After the coronavirus had killed 400 Americans, Dr. Anthony Fauci told Science magazine that he can only go so far in contradicting the president’s lies, since “I can't jump in front of the microphone and push him down.“ Trump shot back on Twitter: "We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”
Trump trotted out that line again this week at his first post-virus rally in Florida, more than 215,000 deaths later. Only now, the cure—that is Fauci—isn’t taking it any more. He’s jumping and pushing, coming right out and saying that Trump, recovering (or not) from the virus, shouldn’t risk infecting other people or gathering crowds to infect each other at rallies. A picture of an honored guest there, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who just lifted precautions in his state, such as they were, wiping his unmasked nose and giving high fives while new cases are surging in the Sunshine State explains why seniors are fleeing Trump in droves.
The proximate cause of Fauci’s revolt is a campaign ad that takes a phrase from an interview in which the apolitical doctor had high praise for the hard work of public health officials—“I can’t imagine that anybody could be doing more”—and makes it seem as if he said that about Trump.
If you read Fauci’s body language standing to Trump’s left at task force briefings, the doctor couldn’t imagine anybody doing less. The one where he wiped his brow as the president ragged on the deep state was seen ‘round the world. Now, Mister Nice Doc with the placid bedside manner is done protecting Trump’s fragile feelings. Now, he’s demanding that Trump “stop harassing me” by continuing to broadcast an obviously false ad that makes it seem as if he’s endorsing the president’s handling of the virus, if not the president himself.
But as usual, despite being caught red-handed, Trump is not taking down the ad—it’s Fauci’s voice, after all. And in a two-fer who-does-he-think-he-is tweet, Trump dumped on both the accuracy of Fauci’s first pitch at the Naitonal’s opening game (somehow Trump’s invitation to do the same at the Yankees opener got lost in Louis DeJoy’s mail) and the accuracy of his prognostications about the virus.
It’s not a surprise that Trump would alienate Fauci when he’s sent so many aides running for their lives, including recently Olivia Troye who reports that one of her duties was calling Fauci to tell him when his services would not be needed. But Fauci managed Trump longer than most—dangerously long in my opinion—maintaining respect for the office way beyond when Trump frittered it away and sparing him richly deserved criticism in the moment to be able to exert some influence. Back in March, Fauci said that when Trump said something scientifically wrong or medically unsound, he would pin it and work out with the task force how to “get it corrected the next time.”
Now, Fauci can correct him the same day and in advance if he feels it’s needed. When asked if he would resign from the White House task force over Trump’s deceitful ad, Fauci said not in his “wildest freakin’ dreams” did he ever think about it which was the freakin’ right answer. Trump’s in a bind. You know he would like to rid himself of Fauci but even in his self-destructive phase he knows that would make the pesky doctor a martyr and create more trouble for himself than he did when he dismissed James Comey for insufficient loyalty. That was drama enough to be the marquee film on Netflix’s fall schedule. Already, Brad Pitt has an Emmy for portraying Fauci on Saturday Night Live. How much upstaging can the star of The Apprentice take?
It better be a lot. Fauci now has the upper hand, a permanent whistleblower whether warbling from inside or out, protected by his integrity and history of controlling pandemics past. The task force has devolved to a bucket of warm egos that Mike Pence barely remembers he’s on. Its primary tasks are to pursue herd immunity by default under radiologist and Fox commentator Scott Atlas, and to order the CDC to water down its guidelines and the FDA to speed up its approvals of miracle cures. The White House has so obviously pushed its politics over policy, the pharmaceutical industry has issued a statement siding with regulators.
There’s a reason that Trump put him in that ad. People trust the doctor who’s been straight with them. They don’t trust the president who keeps hard-selling his success as the death toll shoots up, the second wave arriving as Fauci foretold.
Whether staying on as a permanent in-house whistleblower or going, Fauci is stronger than a weakened president who’s always been in sales, not operations, and now has only sickness, death, and grief beyond imagining to sell. The doctor can do both. He’s at home in the lab, treating patients, authorizing research, and limiting deaths to 11 in the Ebola crisis during the Obama administration and then selling as he doffs the white jacket for the button down shirt and off-the-rack blazer to sell the sacrifices we need to make to save humanity.
Last week, we saw a president on steroids. This week we see a president not on steroids exactly as agitated, hyper, and unbalanced as before. As the evening in Florida ended, Trump felt so powerful, he could “kiss everyone” while awkwardly dancing the night away to the Village People’s gay anthem YMCA, fists pumping, arms waving, lip biting, as out of touch to the sadness blanketing the country as a man can be. At this rate, Gary Busey, now settling disputes between animals and their owners on Pet Judge, will be playing the one-term president in oversized golf pants still hitting himself into the rough despite more trips to the links in a year than Obama in two terms.
Back in March, Fauci played mild-mannered Clark Kent in the White House press room to Trump, who reportedly planned to rip off his shirt upon leaving Walter Reed to reveal Superman underneath. All the while the only person able to leap a terrible pandemic in a single bound is the doctor in the button-down who can now give it his all. Better late than never, let a real task force begin.