Marco Rubio’s getting beat up for the tweet below, which I half-understand because beating up on Rubio is one of the great pleasures of political commentary. It’s one of the few things lefties, MAGA, and Never Trumpers have in common.

But he’s not wrong here.

I think people are annoyed at him because it’s obviously another heavy-handed attempt by Rubio to refashion himself as a populist, which he *sort of* is (on economic policy, at least) but not in the ways that define right-wing populism in 2020. It’s going to take more than some light Fauci-bashing to steer hardcore Trumpers away from thinking about primarying him in 2022.

Some people got on him for that because it was only a few days ago that Rubio, who’s not yet 50 years old, cut to the front of the line to get the COVID vaccine as a privileged member of Congress. Now here he was criticizing Fauci for deceiving the public. How dare he?

But those two things aren’t contradictory. Rubio’s not a vaccine skeptic and hasn’t said anything critical about Fauci’s comments on vaccinations. Liberals took offense anyway because, I guess, they consider Fauci the de facto pope of the COVID response and it seemed ungracious of Marco to criticize his holiness so soon after receiving the sacrament from Pfizer.

As I say, Rubio was correct on the merits. Fauci *has* misled the public at least twice since the pandemic began for “virtuous” reasons, first with masks and more recently on what percentage will need to be vaccinated for herd immunity to stop the spread of the virus. The impetus for both lies appears to have been his belief that Americans can’t consume information responsibly anymore and therefore need to be manipulated for their own good.

Which is 50 percent true, in fairness. Americans don’t consume information responsibly. But part of the reason is that they no longer trust authority figures, and will be even less apt to trust them once they discover that the lead expert in an unprecedented public health catastrophe has deceived them more than once to achieve a desired outcome.

Fauci was asked about this yesterday on CNN and tried to spin it by saying that the lie (we need 60-70 percent vaccinated for herd immunity) and the truth (it’s more like 85 percent) aren’t that far apart and are all based on guesstimates anyway, so what’s the big deal? But when Dana Bash pressed him, he admitted that public opinion polling also shapes his message a “bit.” Which it should not. Watch, then read on.

The most one can say in his defense is that political leadership on COVID has been so relentlessly terrible, from Trump to the Cuomo catastrophe in New York to hypocrisy by the likes of Gavin Newsom, that he felt obliged to try to fill that vacuum himself. Instead of telling people frankly from the start that we’d need 85 percent immunity and leave it to politicians to rally the public towards that goal, he may have decided that claiming the threshold was 60 percent might be more likely to steel everyone’s resolve.

But if so, that was a terrible decision. It doesn’t just damage his credibility when he cops to shading the truth. It confirms the public’s suspicions that they’re never getting the straight dope from “neutral” scientific bureaucrats, which encourages suspicion about the vaccine, masks, and all the rest of it.

I find myself wondering now if Fauci’s also been shading the truth about when the general public can expect to have access to the vaccine. “That likely will be somewhere March-ish. I said March-April, February-March, it’s going to be a close call on that,” he told the “Today” show 10 days ago. But watch Brett Giroir, Trump’s testing czar, when he was asked the same question yesterday in the clip below. Big difference between March and June. *Maybe* Giroir means that any American who wants the shot will have already received it by June whereas Fauci simply means that the vaccine will initially become available to everyone by March, but it’s hard to say. Maybe Fauci’s been pushing an unrealistic timeline on vaccine distribution to encourage the public to be patient. Why would we assume that he isn’t at this point?