In recent days, former President Donald Trump has watched from afar as one of his most popular rivals for public attention has been unleashed by the Biden administration to, in part, disparage Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. And the ex-president hasn’t even been able to tweet about it.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, once a prominent figure on Trump’s coronavirus task force who’s now a top COVID-19 adviser to President Joe Biden, began his multi-day blitz to different news outlets that included openly expressing his relief that the old crew was gone and that he could now serve in the Biden administration.
“One of the new things in this administration is if you don’t know the answer, don’t guess, just say you don’t know the answer,” Fauci told reporters at the White House on Thursday. He also stressed to journalists during that White House briefing that when he told them about how certain matters had markedly improved after Trump left office, he definitely “wasn’t joking!”
And as Biden’s predecessor watched on—albeit from hundreds of miles away from where he last week sat at the height of executive power—he reacted in a fit of grievance, self-obsession, TV hate-watching that largely defined his presidency and now-defunct policy-making operations.
Fauci’s re-emergence on prime-time television during the Biden era infuriated the exiled Trump, who began whining about how “incompetent” the doctor was, and how he probably should have fired Fauci when he had the chance, a source close to the former president and another individual familiar with the matter tell The Daily Beast. (Technically, Trump did not have the power to fire Fauci, a career federal employee.)
On top of everything else that was stripped from him, he’s lost his primary emotional release valve, thanks to his post-Capitol riot banning from Twitter, just as his enemies—real and perceived—keep dancing atop his administration’s freshly dug grave.
And it’s not just Fauci. Trump has also griped this weekend about not being able to tweet about the Biden team telling journalists that Trump and ex-officials had left them with a gigantic COVID mess to mop up, according to a person with direct knowledge of his recent ramblings.
“He very much feels that a lot of people are working to downgrade his legacy out of hatred for him,” this source said.
Fauci may not be trying to actively downgrade Trump’s legacy—which speaks for itself as infections surpassed 25 million on Sunday and has killed more than 400,000 Americans—but he nowadays is not shy about telling the press and the cameras about how he was treated by the former president and his lieutenants in the West Wing.
“After a TV interview or a story in a major newspaper, someone senior, like Mark Meadows, would call me up expressing concern that I was going out of my way to contradict the president,” the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told The New York Times in an interview published Sunday. “There were a couple of times where I would make a statement that was a pessimistic viewpoint about what direction we were going, and the president would call me up and say, ‘Hey, why aren’t you more positive? You’ve got to take a positive attitude. Why are you so negativistic? Be more positive.’”
During the Q&A, Fauci went on to discuss the deluge of death threats and harassment that he and his family received during the Trump era, which included how “one day I got a letter in the mail, I opened it up and a puff of powder came all over my face and my chest… The security detail was there, and they’re very experienced in that. They said, ‘Don’t move, stay in the room.’ And they got the hazmat people.” (He said it turned out to be “benign,” and not something like ricin or anthrax.)
The now former, twice-impeached President Trump had spent chunks of his final year in office denigrating and pushing aside Fauci, a longtime infectious diseases expert who during the prior administration had even once publicly suggested that Trump and his team’s COVID-era decisions had cost many American lives. It got to the point where the Trump White House and key MAGA allies devoted time and resources to compiling memos and official talking points to attack Fauci’s credibility as an expert on science and public health. In Peter Navarro’s case, the now-former top White House trade adviser to Trump authored a short opinion piece published in USA Today that trashed Fauci as being “wrong about everything I have interacted with him on.” During his time in the White House, Trump would on-and-off complain to aides about public opinion polling that showed Fauci was trusted by a significantly greater share of the U.S. population than himself. The former president would also launch into tirades about how he’d made Dr. Fauci a “star” who, supposedly, would be a nobody without Trump.
All of this happened while Fauci was still working on that administration’s COVID task force while the White House was supposed to be focusing on fighting the virus that was surging through the country and the White House itself. And for the former president and much of Trumpworld, the animus remains intact.
“The scorn of Fauci should be worn as a badge of honor, since he’s done so much harm to the economic, physical, and mental vitality of our nation,” Steve Cortes, who worked as a senior adviser on the Trump re-election campaign, said on Sunday afternoon.
Fauci occupies a unique position in the Trump orbit as a target for hate, even though he wasn’t the only member of the Trump White House’s task force who was glad to see the prior administration sent packing. And he certainly wasn’t the only one who recalled President Trump derailing high-level coronavirus policy meetings with inane, if not dangerous, input.
“There was parallel data streams coming into the White House that were not transparently utilized,” Dr. Deborah Birx, another senior member of the Trump administration task force, told CBS’s Face the Nation. “I saw the president presenting graphs that I never made. So, I know that someone out there or someone inside was creating a parallel set of data and graphics that were shown to the president.”
Olivia Troye, a former senior adviser for the COVID task force who ended up leaving and endorsing Biden last year, told The Daily Beast last month that during meetings on the virus, Trump and other administration brass would repeatedly interrupt the conversations to ask if things like herd immunity would be good policy for them to pursue.
Many experts and former Trump administration officials feared that an official policy of herd immunity would get a staggering amount of Americans killed in the process, and Trump had to be walked back from the edge of endorsing it multiple times.
And some of the times when Trump wasn’t offering up potentially disastrous ideas on the pandemic in closed-door huddles, he would choose to focus on, in Troye’s words, “talk[ing] about media that had pissed him off.”
She added, “At times, he would go around and spend his time complimenting people for their [recent TV] appearances. He’d compliment Kellyanne Conway, or someone, on how well he thought someone did, saying, ‘Oh, you did a great job on that today!’ This was [during meetings] when we were trying to get him to focus on matters of life and death around the country.”