By Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large
On Tuesday, Elmo — yes, the perennially joyful red Muppet who loves, literally, everyone — got vaccinated against Covid-19.
“Elmo got the COVID vaccine today, just like Elmo’s mommy and daddy!” tweeted the puppet. “Elmo’s daddy had a lot of questions, but Elmo’s doctor said the vaccine would help keep Elmo healthy, and all of Elmo’s friends and family too.”
Which, well, cool. Elmo is, allegedly three and a half years old (although he has been that age for the better part of the last four decades of his existence, so I have some questions…), and, therefore, is newly eligible to be vaccinated against the virus. (Covid vaccines for those 5 and under began last Tuesday.)
Having a beloved childhood figure like Elmo vouch for the vaccine seems like a good way to allay the fears (of shots, of going to the doctor, etc) of young kids about getting the vaccine. A vaccine, I would note, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has unanimously recommended and of which CDC Director Rochelle Walensky has said amounted to “another important step forward in our nation’s fight against COVID-19.”
It was a feel-good moment. Look, the puppet got vaccinated! It just felt like a “pinch.” Awww.
That is until Ted Cruz decided to play the Grinch. (Fact check: The Grinch is NOT a Muppet.)
“Thanks, @sesamestreet for saying parents are allowed to have questions,” tweeted Cruz. (Elmo’s dad, Louis, appears in the video noting that “I had a lot of questions about Elmo getting the Covid vaccine. Was it safe? Was it the right decision? I talked to our pediatrician so I could make the right choice.” Also, who knew Elmo had a dad?!)
The Texas Republican senator then went on: “You then have @elmo aggressively advocate for vaccinating children UNDER 5. But you cite ZERO scientific evidence for this.” He then links to a press release from his office in which he demands answers from the Food and Drug Administration about its emergency use authorization of the vaccine for kids under 5.
Can you say “Elmo aggressively advocating” kids? It’s a tough one!
Surprisingly (or maybe not, knowing Cruz) this isn’t Cruz’s first fight with a Muppet — although the last time he picked on someone more his size.
Back in November, an 8-foot-2 yellow fowl tweeted this: “I got the COVID-19 vaccine today! My wing is feeling a little sore, but it’ll give my body an extra protective boost that keeps me and others healthy.”
Yes, Big Bird got vaccinated. And Ted Cruz was on the case!
“Government propaganda…for your 5 year old,” he clapped back.
Taking on Elmo and Big Bird — all within a year — over the Covid vaccine means Cruz is up to something. Something political.
Here’s what he is doing: Cruz knows that Covid-19 generally — and the vaccine for the virus specifically — has become hugely political. Conservatives have rallied around the idea that the aggressive vaccination efforts are not a public health matter but rather a massive government overreach designed to tell you what is best for your family.
(I’ll note here that Covid-19 has killed more than 1 million people nationwide. And that Covid-19 is the 2nd leading cause of death — behind heart disease — according to the Petersen-KFF Health Systems tracker. And that Covid-19 is the 4th leading cause of death among kids aged 5-14.)
And Cruz also knows that if he wants to have a chance at being the Republican presidential nomination — and he does — that he needs to get right with the Trumpist base of the party. And the quickest way to do that is to follow a blueprint laid out by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis: Get knee deep in the culture wars.
So, sure, it’s a little weird for a grown man to pick a fight with two puppets — even if one of them is 8 feet tall — but Cruz knows that for the base he is trying to attract, this stuff is like catnip. Which is why he’ll likely keep doing it.
Watch out, Cookie Monster. You could be next.
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