A phenomenal note on which to end the race. I’ve said a few times lately that Trump has run a terrible campaign, consistently choosing positions that appeal to his base while irritating the independents and suburbanites whom he needs to win back. His campaign message, when you cut through the noise, is really nothing more or less than “I gotta be me.” This is the cherry on that sundae.

A data point from NBC’s final national poll, published yesterday:

I’d need to think a bit to come up with an idea that’s surer to appeal to people who are already voting for Trump while annoying everyone who’s still on the fence about him than firing Fauci, especially at a moment when COVID cases in the U.S. are the highest they’ve ever been. Maybe … promising to put Jeanine Pirro in charge of the Justice Department? Rumors are swirling that that’s on the table after Election Day too.

I guessed 10 days ago that Fauci would end up joining Chris Wray, Mark Esper, and Gina Haspel on the chopping block after the election. Whether Trump can do that easily or whether there’ll be regulatory roadblocks that stop him is unclear to me (Fauci’s a career civil servant, not a political appointee), but the president and his team are doing what they can to remove those roadblocks before the big purge. Tim Miller shares this gossip too, for what it’s worth: “In case you thought this might have just been a flight of fancy on stage, according to one reporter I spoke to recently, Steve Bannon has been saying that Fauci is likely to be fired should Trump win re-election.”

The smart thing to do would be to keep Fauci on if only to retain some leverage over him. He’ll be an influential figure in media this winter whether he’s on the federal payroll or not. If he’s fired, he’s free to speak to any outlet he wants and won’t need to pull his punches at the president and Scott Atlas. Although, speaking of which, this WaPo interview with Fauci from a few days ago surprised me for how much more critical than usual he was of the administration and its more underwhelming figures, like Atlas. He’s still pulling his punches here, but less so than usual:

“We’re in for a whole lot of hurt. It’s not a good situation,” Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s leading infectious-disease expert, said in a wide-ranging interview late Friday. “All the stars are aligned in the wrong place as you go into the fall and winter season, with people congregating at home indoors. You could not possibly be positioned more poorly.”….

“I have real problems with that guy,” Fauci said of Atlas. “He’s a smart guy who’s talking about things that I believe he doesn’t have any real insight or knowledge or experience in. He keeps talking about things that when you dissect it out and parse it out, it doesn’t make any sense.”

Fauci said he actually appreciated chief of staff Mark Meadows saying last weekend on CNN that the administration was not going to control the pandemic. “I tip my hat to him for admitting the strategy,” he said. “He is straightforward in telling you what’s on his mind. I commend him for that.”…

“He insists he’s not somebody who’s pushing for herd immunity,” Fauci said of Atlas. “He says, ‘That’s not what I mean.’ [But] everything he says — when you put them together and stitch them together — everything is geared toward the concept of ‘it doesn’t make any difference if people get infected. It’s a waste of time. Masks don’t work. Who cares,’ and the only thing you need to do is protect the vulnerable, like people in the nursing homes,” Fauci said.

“You could not possibly be positioned more poorly” is a bracing summary from the government’s leading infectious-disease expert on how his boss has handled the pandemic three days before the country decides whether to give him another four years in office. (He also favorably compared the Biden campaign’s socially distanced rallies to Team Trump’s “pack ’em in” approach.) I think Fauci was speaking there out of pure exasperation that the White House isn’t even pretending to care anymore that the crisis is deepening here. They’ve fully entered the Trump “we’re turning a corner” bubble, which is out-and-out Orwellian disinformation are cases, hospitalizations, and deaths rise. They’re out of solutions so they’re literally going to try to talk people into believing that things are getting better when all available evidence is that they’re getting worse.

I have a hot take, though, which I half-believe, that Fauci deliberately took a few harder shots at Atlas and the White House this week hoping/expecting that it would bait Trump into ranting about him on the trail in the final days of the race, knowing full well how that would play with swing voters. I don’t think he’s that Machiavellian, but that would be some clever three-dimensional chess aimed at helping Biden. The White House was plenty pissed off at him, in any event:

“It’s unacceptable and breaking with all norms for Dr. Fauci, a senior member of the President’s Coronavirus Taskforce and someone who has praised President (Donald) Trump’s actions throughout this pandemic, to choose three days before an election to play politics,” White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said in a statement to CNN on Saturday evening…

“As a member of the Task Force, Dr. Fauci has a duty to express concerns or push for a change in strategy, but he’s not done that, instead choosing to criticize the President in the media and make his political leanings known by praising the President’s opponent — exactly what the American people have come to expect from The Swamp,” Deere said.

Win or lose tomorrow, Trump gains nothing by firing Fauci. If he wins, having Fauci on the team and still (mostly) muzzled will keep a formidable critic on the sidelines. It’ll also preserve some public trust in the administration’s COVID response that otherwise would be lost with Fauci’s departure, especially once the big vaccine rollout begins. If Trump loses, firing Fauci won’t achieve anything except to give him a little vacation for a few months before Biden inevitably hires him back and puts him in charge of the federal response again in January. And Fauci will use that vacation to do endless CNN hits where he tells the public, “Don’t listen to a word Trump and Atlas are saying. They’re douchebags who are getting people killed.”

The only thing firing Fauci would do for Trump is grant him the petty vindictive satisfaction of punishing someone whom the public esteems more than him for disagreeing with him. So he’s definitely going to do it.

I’ll leave you with this summary from a new study conducted by economists at Stanford.