Fauci on whether Trump's Walter Reed SUV ride was a good idea: "I don't want to really go there and comment"

Quite a moment at the tail end of this clip. Rarely will you see someone look more uncomfortable upon receiving a question he doesn’t want to answer than Fauci does here. Watch, then read on.

Medical opinion about the risk from yesterday’s SUV ride appears mixed. Ed and Jazz each flagged examples earlier of doctors who think it’s overblown. Trump’s own team of doctors reportedly okayed it, which should instill some confidence. Although, according to Maggie Haberman, that was something of a “compromise”:

The fact that Trump’s doctor, Sean Conley, has already admitted deceiving the public in order to satisfy Trump’s impulse to project “strength” should color everything going forward. Maybe his team of doctors sincerely thought the SUV ride was safe. Or maybe they’re just too cowed by their powerful patient to remember that they work for the public, not for him. Or maybe Haberman’s right, that they thought the car ride was a bad idea and Trump responded by threatening to check himself out and go back to the White House if they didn’t “approve” it. If Conley tells us today that the ride was safe, why shouldn’t we believe he’s deceiving us again?

As I say, medical opinion is mixed. Fauci’s view of the wisdom of that ride is clear enough from the clip even though it’s phrased as a “no comment.” Other doctors weren’t as tactful:

Who’s right and who’s wrong is above my pay grade. As Jazz pointed out, there may be a barrier between the back seat and front seat of Trump’s SUV that helped to protect the agents. Conceivably the Secret Service even used agents for that ride-along who have already had COVID and recovered from it, rendering them (hopefully) immune. Given all the PPE used, it must be the case that the risk was small even in quarters that close.

But it’s not zero. And because it’s not zero, I think that car ride may end up being the most damaging photo op of the Trump presidency. Lafayette Park was much worse on the merits, but the political circumstances around that event have faded whereas the threat from COVID, made shockingly real by its threat to the health of the leader of the free world, is urgent in a way that nothing else is as Americans begin to focus intently on the election. My thought watching the footage of that ride yesterday was that one-third of the country would react ecstatically (“Yes! He’s showing that the virus can’t stop him! MAGA!”) and that for the other two-thirds it would be a pure “holy sh*t” moment. “Why would he be so selfish as to put those guys in the car at risk for a PR stunt? Why can’t he take the threat seriously even when he’s sick with the virus himself?”

The fact that he couldn’t be talked out of doing this or that no one around him recognized how badly it would play is par for the course on how he’s handled the pandemic. He didn’t realize that the public was scared in April about reopening too soon and pushed for it anyway. He didn’t recognize that the country had widely adopted mask-wearing as basic pandemic protocol and was slow to adapt himself. He didn’t insist upon basic social distancing at White House events like the Barrett announcement and ended up with a possible superspreader event. And then there he was yesterday taking an entirely needless car ride around Walter Reed even though it must have exposed the people with him to some risk, however small. What each of those things has in common is that they’re cases of Trump doing what his diehard base would support irrespective of how the majority of the country might feel about it. The car ride typifies his mentality. He didn’t get in the SUV because he had some important official state business somewhere off the premises. He got in because there was a group of fans outside and he wanted to wave to them.

He’s consistent, at least. From the start, his view of the election has been that he only needs to satisfy the people who already passionately support him, on the theory I guess that they have the numbers to swamp Democrats plus swing voters. Both the public polling and the internal polling lately contradict that belief. And the fact that he was willing to take this ride yesterday with agents at risk will end up undermining any “sympathy bounce” he might get once he’s back on the trail. Newspapers and other media are littered today with quotes from current or former Secret Service officials complaining about Trump exposing their people to risk unnecessarily, but of course he’ll dismiss those as anonymous or coming from disgruntled staffers and insist that the vast majority of the USSS secretly loves him.

He won the primary in 2016 because he understood better than any of his professional-politician rivals did what Republican voters really wanted from their leaders. But in 2020 that instinct appears to have disserved him grossly: He’s still tapped in to what righty populists like (which doesn’t include much actual populism) but it’s left him blind to what the majority of the country dislikes, even with something as basic as a photo op. It’s going to end up biting him, partly from big mistakes like not insisting on a stimulus deal with Pelosi months ago and partly from small ones like yesterday.