The White House appears to be picking yet another fight. This time their target is none other that the esteemed Dr. Anthony Fauci.
The gravelly voiced Dr was a mainstay at the daily press briefings about the Coronavirus several months ago but has since faded from the camera. Additionally, it is being reported that he last saw the President on June 2 and hasn’t actually briefed the President in over two months.
There are several reasons for this.
On paper, these reasons are past misstatements and inaccuracies of prediction on the part of the Dr. One White House official told CNN that “Several White House officials are concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things.” Some instances of this include early statements that the virus was not a major threat, that its spread was not driven by asymptomatic carriers, and people should not be walking around wearing masks. Each of these issues he eventually changed his mind on.
The counter to these assertions is that Dr. Fauci was working with the best available data he had at the time. When new data became available, he revised his recommendations accordingly.
The not-on-paper reasons for this break between Fauci and the White House are a bit more complex. As you might have guessed, these reasons are politics driven. The President is embroiled in a reelection campaign and, from the looks of the polls, it’s not going well for him.
As part of his campaign strategy, the President would like to paint a picture that things are going well in the country. He would like children to return to school this coming fall and would like to see the economy open up in full. Toward this end, he stated on July 4 that 99% of Covid cases are harmless. Indeed, according to the CDC website, the virus has 3,236,130 confirmed cases with 134,572 deaths. Once you do the math, this comes out to more than a 99.5% survivability rate.
However, survivability does not equate harmless as the President implies. Dr. Fauci responded by saying, “Even if it doesn’t kill you, even if it doesn’t put you in the hospital, it can make you seriously ill.”
In contrast to the rosy picture that the President would like to paint, Dr. Fauci seems to be working on a more dire assessment. He had warned that many states were opening up too soon. Additionally, since the virus had started to aggressively reassert itself in several states, he has warned that the U.S. may reach as many as 100,000 new cases a day.
Another reason for this break is that the President and the Dr seem to be viewing the pandemic from different perspectives. The President is looking to not only the public health concerns, but also the larger economic impact of the virus and its shutdowns. In recent days, the issue of education has also reared its head as parents would like to start preparing their kids for the next school year.
Fauci, on the other hand, is seems focused only on defeating the disease, regardless of collateral damage.
Admiral Brett Giroir, the United States Assistant Secretary for Health, said, “I respect Fauci a lot, but Dr. Fauci is not 100 percent right and he also doesn’t necessarily, he admits that, have the whole national interest in mind. He looks at it from a very narrow public health point of view.”
Regardless of the various reasonings behind this break between the President and Dr. Fauci, the fact is Trump is handling the parting of the ways in the usual Trump fashion. That is to say, it’s over the top and bombastic and involves a lot more anger and harsh words than it needs to.
If the President wanted to seek the advice of medical experts who shared his wholistic vision of dealing with the virus while also letting life go on in as normal a fashion as possible, he certainly could have done so without all the hoopla. Such doctors are out there. Dr. David Katz argued that the lock down was a mistake and a better path forward would have been to allow people to go about their lives and build herd immunity. By not doing that, America guaranteed the second spike we’re seeing now. Additionally, President Trump received a letter in May signed by over a hundred doctors urging him to end the lockdown as it was having deleterious effects in numerous other areas.
So why is the president choosing a public display instead of quietly changing advisors behind the scene. Again, because of the campaign. While Trump may find himself distrusting Fauci’s advice more recently, many of his supporters have been riding that train much longer with some suggesting that Fauci was part of some “deep state” conspiracy and the hashtag #firefauci having been on Twitter for some time.
Additionally, by separating himself from Fauci in a public way, the President has essentially forced his political opponents to take the opposite position by default. This allows him to draw sharp distinctions between himself and Biden. He will be able to say that he wants Americans to return to work and school and their usual lives as soon as possible. By contrast, Biden supports keeping things closed as long as possible which is having harmful effects on personal finances and the long-term economy.
But this strategy is a gamble. Many of the states he will need for re-election are currently in the midst of high Coronavirus infection rates. Under such circumstances, his voters might actually be inclined to the more aggressive method of fighting the virus championed by Fauci and Biden. States such as Florida, Georgia, and Texas have moved to being toss up states and if Trump mishandles the politics of the virus, they may end up swinging blue.
But with the election still four months away, there’s plenty of time for the virus to move on. If that happens, the president will be able to remind people that he championed reopening the economy and sending kids back to school. In the aftermath of the virus, that would be an easier sell than it is while we’re in the thick of it.
Only time will tell.