In the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, Antony Fauci has rapidly become America’s security blanket.
The head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Fauci’s blunt, fact-based approach to the crisis – as a member of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force – has been a refreshing alternative to the President’s tendency to exaggerate and bluster in the now-daily press conferences on the virus and its spread.
But there are signs everywhere you look that Fauci’s days as a high-profile member of the task force may well be numbered.
Let’s start here. We know that Trump doesn’t like any star to shine brighter than his. The more TV you do, the more the press writes positive things about you, the more Trump begins to turn on you.
Trust me, Trump is uniquely aware of Fauci’s star status. Here’s the President on March 17:
“The people behind me are total pros. All over the world, they’re respected — Dr. Birx; Anthony, who has become a — where is Anthony? — become a major television star for — for all the right reasons. No, he’s just so professional. So good.”
A New York Times piece on Monday – “Trump Has Given Unusual Leeway to Fauci, but Aides Say He’s Losing His Patience” – includes these lines:
“[Fauci] has grown bolder in correcting the president’s falsehoods and overly rosy statements about the spread of the coronavirus in the past two weeks — and he has become a hero to the president’s critics because of it. And now, Mr. Trump’s patience has started to wear thin.”
And Fauci, for his part, has been remarkably frank in recent interviews about Trump’s fasehoods and how he deals with them. In a candid interview with Science Magazine over the weekend, Fauci repeatedly acknowledged that he disagrees with Trump and that the President veers into misinformation at times.
“Well, I don’t disagree in the substance,” Fauci said of Trump. “It is expressed in a way that I would not express it, because it could lead to some misunderstanding about what the facts are about a given subject.”
There’s also some odd Twitter activity by Trump in relation to Fauci. (Remember that Twitter is the purest expression of what Trump is thinking at any one time and, as such, is a remarkably useful tool to understanding what he might do next.)
On Tuesday morning, Trump retweeted a video of Fauci covering his face at a coronavirus task force press briefing when the President joked about the “Deep State department.” The tweet Trump retweeted read: “Dr. Fauci is all of us,” with a hand-to-the-face emoji.
Aside from the personal dynamics between Trump and Fauci, there is a major policy disagreement on the horizon as well.
Fauci – as well as virtually every other medical professional in the country – has been explicit that the current social distancing measures need to be kept in place and perhaps even tightened in order to curtail the spread of coronavirus and to flatten the curve of those needing to be hospitalized so that we can assure proper care for them.
Trump, within the last 48 hours, has begun to chafe at those restrictions as the economy continues to free fall. Tweeted Trump Tuesday morning:
“Our people want to return to work. They will practice Social Distancing and all else, and Seniors will be watched over protectively & lovingly. We can do two things together. THE CURE CANNOT BE WORSE (by far) THAN THE PROBLEM! Congress MUST ACT NOW. We will come back strong!”
And, on Monday night in the task force daily briefing, Trump said this:
“You look at automobile accidents, which are far greater than any numbers we’re talking about. That doesn’t mean we’re going to tell everybody no more driving of cars. So we have to do things to get our country open.”
As CNN’s Ryan Struyk has noted, that comparison was rejected by Fauci last Friday. “That’s totally way out,” Fauci said. “I don’t think with any moral conscience you could say why don’t we just let it rip and happen and let X percent of the people die.”
Asked whether everything was “cool” between him and Fauci on Fox News Tuesday, Trump insisted they were “cool,” adding, “We get along very well.”
Add it all up and you can see the writing on the wall. Now, maybe Trump zigs when he has zagged in the past. Maybe he recognizes that Fauci’s expertise and the trust the public has in him is worth taking a few arrows from the brightest new star on the national scene.
But I doubt it.