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Republican leaders and right-leaning media on Tuesday promoted the use of protective masks to a degree yet unseen during the coronavirus pandemic — casting them as crucial to facilitating an economic reopening while contending with President Donald Trump’s continued reluctance to cover his face in public.
The abrupt shift in conservative thought, which coincides with a surge of Covid-19 cases nationwide, reflects both overwhelming popular opinion and the undisputed counsel of health experts on the subject of masks. But the new line of messaging also breaks with a president who has called into question the efficacy of face coverings and contributed to their politicization across American culture.
That tension was apparent early Tuesday, when a traditionally friendly messenger targeted Trump with an appeal from the set of his favorite morning cable news show.
“I think that if the president wore one, it would just set a good example. He’d be a good role model. I don’t see any downside to the president wearing a mask in public,” said “Fox & Friends” co-host Steve Doocy during an interview with Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee.
Doocy went on to pitch the party chief an updated play on Trump’s signature campaign slogan. “‘MAGA’ should now stand for ‘Masks Are Great Again.’ Let me give you some marketing advice right there,” he told McDaniel.
The request from Doocy, whom Trump has reportedly ranked as a 12 on a 1-to-10 loyalty scale of Fox News correspondents, came just hours after another of the network’s stars, Sean Hannity, offered an endorsement of mask-wearing on his nightly prime-time program.
“I was in the epicenter of this. I went to my grocery store every week. Guess what? They wore masks. Nobody at my grocery store, thank God, got coronavirus,” Hannity, a close ally of the White House and confidant of the president’s, said Monday.
“I think they work,” he continued. “And I said — especially if I wear a mask and it opens up baseball, concerts, NFL football — I’d rather wear the mask and go to the game to protect Grandma, Grandpa, Mom and Dad and watch the ballgame.”
Elected Republicans as senior as Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have urged Americans in recent days to wear masks outside their homes if they are unable to socially distance. Health experts within the Trump administration have stressed the same recommendations.
“It is critical that we all take personal responsibility to slow the transmission of Covid and embrace the universal use of face coverings,” Robert Redfield, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told congressional lawmakers Tuesday.
But the president himself remains resistant to donning a face covering during public appearances, mocking a reporter who wore one during a White House news conference in May and describing masks as a “double-edge sword” in an interview with The Wall Street Journal just two weeks ago.
Trump’s dismissive attitude toward masks has elicited consistent rebukes from top Democratic congressional leaders and former Vice President Joe Biden, his presumptive general election opponent, who have signaled support for a national directive requiring all Americans to wear masks.
“We absolutely need a clear message from the very top of our federal government that everyone needs to wear a mask in public. Period. Period,” Biden said Tuesday during a speech in Wilmington, Del., focused on Trump’s handling of the pandemic.
“It’s a simple measure. It’s also one of the most effective ways we can do the right thing,” he added. “It may be inconvenient. It may be uncomfortable. But it’s the right thing to do as an American. Protect your co-workers and neighbors.”
Eighty percent of registered voters polled by Fox News earlier this month have a favorable view of mask-wearers, and 89 percent of Americans said they had covered their face in public in the previous week, according to an ABC News/Ipsos survey published last Thursday.
The latest entreaties by GOP officials are in response to spikes in new coronavirus cases cropping up throughout the American South, including in the nation’s most populous states: California, Florida and Texas. The U.S. as a whole has similarly registered single-day records in new infections over the past week, and governors have been forced to pause their states’ reopening plans.
The president has not made any marked effort to encourage mask use amid the precipitous climbs in caseloads, instead insistently emphasizing the need to jump-start the national economy.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, however, argued Tuesday that personal mitigation measures such as mask-wearing and frequent hand-washing were helpful tools to prevent another spate of financially draining stay-at-home orders.
A report by Goldman Sachs economists released Monday suggested that a national mask mandate “could potentially substitute for lockdowns that would otherwise subtract” nearly 5 percent of country’s gross domestic product.
“For my home state, I do believe in wearing masks. I do not want to shut the economy back down,” the California Republican told “Fox & Friends.” He also agreed with Doocy’s assessment that it would be a “powerful symbol” for Trump to wear a mask in public.
“It would,” McCarthy said. “I mean, for the Fourth of July, we could all show our patriotism with a red, white and blue mask, going out there and showing some strength.”
Even Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, appeared to come around Tuesday to the concept of face coverings after officials in Jacksonville — the Florida city where the Republican National Convention is scheduled to be held in August — announced a mask requirement for indoor public places.
“I think we’re going to make sure that everything is done in a safe and appropriate manner,” Trump Jr. told Fox Business. “You know, I don’t think that it’s too complicated to wear a mask or wash your hands and follow basic hygiene protocols.”