This makes three top White House advisors who’ve taken shots at Fauci this week. First was Dan Scavino, then Peter Navarro, now it’s the White House chief of staff jabbing at the doctor during an answer that started off with him scolding Navarro.

Even the talking points aimed at defending Fauci somehow turn into Fauci-bashing opportunities.

I’m torn between two impulses. One is that of course a Trump crony would continue to do the president’s dirty work even while he’s pretending not to. The other is that, ah, Meadows has a point here.

Watching him breeze past criticism of Navarro for going “rogue” so that he could slam Fauci himself made me laugh. Meadows isn’t even pretending that he’s as annoyed with Navarro for attacking a fellow White House advisor as he is with Fauci for an idle remark.

But it is irresponsible for a top expert to blithely compare the threat from COVID-19 to a disease that killed nearly 700,000 Americans and tens of millions around the world. People look to Fauci as a weathervane for what we can expect from the pandemic later this year. Him chattering carelessly about 1918 is a white-knuckle moment under those circumstances — and he seems to have realized it belatedly. He tried to clean up what he said afterward:

‘This is a pandemic of historic proportions. I think we can’t deny that fact. It’s something I think that when history looks back on it, it will be comparable to what we saw in 1918,’ Fauci said [on Tuesday]…

Fauci appeared on a livestream with Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg Thursday evening and said that he believed his use of the word ‘comparable’ had been ‘taken out of context.’

‘Because people would have thought, my goodness, we’re having this now, is it going to be the 50 to 100 million people in 1918 that died?’ No, they’re not comparable in that way at all, in severity,’ Fauci explained. ‘They’re very, very different.’

‘I was just talking about 102 years then, we’re historically now looking at a historically important outbreak, because we haven’t had anything like this, really, for 102 years,’ Fauci added.

A little more precision may be in order when explaining the risk from this disease to a country that’s on a knife’s edge right now amid a second wave of COVID-19. Although, in Fauci’s defense, at least one other respected public-health expert made the claim earlier this year that coronavirus would have been deadlier than the 1918 flu had it arrived a century ago instead of now. It’s not some inherent weakness of SARS-CoV-2 that’s made it less deadly than H1N1. It’s 100 years of medical progress.

As for the White House’s ongoing war on Fauci, Dan McLaughlin agrees with me that it’s idiotic and wonders if it isn’t a function of Trump’s inner circle trying to manufacture excuses in advance for losing the election this fall:

So, why is Team MAGA — inside and outside the White House — so determined to attack Fauci and denigrate his credibility? Partly, of course, it is reflex: Fauci is an unelected expert who disagrees at times with the president, so he fits neatly into the “Deep State” framework. But what is implied and sometimes stated aloud is more nefarious: the idea that scientists and Democratic officials are engaged in some sort of conspiracy to bring down Trump by keeping the economy suppressed through the election. This makes sense as a public argument only if you already expect Trump to lose, and are trying to build a narrative of excuse and alibi for his defeat that knits everything into a shady cabal. After all, if Trump is simply tied in knots by a hostile conspiracy, that makes him look weak, and it undermines any claim that things will go better under more Trump than under Biden, whose election would presumably end the need for any such conspiracy…

The conspiratorial mindset also assumes that more broadly reopening the economy would be an uncomplicated and uncontroversial task without the existence of anti-Trump animus. The problem with this theory is that it ignores similar debates roiling much of the rest of the world, from Israel to Australia, France to India, Canada to Sweden. Different countries and different localities have taken different paths. Nations with leaders of the center-left or Left have hardly followed a uniform open-it-all-up strategy, as would be the case if the only reason not to follow one was hostility to a right-populist leader.

The oddest thing about making Fauci a foil, as I said yesterday, is that he rarely says anything of consequence in his public remarks or takes a strong position about what officials should do. The hostility to him would be understandable if he inveighed regularly against Trump or stridently criticized reopening schools or businesses, but he never does. Even his periodic remarks about progress on a vaccine usually amount to little more than “we’re still on track, I’m cautiously optimistic.” If you had to sum him up in one word, that’s the word you’d choose — “caution.” We need to reopen the economy, but we must do so … cautiously. Schools? They’re a priority, as children will suffer if they’re kept out of class, but let’s exercise … caution in how we do it.

Getting mad at a guy who’s constantly urging caution is very on-brand for Trump’s chaotic operation, and neatly captures why the war on Fauci is so stupid for them politically. The last thing you should want to be known as in the middle of a pandemic, with an election approaching, is “anti-caution.”

Here he is earlier today. Mask-wearing is one thing he is forceful about (belatedly). As for containing the virus, he’s still optimistic that we can do it. “Cautiously optimistic,” to be precise.