A shrewd bit of branding for the GOP ahead of the midterms. McConnell is steering in the speech below to the same sweet spot that Glenn Youngkin occupies, battling mandates to satisfy the GOP base while encouraging vaccination to show swing voters that he’s not anti-precaution as a rule. Ironically, that’s also the position of Donald Trump, a guy not known lately for overlapping with McConnell on policy or for concerning himself overly with what swing voters might want.

Trump’s days of enthusiastically touting the vaccines are probably over, though. Normie Republicans like Youngkin and McConnell will have to lead the effort to build a “post-pandemic” majority coalition. The formula’s simple enough: Get vaxxed and get back to normal.

Same formula as in May 2021, in fact. We’ll see if the virus cooperates this time.

McConnell’s best line in his floor speech today was “The only science that’s changed in the last two weeks is the political science. The only data that’s changed in the last two weeks is Democrat’s polling data.” That’s true, of course — to a degree. Arguably the buzziest poll of 2022 so far was the one from Monmouth at the end of January finding 70 percent of Americans agreeing with the statement, “It’s time we accept that COVID is here to stay and we just need to get on with our lives.” The Democrats’ internal polling is presumably also grim for the “forever pandemic” position. If you missed this tidbit in the Times last week about why New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy moved recently to drop mask mandates, pay it some attention now:

It was Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey who began the effort last fall, weeks after he was stunned by the energy of right-wing voters in his blue state, who nearly ousted him from office in what was widely expected to be an easy re-election campaign. Arranging a series of focus groups across the state to see what they had missed, Mr. Murphy’s advisers were struck by the findings: Across the board, voters shared frustrations over public health measures, a sense of pessimism about the future and a deep desire to return to some sense of normalcy.

The Democrats’ polling data probably has changed, as McConnell says.

But maybe not as much as we might think?

I wrote further about the polling on mask mandates yesterday. Whether or not the polling has truly changed, “the science” has changed in one important respect lately related to Democrats’ pivot to relaxing restrictions, I think: With Omicron cases nationally in freefall, everyone but everyone expects that we’re about to enter a “lull” in the pandemic of some unknown duration. There’s too much vaccine immunity and too much post-Omicron natural immunity out there to produce any other outcome near-term. So it may be that Democrats aren’t seeing the polling on restrictions change so much as anticipating that it’ll change imminently — and maybe dramatically — as cases bottom out, the weather warms, and the yearning for normalcy begins to infect even the forever-maskers. They may be skating to where they think the political puck will be, not to where the puck currently is, to borrow a line from Wayne Gretzky.

But they’d better be quick, because the GOP has already been skating in that direction for two years. The conservative “reopen everything” position seems much more sensible in 2022, when probably 90+ percent of the population has immunity of some sort, than it did in the fall of 2020. And as I wrote yesterday, because it’s been the GOP position for so long, Democrats will have work to do in convincing their own voters that relaxing the rules as we shift to endemic COVID isn’t some sort of partisan betrayal or admission that Trump was right all along. Jared Polis, a rare anti-mandate Dem, went on Fox News yesterday and urged members of all parties to respect the choice of those who feel differently about masking. The emphasis being on “choice,” not mandates:

Here’s McConnell on the Senate floor, accepting a gift-wrapped present from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser when she announced this morning that Washington’s indoor mask mandate would soon be dropped — for adults but not for students. That’s incoherent scientifically and is destined to lead even some left-leaning parents to wonder why their child, who’s much safer from COVID than they are and less skilled at communicating while masked, has to continue taking mandatory precautions while adults don’t. Bowser and the Democrats have no answer for that and McConnell knows it. Hence “the party of parents” branding at the end of this video to capitalize.

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