There’s always been something morbidly fascinating about watching self-professed germaphobe Donald Trump navigate a pandemic. He’s downplayed the seriousness of an illness that has killed millions, inspiring an army of vaccine-refusers who cultivate a fatal faith in pseudoscience, while personally accepting the vaccine whose lifesaving benefits he’s refused to promote to his followers.
But you can only have it both ways for so long, and during an appearance Sunday night, the former president was greeted with pushback from his supporters when he dared to say something that’s just slightly rooted in reality. While onstage in Dallas with his most loyal and travel-ready hypoallergenic maltipoo, Bill O’Reilly, Trump admitted to having taken a booster shot. Some of his adoring fans didn’t exactly love the sound of that.
“Did you get the booster?” O’Reilly asked Trump. “Yes,” the ex-president said. “I got it, too,” O’Reilly responded, to boos from the crowd at the American Airlines Center. Trump tried to hush them, waving a hand and saying, “Don’t, don’t, don’t,” while blaming the audible interruption on a “tiny group” in the audience.
But Trump was well aware before the booing that he has some backpedaling to do on the subject of vaccines. Earlier in the same appearance, he’d tried to endorse the vaccine rollout, not by framing it as an apolitical public health initiative (not that, never that), but by presenting it as a Republican victory, another point scored by his team.
“Look, we did something that was historic. We saved tens of millions of lives worldwide. We, together, all of us—not me, we—we got a vaccine done, three vaccines done, and tremendous therapeutics,” he told the audience. “Don’t let them take it away. Don’t take it away from ourselves. You’re playing right into their hands when you sort of like, ‘Oh the vaccine.’ If you don’t want to take it, you shouldn’t be forced to take it—no mandates—but take credit, because we saved tens of millions of lives. Take credit, don’t let them take that away from you.”
The only part of that little speech that was greeted with unprompted applause was Trump’s insistence that he opposes vaccine mandates.
There’s always something a bit satisfying about seeing the leopards finally eat Trump’s face, but it makes sense that the man who used to promote thoroughly debunked conspiracy theories about vaccines causing autism and who chose to initially stay mum about his first Covid-19 vaccine dose is now singing a different tune. He’s still mulling a presidential run in 2024, and the fact that he happened to be in the White House during the development and introduction of the Covid-19 vaccines is one of precious few accomplishments that he can claim as his legacy. But the jeers of the anti-vaxxers that the former president and his party have encouraged are a reminder of a different legacy, one that is much more truly Trump’s own.