The political futility of Trump's offensive against Anthony Fauci

As the public sours on his handling of the pandemic, Trump thinks he can win back voters by ridiculing the nation's most trusted voice on the coronavirus?
Dr. Anthony Fauci reacts as U.S. President Donald Trump leaves after his press briefing on the coronavirus at the White House on March 26, 2020.
Dr. Anthony Fauci reacts as U.S. President Donald Trump leaves after his press briefing on the coronavirus at the White House on March 26, 2020.Abaca Press / Sipa USA via AP

The Trump campaign apparently thought it'd be a good idea to launch a television ad featuring Dr. Anthony Fauci, by taking his words out of context to make it appear that he was praising the president. The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases wasn't pleased.

"In my nearly five decades of public service, I have never publicly endorsed nor do I now endorse any political candidates," Fauci said in a statement. "The comments attributed to me without my permission in the GOP campaign ad were taken out of context from a broad statement I made months ago about the efforts of federal public health officials."

As Rachel noted on the show last night, the immunologist also made public comments yesterday, denouncing the campaign tactics and warning the president's political operation that its efforts may yet "backfire" on the incumbent.

The smart move for everyone involved would be for Team Trump to move in a more sensible direction. The president evidently isn't interested in the smart move.

"Actually, Tony's pitching arm is far more accurate than his prognostications. 'No problem, no masks'." Trump wrote.

The "pitching arm" reference appears to be Trump's effort to mock Fauci over the first pitch he threw at a Washington Nationals game over the summer. (The president, by some accounts, was irritated that the doctor was honored in this way, while he was not.)

To be sure, the specific details matter, and the president's mischaracterization of what the World Health Organization said yesterday is worth appreciating.

But stepping back, the wisdom behind Trump's broader message is elusive. With Election Day three weeks away, and as coronavirus cases climb, the president wants to publicly quarrel with the nation's most celebrated and respected expert on infectious diseases?

As the public sours on Trump's handling on the pandemic, the Republican thinks he can win back voters by ridiculing the nation's most trusted voice on the coronavirus?

Though the president has taken some vague shots in Fauci's direction before — Trump said in late August that he "inherited" Fauci, for example — he appears to be escalating matters now. If there's wisdom behind such a move, it's hiding well.