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When there’s a coronavirus vaccine, will Trump buck the anti-vaccine movement to promote it?

By Daniel Malloy

It would be mind-blowing if it weren’t so predictable. You’ve probably been hearing a lot lately about QAnon, the wide-ranging conspiracy theory alleging that a cult of Satan-worshipping pedophiles runs the world and only Donald Trump can stop it. The theory is gaining new traction online, despite efforts by social media giants to squelch it, and an open QAnon believer named Marjorie Taylor Greene is all but certain to enter Congress in January after winning a Republican primary race in Georgia. Greene’s win was accompanied by all sorts of anonymously sourced hand-wringing among Washington’s elite Republicans … and a Twitter pat on the back from Trump.

The FBI considers QAnon — named for the anonymous online poster “Q” who alleges to be a high-ranking government official with top-secret clearance, and thus access to all this salacious pedophile information — to be a domestic terror threat. Its adherents have been tied to murder and attempted terrorist attacks. And what is Trump’s prime takeaway when asked about them? “I hear they like me very much.”

Trump’s not-quite endorsement of the QAnon theory, claiming ignorance of the details other than the fact that they’re fans of his so they must be good people, is a familiar trope by now. During his 2016 campaign, he said he didn’t know former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke until he was browbeaten into disavowing Duke’s endorsement. He said some of the participants in a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, were “very fine people.” He has said of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un: “He likes me. I like him.”

So what happens when people who like him put his presidency at risk? If Trump wins a second term — a long shot but still very possible — we will find out.

In an unprecedented, laudable effort, the Trump administration has committed billions of dollars to pharmaceutical companies to mass-produce coronavirus vaccines ahead of their approval by the Food and Drug Administration so that they can be made widely available quickly. Some are in large-scale trials now, and wide distribution could begin by year’s end if one or more is approved. It wouldn’t relieve this pandemic cloud, but it would be an incredible moment of relief for a nation that has endured a year like no other.

But in order for it to be effective, people have to take it. A full 35 percent of Americans say they would not get a vaccine right away if it was approved. Among Republicans, that figure is 53 percent. Given Trump’s power to move his supporters, this presents a golden opportunity if he can sell the public on getting the jab, to help get the country to herd immunity and toward some version of the life we led pre-pandemic: going to school in person, dining out, diving into a mosh pit and so forth. He could slap his face on it and call it “the Trump Vaccine, by AstraZeneca.” Whatever it takes.

Ah, but that would be too logical.

Trump has a natural soft spot for the anti-vax crowd, aside from their tendency to like him. Conspiratorial by nature, he has for years spread the disproven allegation that vaccines cause autism with his usual blind certainty. If a culture war erupts over vaccinations — and everything causes a culture war these days — it’s easy to imagine Trump taking the QAnon approach and trying to avoid alienating a segment of his fan base. In fact, there’s ample overlap between QAnon adherents and anti-vaxxers, who in some cases fear the vaccine is a form of mind control. And that Bill Gates might be involved.

Would Trump relish the chance to float some BS about Gates, who’s been critical of the president’s handling of the virus? You betcha. Will it overwhelm his better judgment of wanting to go back to holding mass rallies and other fun Trump stuff in his second term?

We do have a recent precedent. Last year when there was a measles outbreak in New York, Trump was unequivocal: “They have to get their shots.” Let’s hope, for once, he sticks to the script.

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