Anthony Fauci’s at the pool, but Donald Trump’s in deep.
Never mind Johnny Depp and Amber Heard.
You want to see a real can’t-look-away train wreck of a relationship? Look to the nation’s capital, where a messy falling out is chronicled everywhere from the tabloids to a glossy fashion magazine, replete with a photo shoot by a swimming pool.
The saga has enough betrayal, backstabbing, recrimination, indignation and ostracization to impress Edith Wharton.
The press breathlessly covers how much time has passed since the pair last spoke, whether they’re headed for splitsville, and if they can ever agree on what’s best for the children.
It was always bound to be tempestuous because they are the ultimate odd couple, the doctor and the president.
- One is a champion of truth and facts. The other is a master of deceit and denial.
- One is highly disciplined, working 18-hour days. The other can’t be bothered to do his homework and golfs instead.
- One is driven by science and the public good. The other is a public menace, driven by greed and ego.
- One is a Washington institution. The other was sent here to destroy Washington institutions.
- One is incorruptible. The other corrupts.
- One is apolitical. The other politicizes everything he touches — toilets, windows, beans and, most fatally, masks.
After a fractious week, when the former reality-show star in the White House retweeted a former game-show host saying that we shouldn’t trust doctors about Covid-19, Donald Trump and Anthony Fauci are gritting their teeth.
What’s so scary is that the bumpy course of their relationship has life-or-death consequences for Americans.
Who could even dream up a scenario where a president and a White House drop oppo research on the esteemed scientist charged with keeping us safe in a worsening pandemic?
The administration acted like Peter Navarro, Trump’s wacko-bird trade adviser, had gone rogue when he assailed Dr. Fauci for being Dr. Wrong, in a USA Today op-ed. But does anyone believe that? And if he did, would he still have his job?
No doubt it was a case of Trump murmuring: Will no one rid me of this meddlesome infectious disease specialist?
Republicans on Capitol Hill privately confessed they were baffled by the whole thing, saying they couldn’t understand why Trump would undermine Fauci, especially now with the virus resurgent. They think it’s not only hurting Trump’s re-election chances, but theirs, too.
As though it couldn’t get more absurd, Kellyanne Conway told Fox News on Friday that she thinks it would help Trump’s poll numbers for him to start giving public briefings on the virus again — even though that exercise went off the rails when the president began suggesting people inject themselves with bleach.
“How did we get to a situation in our country where the public health official most known for honesty and hard work is most vilified for it?” marvels Michael Specter, a science writer for The New Yorker who began covering Fauci during the AIDs crisis. “And as Team Trump trashes him, the numbers keep horrifyingly proving him right.”
When Dr. Fauci began treating AIDs patients, nearly every one of them died. “It was the darkest time of my life,” he told Specter. In an open letter, Larry Kramer called Fauci a “murderer.”
Then, as Specter writes, he started listening to activists and made a rare admission: His approach wasn’t working. He threw his caution to the winds and became a public-health activist. Through rigorous research and commitment to clinical studies, the death rate from AIDs has plummeted over the years.
Now Fauci struggles to drive the data bus as the White House throws nails under his tires. It seems emblematic of a deeper, existential problem: America has lost its can-do spirit. We were always Bugs Bunny, faster, smarter, more wily than everybody else. Now we’re Slugs Bunny.
Can our country be any more pathetic than this: The Georgia governor suing the Atlanta mayor and City Council to block their mandate for city residents to wear masks?
Trump promised the A team, but he has surrounded himself with losers and kiss-ups and second-raters. Just your basic Ayn Rand nightmare.
Certainly, Dr. Fauci has had to adjust some of his early positions as he learned about this confounding virus. (“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” John Maynard Keynes wisely observed.)
“Medicine is not an exact art,” Jerome Groopman, the best-selling author and professor at Harvard Medical School, put it. “There’s lots of uncertainty, always evolving information, much room for doubt. The most dangerous people are the ones who speak with total authority and no room for error.”
Sound like someone you know?
“Medical schools,” Dr. Groopman continued, “have curricula now to teach students the imperative of admitting when something went wrong, taking responsibility, and committing to righting it.”
Some are saying the 79-year-old Dr. Fauci should say to hell with it and quit. But we need his voice of reason in this nuthouse of a White House.
Despite Dr. Fauci’s best efforts to stay apolitical, he has been sucked into the demented political kaleidoscope through which we view everything now. Consider the shoot by his pool, photographed by Frankie Alduino, for a digital cover story by Norah O’Donnell for InStyle magazine.
