Jonathan Chait writes May 2, 2023:
Conservatives got COVID extremely wrong. Where is the accountability? Where is the course correction? The answer is that they don’t exist, because the conservative movement is incapable of engaging in them…
Donald Trump threatened to fire Dr. Nancy Messonnier, a top CDC official, for telling reporters in February 2020 that the virus would likely spread to the United States. Trump insisted that month that China was “getting it under control more and more, that the United States had just 15 people [with COVID], and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.” He repeated over and over: “Just stay calm. It will go away.” (March 10). “It’s going to go away, hopefully at the end of the month. And, if not, hopefully it will be soon after that.” (March 31). “It is going to go away. It is going away.” (April 3). “I always say, even without it [a vaccine], it goes away.” (June 16). And on and on…
But even highly respectable conservative intellectuals made utterly absurd claims about the pandemic’s likely death toll. Hoover Institute scholar Richard Epstein predicted COVID would kill just 500 Americans, before correcting a small computational error and revising the prediction to 5,000 (still a gross underestimate, as more than a million Americans have perished from COVID-19).
In March 2020, the Journal ran an op-ed arguing that the standard models of the projected COVID death toll were “too high by orders of magnitude,” proposing the actual death toll would be 20,000 or perhaps 40,000. The prominent voodoo economist Kevin Hassett created a model that persuaded White House staff that COVID deaths would drop to zero by mid-May 2020.
The wishful delusion that COVID posed barely any serious health risk produced other delusions. Hydroxychloroquine would cure it! The vaccines were unnecessary or even harmful! These errors were the product of ingrained mental pathologies on the right, which is why a figure like Hassett is now merrily assuring Republicans that defaulting on the national debt would be no big deal.
Far from examining the epistemic bubble that produced these bizarre beliefs, conservatives have coalesced around them. Trump is now running away from Operation Warp Speed, because it constitutes a political liability for him. Ron DeSantis, the Journal’s preferred candidate, has turned the anti-vaccine movement into a powerful wedge against Trump. DeSantis has appeared with and promoted anti-vaxxers and recruited an idiosyncratic vaccine skeptic, Joseph Ladapo, to run his state’s health department. Florida is “affirmatively against” providing the COVID-19 vaccine to children, making it the only state to adopt such a position. Ladapo recently altered a study to exaggerate the risks of the vaccine.