As pandemic intensifies, Trump says he's ready to oust Fauci

As a policy matter, this is indefensible, but as a political matter, it's just as difficult to explain.
Image: U.S. President Trump leads daily coronavirus response briefing at the White House in Washington
President Donald Trump departs after addressing the coronavirus task force daily briefing as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stands by at the White House.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

There's never been a more obvious time for Donald Trump to listen to Dr. Anthony Fauci. By nearly every metric, the coronavirus pandemic is getting worse, and the nation's third peek is its worst to date.

The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases appears to be struggling to contain his frustrations. In a blunt interview with the Washington Post, Fauci said, "We're in for a whole lot of hurt. It's not a good situation. 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."

The nation's preeminent infectious-disease expert added that the United States needs to make an "abrupt change" in public health practices and behaviors. Asked about the differences between the presidential contenders, Fauci went on to say that the Biden campaign is taking the crisis seriously "from a public health perspective." Trump, on the other hand, is "looking at it from a different perspective."

The White House wasn't pleased with the epidemiologist's candor. White House spokesperson Judd Deere said it was "unacceptable and breaking with all norms" for Fauci to make comments like these. And if there's one thing we know about Team Trump, it's that the Republican White House is filled with officials deeply concerned about "norms."

Last night, as NBC News reported, the president took matters a little further.

President Donald Trump suggested during a campaign rally in Florida on Sunday night that he might fire Dr. Anthony Fauci after the election. The comment came during his fifth and final rally of the day in Opa-Locka, when he promised that a vaccine is coming and the country is "rounding the turn" on the pandemic.

At a Miami-area event, the president's supporters chanted, "Fire Fauci!" It led Trump to say, "Don't tell anybody, but let me wait until a little bit after the election. I appreciate the advice."

I don't imagine anyone found the comments too surprising. As we discussed two weeks ago, the president has escalated his offensive against Fauci in unsubtle ways, leaving little doubt that the Republican incumbent didn't intend to leave Fauci on his team much longer.

But whether this is predictable or not, the circumstances are plainly ridiculous. As the United States confronts an intensifying public-health crisis caused by a deadly virus, the confused president has decided the smart move is to dismiss the nation's leading infectious-disease expert.

As a policy matter, this is indefensible, but as a political matter, it's just as difficult to explain. The last time I checked, Election Day is tomorrow. Trump wants the last day of the campaign to be dominated by headlines about his intention to oust a celebrated, trusted, and respected immunologist during a pandemic?

"Don't tell anybody," the president started his comments last night. We didn't need another example of Trump lacking restraint and self-control, but we've received one anyway.