(CNN)Whether you love Joe Biden, hate him or aren’t totally sure how you feel about him, we can all agree on this: His first term — and maybe his entire presidency — will hinge on how he is perceived to have dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic.
And that fundamental fact is why Thursday was such an important day in the Biden presidency. Because make no mistake: Biden just staked a whole lot of his first term on his plan to mandate vaccination against the coronavirus to upwards of 100 million people.Biden knew the outrage such a sweeping federal mandate would cause. He knew Republican governors would cast the move as a step toward authoritarianism and federal overreach.(Which, of course, they did. My favorite was South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, who cast the mandate in decidedly apocalyptic terms; “Rest assured, we will fight them to the gates of hell to protect the liberty and livelihood of every South Carolinian,” McMaster promised.)What Biden is betting is that there are more people fed up with the unvaccinated than there are those who are up in arms over a federal vaccine mandate.Read MoreTo that end, Biden leaned in to the criticism leveled at him by GOP leaders.”I am so disappointed that, particularly, some Republican governors have been so cavalier with the health of these kids; so cavalier with the health of their communities,” Biden said on Friday. “We’re playing for real here. This isn’t a game.”
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The political calculation here — and, yes, of course there is a political calculation — is that the only way we get to the end of this pandemic or at least to a more manageable place is by forcing tens of millions of Americans who are resistant to getting vaccinated to do it or run the risk of losing their job.And that, if the pandemic is believed to be under control, the bulk of the public — although certainly not the wing aligned with former President Donald Trump — won’t really care all that much about how we got there. Biden is making this gamble from a position of (relative) strength. In new CNN polling, 56% of Americans approve of how he had dealt with the virus while 44% disapprove. While those numbers are solid, they are a significant decline from April, when two-thirds of the public (66%) approved of how he was handling the pandemic.The Point: Biden is picking this fight on mandates because a) he thinks it’s the only path to curtailing Covid-19 and b) he believes he can win it.