As top Republicans rally against the reintroduction of masking protocols to combat the Delta variant of the coronavirus, one prominent name has stayed largely on the sidelines.
Former President Donald Trump has ventured relatively gingerly into the new masking debates. Of the hundreds of statements he has issued through his Save America PAC, just six have mentioned the words “mask” or “masks.” Of those six, just two could be described as a volley against the push by government officials to get individuals to mask up again or to institute mask mandates in places of business or schools.
One came this past week as Trump fundraised off of former President Barack Obama’s birthday, where guests were pictured outside without masks on. The other came on July 27, when Trump declared, "We won’t go back. We won’t mask our children,” after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new indoor masking guidance.
Trump’s relatively muted approach to the masking debates may be owed to his other obsessions — predominantly, spreading the false idea that the 2020 election was rigged. But it still stands in contrast to a number of top Republican elected officials.
Republican Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas have both openly championed laws prohibiting mask mandates in schools. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has said the masking guidance from the CDC shouldn’t be followed — that mandates requiring mask-wearing (not just in schools) were the stuff of “petty tyrants,” and that mask mandates should be banned on public transportation.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) compared mask mandates to the Holocaust and then sued House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for fining lawmakers who refused to wear masks on the House floor. She was joined by Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Ralph Norman (R-S.C.). And House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is even selling t-shirts touting “freedom-loving Americans who oppose Mask mandates."
Trump can hardly be described as a paragon of sound public safety conduct. As president, his opposition to masking was so pronounced that he became an emblem for anti-masking behavior — confidently whipping one off his face just moments after returning from the hospital with a serious Covid diagnosis. In his post-presidency, he has not been pictured wearing a mask even while at one of his properties or clubs when surrounded by guests.
Aides to Trump say he has talked about the mask mandates — but the former president is barred from Twitter, so he doesn’t weigh in on issues as often as he once did. And still, Trump’s main focus, they say, remains on election issues.
When asked about the increase in mandates last Saturday night on Fox News’ "Unfiltered with Dan Bongino," Trump skipped talking about masks altogether.
“The mandates are crazy and what they’re doing with schools now — are they going to keep them closed? The teachers union now is in flux,” Trump said. “The kids need to get back to school.”
Questions around masking in the wake of the emergence of the Delta variant are complicated for Trump and his family in part because of the implications they pose for their business holdings. Trump hotels across the country have adopted a variety of different masking policies, some of which would qualify as mandates according to GOP critics.
The Trump International hotel in Miami, for instance, requires masks to be worn in all public places, according to its Covid-19 guidance and confirmed by a hotel representative. The guidance says it is an effort to be in compliance with Miami-Dade County guidelines. Elsewhere on its website, the hotel says that “masks will be required for all indoor employees and vendors while on property.”
The Trump Hotel in Chicago has a Covid-19 policy that similarly suggests employees are required to wear masks. “While you will still see our associates in face masks, please note that we no longer require face masks for vaccinated guests,” it reads. Trump’s hotel in Hawaii states that “all associates are provided a mask and required to wear that mask while on property.”
Other Trump properties are more lax. Officials at Doral, Trump’s golf club in Florida, said that staff only have to wear a mask if unvaccinated, which goes against CDC guidance calling for indoor masking even for those who have gotten a vaccine. The Albemarle Estate at Trump Winery had a similar policy in place, a representative there said.
The Trump Organization did not return a request for comment.
For Republicans, the issue of masking has turned into a litmus test for one’s conservative bona fides. State election officials have pledged to stop school boards from implementing mask mandates for students, with DeSantis going so far as to suggest he will try to withhold pay from local officials who make masking compulsory. Elected GOP officials have said that small businesses can make their own decisions when it comes to masking policies on their premises. But other Republicans have directly questioned the science behind masking — arguing, in contradiction of nearly all epidemiologists, that vaccinated Americans need not worry about the unvaccinated among them.
On this front, Trump’s approach has been hazy, too. Even as most data shows that his supporters are less likely to get vaccinated than the population writ large — and that the unvaccinated are making up nearly all the Covid-related hospitalizations and deaths — the former president has only pushed vaccinations when pressed to do so.
“I would recommend that they get it and they get it done and they’re being protected and the vaccine has turned out to be a tremendous thing. But I also feel strongly there are some people that don’t want to do it, and I believe in somebody’s choice and somebody’s freedom,” Trump said in his most recent interview on Fox News.
In mid-July, he defended vaccine skepticism on grounds that “people” don’t “trust” the Biden administration or the election results. Since then, however, Trump’s Save America PAC has issued just one statement mentioning the word “vaccine,” in which he called it “highly effective.”
Trump himself is vaccinated and has acknowledged as much publicly. So too has his daughter, Ivanka Trump, who posted a picture of herself getting the Covid vaccine in April, and her husband, Trump’s former senior adviser Jared Kushner, who let it be known that he got the vaccine as well.
Less clear is the vaccine status of Trump’s two eldest sons. Eric Trump was caught in a quasi-scandal in which a Chicago hospital executive apparently joked that he’d arranged a special vaccination for him. Instead, the hospital had provided vaccines for staff at the Trump Tower in Chicago. The executive later resigned.
Donald Trump Jr., meanwhile, has not publicly said whether he has been vaccinated. The eldest Trump son did catch Covid in November of 2020, though the CDC guidelines say those who have had the disease should get vaccinated nonetheless. A spokesperson for Trump Jr. declined to ask him if he’d gotten inoculated.