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(LifeSiteNews) — The battle lines in the COVID-19 wars are fairly straightforward: Democrats and the Left, with allies in the swampier corners of the GOP and “conservative” media, versus real conservatives, Republicans, and independent spirits who are wary of rushed vaccines and insist on medical freedom. But there’s one figure whose role in all this doesn’t fit neatly into either side: Donald Trump.

The former (and would-be future?) Republican president courted anti-vax sentiment in his 2016 campaign, blaming conventional vaccines for an “autism epidemic” during a 2015 primary debate and even meeting with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. after his victory. But COVID-19 rocked the world in early 2020, and a few months later he made a dramatic pledge: He would deliver a vaccine for this new virus by the end of the year. 

While Operation Warp Speed did indeed deliver “the fastest vaccine in history,” in a 10th the time it usually takes and a quarter the time of the previous record-holder (the mumps vaccine), the three shots cleared for use in the United States didn’t end the national nightmare. Instead, they unleashed a new one, as Trump was replaced by the Biden-Harris administration, which traded Democrat vaccine hesitancy for Democrat vaccine coercion.

Further, this unprecedented assault on medical freedom at local, state, and federal levels isn’t even bringing America any closer to end the pandemic. While the vaccines appear to reduce COVID’s severity, serious questions remain as to their own potential for harm, not to mention the serious moral dilemma they pose to many Americans due to the aborted fetal cells used in their development and testing. And we now know that even the vaccines’ apparent upside is more temporary and less certain than originally sold as. Somehow, after more than 189 million vaccinations, COVID-19 has killed more Americans this year than last year.

Throughout it all, vaccine enthusiasts blame hesitancy on Trump and his fans, and many of the hesitant continue to see Trump as a kindred spirit who could set things right by taking the White House back in 2024. But is he?

Trump, who contracted COVID himself in October 2020 yet still took the Pfizer jab the following January, has been overwhelmingly positive about the vaccines in all of his post-presidency comments while only offering almost-perfunctory endorsements of Americans’ right to decide for themselves.

“I believe totally in your freedoms, I do, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, but I recommend that you take the vaccines,” Trump told Alabama rally-goers in August, to some unsurprising (except maybe to him) boos.

In various interviews over the past few months — with Fox Business’s Maria Bartiromo, with The First’s Bill O’Reilly, and with Real America’s Voices’ David Brody — Trump has pushed a consistent narrative: sure, forcing people to get jabbed is wrong, but Biden’s the only reason it’s controversial, and aren’t I awesome for getting these things out so fast?

To Bartiromo:

When I was president, you didn’t have people protesting the vaccine. Everybody wanted to get it and we were giving out over a million shots a day … now it’s coming back through the Delta … people that do get [the vaccine] get better much quicker, it’s a very important thing to know, they don’t get nearly as sick.

To O’Reilly:

It was supposed to take five years and they said it wasn’t going to work. I did three vaccines in less than nine months and they do work, they work really well … I would convince people, take it. I don’t want to push it … When I was president, there was no talk about mandates or anything. Everybody wanted the vaccine. Now a lot of people don’t want it.

To Brody:

When I was president, we had no, people were not fighting the vaccine. Incredible. Everybody wanted it. Everybody wanted it. There was nobody saying we don’t want it. And it’s really, this has happened since I left. I think people just don’t trust the Biden administration or Biden, because since I left, now you have the mandate fight. And that’s a big fight, by the way. You have to allow people their freedoms, but people don’t want, I took the vaccine. I think you might have taken the vaccine. A lot of people took the vaccine. And it’s been very effective.

Perhaps sensing tension with his fan base, Trump did speak a bit more forcefully against mandates last week, suggesting to Fox News’ Sean Hannity that mandates have something to do with the fact that “drug companies make a lot of money” from the jabs, plus noting that the vaccines are pointless for those with natural immunity from prior infection. Even so, he continued to argue that “during my administration, everybody wanted the vaccine,” and “I can think of no other reason” for hesitancy than distrust of Biden.

In point of fact, state governments and academic institutions were openly discussing plans to pressure or compel COVID vaccinations while Trump was still president. More important, whenever anything is rushed (especially at “warp speed”), concerns about due diligence are rational, inevitable, and above all, foreseeable.

Why is he taking this approach? The truth is that Donald Trump is a pretty straightforward guy with pretty straightforward motivations. He went all-in on Operation Warp Speed in large part because “moved mountains to deliver a vaccine in record time during a global pandemic” sounds incredibly impressive on paper. It’s something he can brag about for the rest of his life, one of the only parts of his legacy that can’t be repealed by a future Congress or torn up by executive order.

The only thing that could undermine it is an eventual consensus that rushing these vaccines out the door wasn’t such a good thing after all. And with the Trump administration’s handling of COVID-19 already caught between left-wing hysterics and right-wing displeasure that he deferred so much to Anthony Fauci, Trump’s ego simply couldn’t handle that.

But at the end of the day, Americans’ health and freedoms outweigh presidential self-image. Trump could have set us on a far better path by prioritizing research and approval of successful therapeutics for everyone who was going to get COVID with or without a shot while pursuing patient, rigorous vaccine development more in line with past inoculations. He didn’t. If he wants to be given another chance at the presidency, he should explain why. 

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Calvin Freiburger is a Wisconsin-based conservative writer and 2011 graduate of Hillsdale College. His commentary and analysis have been featured on NewsReal Blog, Live Action, and various other conservative websites. Before joining LifeSiteNews, he spent two years in Washington, DC, working to build support for the Life at Conception Act with the National Pro-Life Alliance, then worked a year and a half as assistant editor of You can follow him on Twitter @CalFreiburger, and check out his Substack: