What's the White House's strategy in going after Fauci?

I’m cringing at my own headline since there rarely is any conventional “strategy” anymore. There’s just the president doing what he wants to do — grumbling about NASCAR banning the Confederate flag at events, say, or taking jabs at his top infectious disease expert — and the people around him scrambling to back him up reflexively irrespective of how it might affect his chances this fall. Nearly every Trump move can hypothetically be rationalized as a stratagem designed to please his base and maximize their turnout, but that assumption gets weaker by the day. He’s thrown so many bones to populists already by attacking their hate objects that there can’t be any voters left on the right at this point that require further persuasion to commit to him. Who’s still holding out after Trump’s rants about BLM and Democratic governors using lockdowns to tank the economy and the “deep state,” etc etc etc, and just needs a *little* bit more antagonism towards Anthony Fauci from POTUS before finally deciding to vote for Trump this fall?

It’s as simple as this: I think Fauci’s gotten on his and his deputies’ nerves lately due to some of his public comments and they’re instinctively “counterpunching” no matter how much doing so might backfire on them. Trump himself has pulled his punches, going no further than to note that Fauci was wrong early on in some of his assessments of the threat from COVID-19 to the U.S., but his aides have been more aggressive. First they gagged him:

White House communications officials, who must approve television appearances related to the coronavirus, responded by allowing Fauci spots this week on PBS NewsHour, a CNN town hall with Sanjay Gupta and NBC’s “Meet the Press” during the prime Sunday morning slot, according to one person familiar with the situation.

Then Fauci joined a Facebook Live event on Tuesday with Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), disputing Trump’s assertions that a lower death rate showed the country’s progress against the pandemic. Fauci called it “a false narrative” and warned, “Don’t get yourself into false complacency.”

Fauci did not end up making any of the scheduled appearances. The White House canceled them after his Tuesday remarks, according to the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to relate behind-the-scenes conversations.

Then they started circulating to reporters a list of comments made by Fauci about the pandemic that turned out to be wrong or shortsighted in hindsight. I’ve never heard of a White House pushing oppo on their own guy, and certainly never on an official like Fauci who’s liked and trusted by most of the public. Most administrations would consider someone like that an asset, worthy of *greater* public visibility in the hope and belief that voters’ respect for Fauci might translate into respect for Fauci’s boss as well. As it is, Trump cronies like Stephen Moore are openly chattering to reporters about their plans to try to further damage his reputation:

“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.”

But that’s not all. People inside the White House and close to Trump are publicly attacking Fauci as well now:

“It boggles the mind” that the White House would want to go after him, said Fox News’s political editor, Chris Stirewalt, last night. “It just makes no sense.” It doesn’t. The closest I can get to making it make sense is to speculate that the White House is worried Fauci will talk governors into issuing new lockdown orders, which will kill the economic recovery and possibly extinguish any last chance Trump has at reelection. But that doesn’t make sense either. First, although Fauci has put lockdowns on the table recently as a last-ditch way to limit the spread in hot-spot states, he’s not enthusiastic about them. “It would be really a morale breaker,” he said to Stat this morning of the prospect of new stay-at-home orders. “The stress and strain that people were under during prolonged lockdown is the genesis of why, when they were given the opportunity to try and open up, they rebounded so abruptly. Because what I think happened is, they overshot.” He’s been cautiously supportive of reopening schools as well, putting him basically in sync with Trump.

Second, and without rehashing all of this again at length, Trump’s “reopen at all costs” approach is more of a threat to his reelection than Fauci’s “reopen cautiously” view. He’s paying a steep price in the polls for the spike in cases that the south and California are experiencing. If infections continue to skyrocket, the economy will begin slowing down again either because governors feel no choice but to issue new stay-at-home orders or because frightened consumers begin staying home of their own accord. If the White House had encouraged governors in the spring to stick to their own guidelines on reopening, we — and Trump — might be lined up for a more durable recovery now.

In fact, by demagoging Fauci, the White House risks having parts of the population (i.e. Republicans) grow even more skeptical of precautions urged by experts, which will further retard the country’s ability to hold down cases. Among GOPers, trust in Fauci has already declined from 56 percent in March to 38 percent now:

Coincidentally, Republicans are also much, much less likely than Democrats to say they always or very often wear a mask outside the home:

In light of all that, what’s the “strategy” in attacking Fauci? There is none. Anything they can do to limit the spread is good for the country and good for Trump’s chances in November, and so here they are undermining a guy who’s doing what he can to get public officials and regular people to limit the spread. On top of that, as you can see in the first graph, Fauci still rates well on trust among the overall public (51/21) and among independents (52/21). Even among Republicans, more people trust him than don’t (38/35). So how does the White House help itself by making a foil of him? Which voters are supposed to be won over, rather than alienated, by doing this? It makes no sense, like Stirewalt says. Even a sycophant as loyal as Lindsey Graham knows it’s a bad idea:

I’ll leave you with this. When do Trump’s deputies start circulating oppo on the First Lady?