Frank Luntz: Man, the Republicans in my vaccine focus group really didn't like Anthony Fauci

Something fun on a slow Friday afternoon for all the Fauci-haters out there. Last night Ben Domenech was asked about him on Bret Baier’s show and gave this answer:

“Look, I want to be measured and when I am saying here, Domenech said. “Dr. Fauci is someone who has worked very hard for the American people. He is in many ways someone that we all should respect, but I think that the fact is that he is someone as a messenger who has outlived his usefulness to both administrations, this one in the previous one because of his inconsistency is and because I think people see through this kind of theater that Rand Paul was criticizing.”

I’ve made that point too. If the biggest stumbling block to herd immunity is Republicans (particularly Republican men), and if Republicans view Fauci dimly, then it stands to reason that Fauci is a poor choice to be the face of the national vaccination effort. He’s highly respected by non-Republicans, but that group doesn’t need as much persuasion to get their shots. And there’s no reason to think another public health expert couldn’t convince them.

Getting into viral squabbles with Republican politicians like Rand Paul doesn’t help matters either, although in Fauci’s defense I’m not sure what he’s supposed to do about that. He had to testify before the Senate yesterday; Paul came after him about masks and Fauci responded. He was on CNN last night and on CBS this morning and was naturally asked about the exchange. Should he have skipped those interviews to avoid further antagonizing righties or should he have gone on the air to correct some of the misconceptions fostered by Paul?

For instance, last night Fauci told CNN that one reason for continued mask-wearing is that there’s new evidence that people, especially older people, can get reinfected after surviving COVID once. And that’s true:

People over 65 who have recovered from COVID-19 have a 50 percent higher chance of a second attack within six months of their first illness, a new study has found.

The odds are much better for younger, healthier people, but still not a sure thing, according to the Danish study, which was published in the Lancet medical journal.

About 80 percent of healthy people under age 65 did not suffer a second attack within six months of a first COVID-19 illness, according to the study, which looked at 4,000 test subjects.

But is the risk of reinfection so great for a vaccinated senior citizen that it’s worth having him on TV wagging his finger about it, knowing that that’s destined to convince some vaccine fencesitters not to even bother getting the jab?

The worst thing about the Fauci/Paul mask debate is that no average citizen is still participating in it. It’s completely played out after a full year of culture war over it. If you’re risk-averse, you’ll wear the mask no matter what Paul says until the totality of the pandemic’s circumstances lead you to believe that there’s no reason to continue doing so. If you’re risk-tolerant or aggressively anti-mask, God knows Anthony Fauci isn’t going to convince you at this late date to rethink. The same goes for vaccinated people: If you got the jab because you’ve been looking forward to visiting public spaces maskless after a year, Fauci’s scolding won’t matter because you’ll have already dismissed him as overly cautious and prone to playing psychological games with people. (“We can’t tell the vaccinated to unmask or else the unvaccinated will want to do so too!”) The White House should find a different messenger, or at least diversify the messengers they’re using for vaccine PR.