has opened another front in America’s stage-managed internecine political wars — one fought on a familiar, badly-scarred battlefield that previously posed problems for those unfortunate evangelical Republicans whose vaunted “family values” failed to align with their personal conduct.

Oliver Bateman is a historian and journalist based in Pittsburgh. He blogs, vlogs, and podcasts at his Substack, Oliver Bateman Does the Work