Of course he’s not going to fire him. It’s not the president’s style to terminate employees who’ve fallen out of favor. He likes to let them linger on the job while their influence slowly evaporates, like John Kelly and Mick Mulvaney. In special cases he’ll do it while lashing them repeatedly in public comments without ever ousting them, as he did with Jeff Sessions.
Worst-case scenario is that Fauci ends up as an ornament, someone no longer invited to daily briefings and forbidden by Pence’s task force to give interviews but nominally attached to the administration. In that case, he’ll need to decide whether to resign.
I do think we’re headed for that worst-case scenario eventually. Just not right now:
The tweet Gidley mentions is the one Ed wrote about this morning, in which Trump retweeted a fan who included the hashtag “#FireFauci” in a comment about the travel ban on China. Ed’s right that the media often betrays a morbid interest in stoking a feud between Trump and Fauci despite the fact that Fauci is widely liked and respected for his years of work on infectious disease. He’s a calming presence for most of the public at a time of anxiety, a reminder that the president is getting responsible counsel at a moment when he needs it. As much as the press would love a lurid “Trump vs. beloved man of science” storyline, it’s jeopardizing Fauci’s influence.
But the press didn’t invent this antagonism whole cloth. Visit Twitter and search for the #FireFauci hashtag yourself; see what turns up among Trump fans. The president is sufficiently tapped into grassroots opinion via his Fox pals and social-media-savvy inner-circlers like Don Jr that he’s doubtless heard of the grumbling about Fauci. According to the Daily Beast, he’s been sounding out some of his confidants about the doctor lately:
“What do you think of Fauci?” the president repeatedly worked into his phone conversations over the past few days, the three sources said, as he pulsed his broader network of informal advisers, industry allies, and current staff on their opinions on the news of the day. At one point this weekend, Trump remarked that he’s made Fauci a “star” and that barely anybody would have known who the doctor was were it not for the president putting him front and center in the administration’s coronavirus response, televised press briefings, and media strategy.
“He did not sound bitter about it, I wouldn’t say that,” one of the people familiar with the comments said. “It just sounded like he thought it was worth a reminder.”
Trump knows that Fauci has gotten glowing press. No doubt he’s seen the many polls showing Fauci with a favorable rating much bigger than his own. If you’re worried about the media making trouble for Fauci, worry more about his good press than the “Trump vs. Fauci” narrative. It’s the love letters, the stories treating him as true authority figure in the federal government on this, that’ll eventually sting Trump to the point where his ego overrides his better judgment. Besides, it’s a foregone conclusion at this point that Trump’s going to recommend reopening parts of the country on May 1 whether or not Fauci and Birx think it’s a good idea. The president probably anticipates that his health advisors will make some unhappy noises about that after his announcement, which will make trouble for him. The antagonism between them, whether muted or overt, is coming. Trump’s phone calls to his friends about Fauci are just getting ahead of that.
He actually did a nice thing today for the “don’t reopen until it’s safe” contingent led by Andrew Cuomo, though. He appointed this pitiful group of cronies and nepotists to his new “economic response” task force, which will make it easy for critics to dismiss their recommendations as the product of a group of yes-men rubber-stamping Trump’s personal preference.
WH names council who will decide when to re-open America pic.twitter.com/N0z4gN90Ur
— TV News HQ (@TVNewsHQ) April 13, 2020
I’ll spot him Meadows and Mnuchin purely by dint of their official positions. In a sane world, Trump would have lost all confidence in Kudlow and Ross by now. Ross thought early on that the epidemic in China would be good for the U.S. by repatriating jobs to North America while Kudlow assured the public weeks before the lockdowns began that the virus was “relatively contained.” Jared doesn’t belong within a thousand miles of an expert body with a task as momentous as balancing millions of Americans’ livelihoods against tens or hundreds of thousands of Americans’ lives, but the president has decided that he’s one of about four people in the world whom he trusts absolutely so he has to be cut in. The real “tell,” though, is Ivanka: We’re all used to Kushner being involved in every major White House initiative for whatever reason but sticking Ivanka on a panel like this is the smoking gun that the president’s chief criterion is “loyalty,” not relevant expertise. He could have asked two dozen business people from firms large and small to sit on this task force and advise him instead, since they’re the ones who need to balance health and wealth most immediately. He could have cut big labor in on it too: That’s not Republican orthodoxy, but he’s not an orthodox Republican. He claims to represent blue-collar America and there are a lot of blue-collar Americans enrolled in unions. What do unions think of reopening on May 1 as some of their members are waiting in line at food banks?
Or how about putting some scientists on the panel? There must be some researchers out there who’ve studied the effects of severe economic downturns on public health. Their opinions would be useful in balancing the epidemiological advice from Fauci and Birx. Instead he gave us Jared and Ivanka, plus his usual economic guys who know very well what verdict he wants them to reach. A few weeks from now every blue state in the country will be part of Cuomo’s new confederacy, plus a few red ones led by moderate Republicans who aren’t beholden to Trump like Massachusetts, Maryland, and maybe even Ohio. They’re going to laugh off the “open on May 1” recommendation. This will make it easy for them.