This reminds me in a way of Carlson’s segment on March 9, at the very beginning of the pandemic and shortly after he traveled to Mar-a-Lago to lobby Trump personally to take the threat from the virus more seriously.

We should pause here and sit with that for a moment. If not for a talk-show host, the federal response to COVID-19 might have been appreciably worse. Having Fauci and the heads of the CDC, FDA, etc, warning Trump that a major crisis was at hand was one thing, but apparently not until one of Fox’s primetime guys confirmed it did it become “go time.”

Anyway. The March 9 segment was Tucker’s alert to Fox News viewers generally and one very special Fox News viewer in particular that the virus was a big deal, much more serious than the flu. He’s been proved correct about that many times over since then. But what was also noteworthy about the segment was that he could never quite bring himself to utter Trump’s name in complaining about certain people being focused on the wrong things. He got close, nudging viewers that they may have cast a vote for some of the people he had in mind, but the T-word never emerged from his lips. It reminded me of a batter arguing with an ump in baseball about a called strike. The ump will allow the batter to complain so long as the batter keeps his eyes forward, towards the mound. But if he turns around and confronts the ump face to face?

Then he’s showing him up. That’s grounds for ejection.

That came to mind last night because of this Carlson rant about Anthony Fauci, springboarding off of Rand Paul’s much more polite confrontation with Fauci at yesterday’s hearing. If Tucker’s mad that Fauci has too much influence over federal policy, that’s fine. But Fauci has that influence only because a certain unnamed person allows him to. And Carlson, it seems, has decided that he’s not going to risk showing that person up by calling him out, no matter how righteous he might feel his complaints to be. So he’s forced to call Fauci out instead.

Fauci didn’t force governors to lock down.

Fauci didn’t force certain unnamed people to keep him on as the head of NIAID and trot him out regularly at task force briefings to reassure the public.

Fauci didn’t force the White House to adopt the federal guidelines for reopening created by the task force.

Fauci’s not even the leader of the task force. Deborah Birx is.

How is it that the person to whom Fauci ultimately answers has completely escaped blame for Fauci’s prominence in the federal response? If President Hillary were following his recommendations, it’s unthinkable that he rather than she would be blamed for the government’s approach. The buck stops with the president.

Usually.

Trumpers need a scapegoat to explain why states aren’t moving more quickly to reopen, though, and none of the usual candidates suffice. The main villain in this is a virus. Democrats are bit players nationally, influencing only the stimulus part of the federal response, and Democratic governors are enjoying freakishly high approval ratings at the moment. Biden’s locked in a basement somewhere, a total nonentity. The best populists can do to find someone to blame is adapt “deep state” critiques to the federal health-care bureaucracy: Fauci’s a career bureaucrat, he’s undermining Trump’s position by disagreeing with him, and nobody elected him — as if we should have national campaigns to determine who runs the NIH. Other Republicans are tiring of him as well.

“When we get this in the rearview mirror and do the dispassionate debrief, Sen. Paul’s going to be closer to right than Fauci,” said [Mike Braun], who also attended the hearing. “I never did like the idea that you treated the entirety of the country, and even counties within a state, the same way.”…

“He has a very valuable voice in this discussion. He’s got a field of expertise that’s important to hear from,” said Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). “But it’s only one of many considerations we have to make as a society. Because we have to make trade-offs.”…

“We’re in a federalist government. It’s up to the governors of the state to make those decisions,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who said he has recently eaten out at restaurants twice in Georgia. “We’ve got to get this economy open again. We’re on the back side of the cycle.”

One clue that Fauci’s being scapegoated is how some of his opinions are distorted. See where Braun complains about a one-size-fits-all approach to reopening? Fauci agrees with that and has said so for weeks. The federal guidelines which he helped produce explicitly refer to criteria that “each region or state” should satisfy before reopening, not the entire U.S. He’s not insisting on one uniform protocol to keep states with minimal outbreaks from reopening. He supports a federalist approach.

Some Republicans (and well-known Rand Paul antagonists) are still in his corner.

I’ll repeat what I wrote a week ago: “I’m fine with ending lockdowns sooner rather than later because I’ve been persuaded by the data I’ve seen in reading over the last few weeks that lockdowns don’t matter much to people’s behavior… As long as people are being given honest, accurate daily information about the state of the epidemic I’m okay with experimenting by opening businesses back up and having the public act in accordance with its own level of collective risk tolerance.” Case in point, here’s Scott Gottlieb with the good, the bad, and the ugly of reopening now:

That’s the sort of thing I want to help Americans gauge their personal risk. Is Tucker with me on that, though? The sense I get from Fauci’s more strident critics isn’t that they resent him for being “dictatorial” in setting policy, which of course he has no power to do, but that his skepticism about wide-scale reopenings right now might discourage people from reemerging irrespective of whether his caution is justified or not. He’s talking down the economy, dissuading consumers from being “warriors” by risking infection to visit the local Baskin-Robbins. We need to shut him up somehow.

I’m not speaking hypothetically here. The AP reported a few days ago that the CDC’s detailed guidelines for businesses on how to properly reopen were buried by “political appointees with little explanation,” presumably because detailed safety precautions might have deterred some businesses from reopening sooner. If we’re going to whine about soulless bureaucrats like Fauci failing to prioritize the economy, maybe we should whine a little too about political hacks failing to prioritize people’s health because they think a rising Dow is key to their boss’s reelection in the fall.

We’re left with the segment above, with Carlson transparently trying to talk Trump into either firing Fauci or sidelining him before he’s even more of a thorn in the side of the “reopen now” push. He’s kidding himself, though. Polling shows Fauci is already held in sufficiently high esteem by the public that sending him packing would be a PR catastrophe for Trump. Maybe Trump could get away with it if he elevated another widely respected expert like Birx to do all of the White House’s coronavirus messaging going forward, but I think most Americans would treat Fauci’s termination as a reason to have even less faith in the federal response than they already do. The time to silence Fauci was early, before he built a public profile as a trusted medical voice. By not doing that, Trump has created a (benign) monster.