The pro-mask message comes after months of conservative media’s skepticism of masks—a message that aligned with Trump’s own mockery of them.
One of President Trump’s favorite media personalities on Tuesday called on the president to wear a face mask in order to model safe behavior to the country.
“I wish the president would put on a mask every once in a while because it would make him look as if he is taking it seriously and is listening to the CDC,” said “Fox & Friends” co-host Steve Doocy during an interview with Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee. “Because they have made it very clear, and I know he is tested all the time, but the masks work.”
McDaniel insisted that the president takes the pandemic seriously and tried to pivot away from the mask discussion, but Doocy—whom the president has repeatedly praised and is considered one of his allies—circled back to the importance of Trump wearing a mask. “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,” Doocy said.
Doocy’s pro-mask message represents a notable shift in right-wing media, as many conservative pundits, including some at Fox News, have been openly skeptical of masks, mocked those who wore them, and attacked Democratic leaders for mandating mask-wearing in certain states and cities. Those attacks have lined up with Trump’s own mockery of masks, which have created a dramatic partisan split on the issue among lawmakers and civilians.
According to a new Pew Research Center survey, Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are about twice as likely as Republicans and Republican leaners to say that masks should always be worn, 63% vs. 29%. Republicans, meanwhile, are much more likely (23%) than Democrats (4%) to say that masks should rarely or never be worn.
That divide has become increasingly problematic as studies have shown that mask wearing can reduce transmission of COVID-19 by up to 85%. A recent Philadelphia Inquirer analysis of case data between June 1-21 found that new coronavirus cases fell by 25% in the 11 states that mandated face coverings, while new cases rose by 84% in the 16 states that do not require wearing face masks in public.
But as America’s coronavirus crisis threatens to spiral out of control in much of the country—including the Republican-led states of Arizona, Texas, and Florida—conservative media figures and lawmakers are finally embracing what public health experts have said for months: Masks are critical for protecting public health and essential for any kind of reopening.
Sean Hannity, Doocy’s fellow Fox News colleague and an even closer Trump ally, also endorsed mask-wearing on his show on Monday night.
“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 said. “I think they work. 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.”
Leading Republican lawmakers have also become more forceful in encouraging masks in recent days.
“We must have no stigma, none, about wearing masks when we leave our homes and come near other people,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote in a tweet on Monday. “Wearing simple face coverings is not about protecting ourselves, it is about protecting everyone we encounter.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, also argued Tuesday that mask-wearing was a critical tool to reopening the economy.
“For my home state, I do believe in wearing masks. I do not want to shut the economy back down,” McCarthy told “Fox & Friends.” He also agreed with Doocy’s idea 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.”
Vice President Mike Pence has also urged Americans to wear masks outside their homes if they are unable to socially distance, putting him at odds with Trump, who has refused to wear any type of face covering in public. The president even criticized a journalist who wore one during a White House press conference last month.
While the rest of the right wing begins to change their tune on masks, Trump has not made any concerted effort to encourage mask-wearing and has instead downplayed the worsening outbreaks, which of course, will make his desire of a total economic reopening all but impossible.
The urgency of the mask issue crystalized even further on Tuesday, when Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert who has repeatedly endorsed wearing masks, sounded the alarm over just how bad the coronavirus crisis could get in the U.S.
“We are now having 40,000+ new cases a day,” Fauci said during an appearance before the Senate Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around. And so I’m very concerned.”