Vaccine Debate Tests First-Time White House Hopefuls, For a pair of first-time presidential hopefuls, the sudden injection of the childhood vaccine debate into the 2016 campaign is a lesson in how unexpected issues can become stumbling blocks. Long-held positions can look different under the glare of the national spotlight.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, both weighing bids for the GOP presidential nomination, struggled this week to articulate their views on the emotionally charged vaccination controversy. The matter has taken on new resonance amid a frightening measles outbreak that has sickened more than 100 people across the U.S. and in Mexico.
Paul pushed back on criticism of his initial assertion that he was aware of “many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.” He issued a statement Tuesday denying immunizations cause disorders, saying they were just “temporally related.” He also posted a photo on Twitter of himself getting a booster for a vaccine.
Christie, in the midst of a three-day trip to the United Kingdom, took a different approach, canceling plans to speak to reporters Tuesday after his comments a day earlier caused a stir.
“Is there something you don’t understand about ‘No questions’?” Christie snapped at reporters Tuesday.
The measles outbreak has revived the discussion about parents who choose not to vaccinate their children, some out of fear that vaccines can lead to autism and developmental disorders – a claim that has been vigorously debunked by medical researchers.
It’s unclear whether the vaccine issue will have a long shelf life in a White House campaign that is only just beginning. But the ways prospective candidates handle unanticipated issues can help determine whether those subjects blow over or become nagging distractions that contenders can’t shake.
“Every day you want to go out with a message to voters, and every day there are a dozen trapdoors you don’t want to fall into,” said Robert Gibbs, a top adviser for both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns. “If you look at Chris Christie and Rand Paul, they fell into the trapdoors yesterday.”