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Biden needs to depoliticize vaccinations

Early Returns

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The Washington Post's Alyssa Rosenberg on Wednesday urged President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to get vaccinated as soon as it's possible — and to "do it live on national television." By Wednesday night, CNN was reporting that former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton intended to do just that.

This is excellent news. As Rosenberg points out, many people are unsure about the new vaccines, and the more that highly visible public figures can show that it's for everyone, the better the rollout will go. But it's only the beginning.

Biden has to avoid making anything about the vaccination campaign even slightly partisan. The best way to do that is to keep it away from politics as much as possible. Obama, Bush and Clinton are fine. So are Biden and Harris. It would be good to add, say, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President Mike Pence to that group. But better still would be celebrities: movie and TV stars, sports heroes, recording artists, and more. Get 'em all rolling up their sleeves on live television and getting shots. Something like that, but for masks and distancing, is what I and others have been pushing for since March, and it's still needed now.

President Donald Trump is a harder question. It's possible that Trump will simply do a good job of positively publicizing the vaccine. But it's also possible he'll mainly sulk about not getting sufficient credit for it, or even turn against it once he's out of office. What should Biden do? Give Trump plenty of credit, and do what he can to keep the outgoing president from undermining the rollout or turning his supporters against it. For one thing, Trump's Operation Warp Speed actually has done a decent job accelerating the vaccine's development, regardless of how poorly the president has otherwise handled the pandemic. But even if the credit is fully undeserved, what matters for the incoming president is to get everyone vaccinated as smoothly as possible.

This remains a situation in which the president-elect's incentives are aligned with the nation's interests: Biden needs the virus to be subdued and the economy to recover if (for example) he wants Democrats to have any chance of doing well in the midterm election. And the math is what it is; if Trump's supporters won't participate in mass vaccination, then the pandemic will linger on. 

What Biden needs to know is what Trump never understood. The results will be what matters, not the credit-claiming.

1. Matt Grossmann spoke with Gabriel Sanchez and Giovanni Castro about the Latino vote in 2020.

2. Dan Drezner on foreign policy at the end of the Trump administration.

3. Jacob Smith, Jonathan Spiegler and Aidan Floyd at the Monkey Cage on why Biden shouldn't select current officeholders for his administration.

4. William Resh and Heath Brown on one of the toughest challenges facing Biden: a demoralized federal workforce.

5. Nathaniel Rakich and Ryan Best on split-ticket voting in 2020.

6. Ed Kilgore on the (marginally) shifting electoral landscape.

7. And my Bloomberg Opinion colleague Tara Lachapelle on why Fox News isn't going away anytime soon.

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