Donald Trump slams Anthony Fauci on COVID-19: Will president's misguided ploy cost him second term?

Trump seems to have made the calculation of trying to cast Fauci, a man who has served six presidents, as the villain of the piece. It is, to put it kindly, an interesting strategy. To put it bluntly, it looks like a misguided ploy that may end up costing him a second term

Deven Kanal October 21, 2020 06:20:11 IST
Donald Trump slams Anthony Fauci on COVID-19: Will president's misguided ploy cost him second term?

File image of Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of US' National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. AP

President Donald Trump is angry.

Just two weeks before election day, the president is lashing out: At the "fake news" press, at the "rigged" polls, at Attorney-General William Barr for refusing to indict his opponent and, most of all, at Dr Anthony Fauci and "all these idiots".

With the US toll due to the coronavirus around 221,000 and time running out to set right his faltering campaign, an under pressure Trump seems to have made the calculation of trying to cast Fauci, a man who has served six presidents, as the villain of the piece while claiming that the public is "tired" about hearing about the coronavirus.

It is, to put it kindly, an interesting strategy.

To put it bluntly, it looks like a misguided ploy that may end up costing him a second term.

If the polls are proven right on 3 November and the Democratic challenger Joe Biden defeats Trump, many might look back and wonder if this was the moment when the incumbent threw away his last shot.

While this isn't the first time Trump has sought to portray Fauci in a negative light — his constant attacks have caused Fauci and his family to require security details after receiving death threats — what has to be baffling Republican operatives and party members is Trump choosing this moment to bring attention to the US' failure, and by extension Trump's failure, to properly address the coronavirus pandemic.

“He’s been here for 500 years,” the president said of the good doctor in a campaign call with staff, as per The New York Times. “Every time he goes on television, there’s always a bomb, but there’s a bigger bomb if you fire him. This guy’s a disaster.”

This, even as Fauci has warned Americans to “hunker down” and brace for a difficult winter and increasingly sought to distance himself from the White House's relentlessly optimistic view that the nation is “rounding the corner” on the pandemic.

What makes it worse for Trump is that Fauci, in the eyes of the public, is far more trusted and popular than he, the sitting president.

A poll released late last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan group, found that 68 percent of Americans trusted Fauci "either a great deal or a fair amount" to provide reliable information about the virus, while only 40 percent trusted Trump.

Further, a July 2020 survey by Quinnipiac University Poll discovered that two-thirds of respondents don't trust to give information on the coronavirus and that two-thirds trust Fauci to do the same.

Even for a man who enjoys rolling the dice — and not just because he's owned casinos — attacking Fauci in such a manner is rife with risk, standing as it does in stark contrast to how he won the Oval Office in the first place.

Trump was blessed as he was to have Hillary Clinton, a candidate who was extremely well-defined for better and worse, with the second highest unfavourable rating in history, as his main opposition. Clinton's candidacy allowed Trump to run as 'an outsider' and rail against the establishment.

The problem now is, that Trump is the establishment and the two men he's now running against, Biden and Fauci, are more popular in the general public than he will ever be.

And of all the major issues Trump trails Biden in in the eyes of voters, perhaps no subject stands out more than the coronavirus: registered voters give Biden an  astounding 12 point edge over Trump when it comes to who they think would be capable of handling the pandemic.

Trump may be delighting his die-hard fans, who can't get enough of him bashing his enemies (both real and perceived), but this ploy is unlikely to play well with women and swing voters. Suburban women, in particular, are stampeding away from Trump and the Republican party.

And data shows that Biden, for the first time, is winning over senior citizens, which, along with whites, make up the core of the Republican base.

Seniors also vote. A lot. And while some of them were happy to go along with the president's claims that the coronavirus is a hoax, they had a change of tune once the president himself was hospitalised.

Given these particular set of facts, Trump's strategy of attacking a widely popular figure and continuing to shine a light on his biggest blunder as president makes no sense. Which op-ed writers across America are pointing out.

'Makes no sense'

CNN's Chris Cillizza began his column by calling out those that still believe that Trump is some sort of political savant.

In his column entitled 'Attacking Anthony Fauci is Donald Trump's dumbest closing message', Cillizza wrote, "It's hard to imagine something dumber than attacking Fauci as a closing message for a campaign that badly needs to rebuild its credibility with voters, especially women, on the issue of the coronavirus."

Cillizza added that Trump's attacks on Fauci, seen through the lens of a winning strategy, make no sense. That Fauci is the one person in America Trump shouldn't attack if he wants to win the election.

"And yet he does it anyway. Partially because he can't help himself. And partially because Trump has ever only been good at one thing: Playing to what his base wants," Cillizza concluded.

Over at the Washington Post, Aaron Blake, in an editorial entitled 'Trump's attack on Fauci makes no sense', pointed out that Trump's claim that America would have seen 800,000 deaths were Fauci in charge has 'no basis in reality'.

"Fauci has quite clearly advocated for more mitigation than Trump has, not less. It would logically follow that, whatever negative impact Fauci’s advice might have on the economy, it would at least have reduced mortality, relative to what we’ve seen so far," Blake wrote.

Blake added that Trump is trying to have his rhetorical cake and eat it too by saying that Fauci and his fellow scientists would have both depressed the economy and led to more death. "It’s just not an argument that makes sense," Blake concluded.

Stephanie Sarkis, writing in Forbes, doesn't hold back while painting Trump as a green-eyed figure.

"Trump, like many narcissists, views anyone that has a different opinion than him as being “disloyal.” Narcissists require loyalty, but rarely do they give it in return. Time and time again, Trump has shown that when anyone dares to disagree with him or enable his behavior, he tries to destroy them," Sarkis writes.

Sarkis pointed to the Trump administration repeatedly undermining Fauci: from compiling a list of items they feel he's been wrong about and handing it out to reporters to writing an op-ed in USA Today so riddled with falsehoods that the publication had to state that the article did not meet its standards and repeatedly leaving him out of coronavirus briefings.

"Trump hates being criticised, and he hates when someone refutes his statements. He has decided to go after Fauci purely out of ego, with no concern for the health and welfare of citizens," she concluded.

In the Sydney Morning Herald, Matthew Knott, stated that slamming Fauci is exactly the type of undisciplined behaviour Republican strategists would want Trump to avoid in the closing days of the campaign. "There's no political benefit to be gained from attacking a highly respected and popular national figure," Knott rightly pointed out.

Knott added that getting into a spat with Fauci also elevates the prominence of the coronavirus, which is bad news for Trump, as polls consistently show that six in 10 Americans disapprove of the way Trump has handled the coronavirus.

"Trump's attacks on Fauci are more psychological than political, they represent Trump's need to assert dominance against anyone he perceives as a threat. Fauci has continued to speak frankly throughout the pandemic, even if it's not what Trump wants to hear," Knott added.

Knott concludes that going after a well-liked figure such as Fauci is simply about Trump nursing a personal grudge.

Mark Shanahan wrote in the Boston Globe, "It would seem unwise, picking this fight with Fauci — so close to Election Day — instead of using the waning days of his teetering reelection campaign to, say, reassure worried voters, especially seniors terrified of being infected... but there’s always a Trumpian logic to these Twitter explosions."

Shanahan added that while the president was angry, he could have said nothing. But if we’ve learned anything about the current occupant of the White House, it’s that he can’t help himself, he’s incapable of saying nothing, Shanahan added.

"As an anxious nation turns its eyes to Trump, he’s busy looking elsewhere, for someone — anyone — he can blame for the raging pandemic tanking his prospects for a second term. Good luck with that. Fauci, it would seem, is not your man," Shanahan concluded.

With inputs from agencies

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