I asked this question yesterday and the AP is asking it today, citing aides to the president himself who are perplexed at seeing him avoid the spotlight. The distribution of the vaccine is his biggest achievement and it’s getting tons of ecstatic media coverage. If ever there were a moment for a spotlight-seeking born salesman to elbow everyone out of the way and take center stage, it’s right now. One would think he’d be on TV three hours a day every day for the past week talking about how phenomenal the vaccine is, how the country owes everything to him and Operation Warp Speed, on and on.
Instead he’s nowhere to be found. He’s barely even tweeting about it. He allowed Mike Pence, of all people, to do the big star turn on behalf of the White House this morning by getting vaccinated for the cameras. It’s totally uncharacteristic. He’s missing in action from his finest hour.
Five days into the largest vaccination campaign in the nation’s history, Trump has been largely absent from the effort to sell the American public on what aides hope will be a key part of his legacy. He has held no public events to trumpet the rollout. He hasn’t been inoculated himself. And he has tweeted fewer than a handful of times about the shot.
Trump’s relative silence comes as he continues to stew about his defeat in the Nov. 3 election and embraces increasingly extreme efforts to overturn the people’s will. He’s pushed aside the plans of aides who wanted him to be the public face of the vaccination campaign, eschewing visits to labs and production facilities to thank workers, or hosting efforts to build public confidence in the shot, according to people familiar with the conversations…
But many Trump aides are puzzled by his low profile now that the vaccine is actually being injected. They see it as a missed opportunity for the president, who leaves office at noon on Jan. 20, to claim credit for helping oversee the speedy development and deployment of the vaccine that is expected to finally contain the virus that has killed more than 310,000 Americans.
Yeah, why no trip to a Pfizer plant somewhere to do a thumbs-up photo with a big pallet of vaccine doses? “The president’s relatively low profile on the COVID response since the election is curious and counter to Mr. Trump’s own interests,” said one public health expert to the AP. “Having exhibited leadership in the vaccines’ development, he should take great pride in publicly demonstrating his trust in COVID vaccines,”
Even Sleepy Joe Biden, asked last night whether there’s anything he’d thank Trump for, said, “There are some things. I think what he’s done, getting the vaccine moving, has been positive.” Operation Warp Speed is one of the few Trump initiatives that even Democrats feel grudgingly obliged to credit him with. Why isn’t he taking his victory lap?
Four theories, from most innocuous to most sinister:
1. He wants Pence to get the limelight that rightly belongs to him as a show of magnanimity and appreciation, to thank the VP for his leadership of the COVID task force. Likelihood: Zero percent.
2. He’s deeply depressed over the election and consumed psychologically with theories that he was cheated, to the exclusion of nearly everything else — the vaccine, the atrocious daily COVID death toll, the Russian mega-hack, everything. Likelihood: 50 percent.
3. He’s worried about looking “weak”:
JUST NOW: "I have a theory… I don't think that he wants to be jabbed with a needle on live television…I think that he considers that to be some kind of an act of weakness."@maggieNYT on @realDonaldTrump's refusal (so far) to be publicly vaccinated.pic.twitter.com/HIHCL9usxj
— John Berman (@JohnBerman) December 18, 2020
The catch with Haberman’s theory is that he’s worn a mask at times, as recently as last weekend’s Army/Navy game, even though that’s attacked by skeptics as “weak” as well. He wisely agreed to go to Walter Reed when he had COVID rather than try to tough it out at the White House despite the risk that that would also make him look “weak.” One would think that the fantastic achievement represented by the vaccine and the credit owed to him for it would offset any qualms he might have about being seen as weak by receiving a dose. Besides, if he’s squeamish about looking weak, he could always get the vaccine off-camera and then announce it in a statement. Likelihood: 10 percent.
4. He’s keenly aware that many of his hardcore fans are anti-vax or en route to becoming anti-vax, especially now that Democrats are about to take charge of the distribution process. He’s an avid consumer of populist media, where COVID disinformation is plentiful and vaccine skepticism is already beginning to trickle into even mainstream programming. And he’s expressed skepticism about vaccines in the past himself, predisposing him to eventually adopting crankish suspicions about Pfizer’s product. Now that he no longer has an electoral interest in the vaccine’s success, and in fact has a personal interest in seeing it fail since that would leave Biden with a giant mess, he’s already begun turning against it out of spite. Likelihood: 40 percent.
I guess we’ll have to rely on leadership-by-example from lesser officials. I’ll leave you with a few tweets.
Today, with confidence in science & at the direction of the Office of the Attending Physician, I received the COVID-19 vaccine. As the vaccine is being distributed, we must all continue mask wearing, social distancing & other science-based steps to save lives & crush the virus. pic.twitter.com/tijVCSnJd7
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) December 18, 2020
Just received the safe, effective COVID vaccine following continuity-of-government protocols. Vaccines are how we beat this virus.
Now back to continue fighting for a rescue package including a lot more money for distribution so more Americans can receive it as fast as possible. pic.twitter.com/kSBhI3EzzM
— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) December 18, 2020
Grateful for the hard work from the medical community, gov. partners, and others who are working around the clock to deliver a safe & effective #COVID19 vaccine. It’s time for Congress to do its job and finish what our bipartisan group started by passing emergency COVID relief. pic.twitter.com/Zje73g5oRX
— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) December 18, 2020