When President Joe Biden this week threatened to take punitive action against anti-mask Republican governors, he elevated the standoff over in-school mask mandates to the federal level.
Before that, the school masking dispute had mainly been playing out in the states, with Republican governors tying the hands of schools to keep students safe through universal masking. Kids were simply collateral damage in the governors’ bid to score points with the GOP fringes.
Biden finally stepped in and said enough is enough. "We’re not going to sit by as governors try to block and intimidate educators protecting our children," Biden explained at a White House press conference.
With each new poll that emerges, the politics of this battle come into greater relief—and Republicans are losing that battle.
The latest marker comes from an Economist/YouGov survey that asked respondents if they support vaccine mandates for people in various lines of work. Requiring vaccinations not only got majority support in every case, those who favored it doubled opposition in every case, as The Washington Post's Aaron Blake pointed out.
- Medical providers: 65-21 in favor
- Teachers: 61-24
- Police: 60-25
- Military: 59-24
- Federal employees: 56-26
- College students: 55-27
Asked specifically whether K-12 students should be required to wear masks in school, 52% said they should, 31% were opposed, and 17% said they weren't sure—putting mandatory masking for students more than 20 points above water.
That's pretty good, but frankly it falls short of masking support in other recent polls. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey of parents found 63% support for requiring unvaccinated students and staff to mask up. An Axios-Ipsos poll earlier this week found 69% of Americans favor local school districts mandating universal in-school masking among students, teachers, and administrators.
Republican governors are on the wrong side of just about everything in this battle—of parents, of public opinion, of educators, of the science, of the politics, of supposedly conservative values, of basic humanity, and now of the federal government. Senate Republicans realize GOP governors are digging the party into a ginormous hole, which is why the Sunshine State’s two senators, Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, are both dodging questions about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' insistence on putting kids in harm's way.
Next week, President Biden said he would have more to say about children and schools. But bottom line, Biden concluded, "This administration is always going to take the side of our children."
Republican governors championing individual liberty over protecting children is not only unhinged, it's completely detached from political reality. But detaching oneself from reality is exactly what is required right now of Republicans trying to win over an extremist GOP base.