Amid the growing prominence of conspiracy theorists within the Republican party, beliefs that were once relegated to the fringes of society—overt white supremacy, QAnon, secession from the United States, etc.—now enjoy increased promotion by GOP candidates and elected officials.
While the GOP used to distance itself from overt displays of white supremacy, two Republican members of Congress spoke at a gathering of white nationalists just last month. The QAnon conspiracy web—which hinges on the delusion that a secret "deep state" of satanic cannibal pedophiles secretly controls the world and that Donald Trump was sent to expose them—was once universally decried, but now there are multiple members of Congress who've expressed support for its tenets. The collective memory of the Civil War's horrors made the prospect of secession a nonstarter for more than a century. Now, Far-right Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene openly muses the benefits of a "national divorce."
But perhaps no conspiracy has been granted more deference by the Republican party in the last year than the anti-vaccination movement.
The lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be safe and effective at minimizing the spread and severity of the virus that's killed nearly one million Americans. Nevertheless, conservative media personalities and online conspiracy theorists have routinely promoted deranged conspiracy theories regarding the safety of these vaccines, and painted vaccine requirements—which were supported by George Washington himself—as an unprecedented federal overreach.
And conservative politicians have repeatedly courted their votes, insisting that they're against vaccine mandates, not against vaccines.
Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas is one of these politicians. The Senator has railed against Big Bird of Sesame Street for teaching kids that vaccines are safe. He's applauded athletes for refusing to take the vaccines. He's introduced legislation that would've banned COVID-19 vaccination mandates in schools (but none of the dozens of other vaccines required for public school education).
Most recently, Cruz met and spoke to the People's Convoy—a gathering of truckers who've been driving in circles in the D.C. beltway protesting vaccine mandates.
As he addressed the crowd, Cruz was asked a pointed question: does he believe the COVID-19 vaccines saved lives?
Watch his answer—or lack thereof—below.
"Look, I hope so. I'm not a doctor. You know what, why would you take medical advice from me? I wouldn't take medical advice from me. I'm not in the business of giving medical advice. Go talk to your physician if you wanna figure out whether you should take the vaccine or not. I hope we have good doctors and scientists who are going to be figuring that out, and I'm sure we're gonna be debating and looking at the effect."
Regardless of what the conspiracy theorists Cruz is courting believe, it's objectively true that the vaccines have saved lives.
People mocked Cruz's suggestion that acknowledging this basic fact amounts to "medical advice."
Others pointed out Cruz's hypocrisy on the issue.
It remains to be seen if Cruz's pandering to anti-vaxxers will pay off in a potential 2024 presidential run.