As Donald Trump and his press secretary sought to downplay the White House’s own effort to scapegoat Dr. Anthony Fauci, top allies to the president spent Monday working on ways to discredit the nation’s leading infectious-diseases expert even more.
Stephen Moore, a conservative economist who informally advises Trump on economic matters, said on Monday evening that he is working on a new policy memo that would “go after Fauci,” not just for the doctor’s proclamations on the still-raging coronavirus pandemic, but for his decades of work for the U.S. government prior to the current crisis.
“We are working on a memo that shows how many times Dr. Fauci’s been wrong during not just [this pandemic], but during his entire career,” Moore told The Daily Beast, adding that he and his team at the Committee to Unleash Prosperity had been working on it for weeks. Moore, whose failures at political and economic prognostication are routine grist for his critics, added that he and his group intend to send their final product to the White House and Trump and to “publicize it,” once ready.
Moore said that the current title of the memo is: “Dr. Wrong.”
“It will document how often his predictions have been not just wrong, but in many cases, fabulously wrong…[and it’ll be] looking at his whole career of making predictions about disease, and trying to show a pattern,” he continued. “Fauci’s been ‘Dr. Doom’… and I don’t have a problem with him being ‘Dr. Doom,’ but I have a problem with him being wrong, wrong, wrong… He’s been a detriment to getting the economy reopened, with a lot of his false predictions.”
Moore’s effort comes just as the Trump White House had circulated a written list of Fauci’s past comments and predictions on the virus that Trump’s team deemed flawed. The list overstates Fauci’s actual record, as many of his early inferences and predictions were qualified with admissions that little was known about the virus. Fauci’s record also, arguably, compares favorably to many top White House officials and allies, including Moore himself, who called for re-opening the economy in early May and once jokingly suggested that one way through the outbreak was to wear spacesuits.
Nevertheless, a White House spokesperson issued an official statement, as first reported by The Washington Post this past week, that “several White House officials are concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things.” Peter Navarro, the president’s top trade adviser and a recurring Fauci antagonist, was also permitted to tell the Post, “Dr. Fauci has a good bedside manner with the public but he has been wrong about everything I have ever interacted with him on.” And on Sunday, Dan Scavino, one of Trump’s most trusted aides and his social-media director, posted to Facebook an anti-Fauci cartoon by Ben Garrison, with Scavino’s caption reading, “Sorry, Dr. Faucet! At least you know if I’m going to disagree with a colleague, such as yourself, it’s done publicly—and not cowardly, behind journalists with leaks. See you tomorrow!”
On Monday, top White House officials tried to repair some of the damage. Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany claimed to reporters that “Dr. Fauci and the president have always had a very good working relationship.” And Trump himself insisted: “I have a very good relationship with Dr. Fauci,” calling the coronavirus task force figure “a very nice person” who “I don’t always agree with.”
The back and forth was just the latest illustration of the dual impulses playing out in Trump’s West Wing, as the virus continues to ravage the country and tank the economy. The president and his lieutenants are eager to find a scapegoat for the government’s failure to prevent a death toll that’s now north of 130,000. But they also realize that it’s a bad look for them to openly wage war on Fauci, who in polls has earned a significantly larger share of the public trust than President Trump.
When asked about this week’s dust-up with Fauci and White House staff, Michael Caputo, the Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs who approves Fauci’s TV appearances, told The Daily Beast on Monday: “I blame the media and their unending search for a ‘Resistance’ hero, for turning half a century of a scientist’s hard work into a clickbait headline that helps reporters undermine the president’s coronavirus response.”
The campaign to ding Fauci has been underway for months prior to White House communications shop sending a list of his past statements to the Post and other media outlets. Back in April, the president spent a chunk of Easter weekend quizzing confidants, “What do you think of Fauci?” and venting about how he’d made Fauci a “star” by allowing the doctor to be on TV so much.
Since then, Trump’s frustrations have only festered and in some cases intensified. According to three people familiar with the president’s private remarks, Trump has encouraged several officials and prominent allies over the past two months to remind journalists and the public of all the ways in which Fauci has been “so wrong,” or allegedly flawed, in his predictions during the coronavirus crisis. One of these sources said that Trump had encouraged them and others to—specifically—tweet about ways Fauci had “messed up,” as this person characterized.
The criticism has clearly worn on Fauci. In an interview with The Daily Beast in June, he repeatedly expressed caution and annoyance that most of his on-air television interviews resulted in “sound bites” and actively avoided questions because of it. When asked, for example, whether his earlier recommendation that Americans not buy masks contributed to early community spread, Fauci said: “That’s a soundbite. I'm not gonna answer that. Sorry.”
And when pushed for details on what he and other senior administration officials could have done differently in responding to the U.S. outbreaks, Fauci admitted that the U.S. preparation “might have been a little bit more aggressive in the first week instead of waiting until it was clear that we were getting community spread,” but cautioned that no one knew at the time what that transmission looked like.
“And it’s always easy to take it out of context,” he said. “I could see 1,000 sound bites flowing from this. Something like, ‘If only we knew’.”