From the left, the picture represented an unflappable hero, exhausted and desperately in need of some R & R, chilling poolside, not letting the White House’s slime campaign get him down or silence him. And on the right, some saw a liberal media darling, high on his own supply in the midst of a deadly pandemic. “While America burns, Fauci does fashion mag photo shoots,” tweeted Sean Davis, co-founder of the right-wing website The Federalist.
It’s no coincidence that the QAnon-adjacent cultists on the right began circulating a new conspiracy theory in the fever swamps of Facebook that Dr. Fauci’s wife of three and a half decades, a bioethicist, is Ghislane Maxwell’s sister. (Do I need to tell you she isn’t?)
Worryingly, new polls show that the smear from Trumpworld may be starting to stick; fewer Republicans trust the doctor now than in the spring.
Forget Mueller, Sessions, Comey, Canada, his niece, Mika Brzezinski. Of the many quarrels, scrapes and scraps Trump has instigated in his time in office, surely this will be remembered not only as the most needless and perverse, but as the most dangerous.
As Dr. Fauci told The Atlantic, it’s “a bit bizarre.”
More than a bit, actually.
The president has become increasingly concerned as Dr. Anthony S. Fauci has grown bolder in correcting his falsehoods about the spread of the coronavirus.
President Trump has praised Dr. Anthony S. Fauci as a “major television star.” He has tried to demonstrate that the administration is giving him free rein to speak. And he has deferred to Dr. Fauci’s opinion several times at the coronavirus task force’s televised briefings.
But Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, 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.
So has the patience of some White House advisers, who see Dr. Fauci as taking shots at the president in some of his interviews with print reporters while offering extensive praise for Mr. Trump in television interviews with conservative hosts.
Mr. Trump knows that Dr. Fauci, who has advised every president since Ronald Reagan, is seen as credible with a large section of the public and with journalists, and so he has given the doctor more leeway to contradict him than he has other officials, according to multiple advisers to the president.
When Mr. Trump knows that he has more to gain than to lose by keeping an adviser, he has resisted impulses to fight back against apparent criticism, sometimes for monthslong interludes. One example was when he wanted to fire the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, in 2017 and early 2018. Another was Jeff Sessions, the former attorney general. Mr. Trump eventually fired both when he felt the danger in doing so had passed.
So far, the president appears to be making the same calculation with Dr. Fauci, who was not on the briefing room podium on Monday evening. When asked why, Mr. Trump said he had just been with Dr. Fauci for “a long time” at a task force meeting. Officials, asked about the doctor’s absence, repeated that they were rotating officials who appear at the briefings.
“He’s a good man,” Mr. Trump said. Dr. Fauci was scheduled to be on Fox News wit
Still, the president has resisted portraying the virus as the kind of threat described by Dr. Fauci and other public health experts. In his effort to create a positive vision of a future where the virus is less of a danger, critics have accused Mr. Trump of giving false hope.
Dr. Fauci and the president have publicly disagreed on how long it will take for a coronavirus vaccine to become available and whether an anti-malaria drug, chloroquine, could help those with an acute form of the virus. Dr. Fauci has made clear that he does not think the drug necessarily holds the potential that Mr. Trump says it does.
In an interview with Science Magazine, Dr. Fauci responded to a question about how he had managed to not get fired by saying that, to Mr. Trump’s “credit, even though we disagree on some things, he listens. He goes his own way. He has his own style. But on substantive issues, he does listen to what I say.”
But Dr. Fauci also said there was a limit to what he could do when Mr. Trump made false statements, as he often does during the briefings.
“I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down,” Dr. Fauci said. “OK, he said it. Let’s try and get it corrected for the next time.”
In an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Dr. Fauci played down the idea that there was a divide between him and the president. “There isn’t fundamentally a difference there,” he said.
“The president has heard, as we all have heard, what are what I call anecdotal reports that certain drugs work. So what he was trying to do and express was the hope that if they might work, let’s try and push their usage,” Dr. Fauci said. “I, on the other side, have said I’m not disagreeing with the fact anecdotally they might work, but my job is to prove definitively from a scientific standpoint that they do work. So I was taking a purely medical, scientific standpoint, and the president was trying to bring hope to the people.”
A White House spokesman and Dr. Fauci did not respond to requests for comment.
Dr. Fauci came to his current role as the AIDS epidemic was exploding and President Reagan was paying it little attention. He and C. Everett Koop, the surgeon general, were widely credited with spurring the Reagan administration to action against AIDS, a fact that underscores Dr. Fauci’s ability to negotiate difficult politics.
He has recognized Mr. Trump’s need for praise; in the president’s presence and with audiences that are friendly to him, Dr. Fauci has been complimentary. He told the radio host Mark Levin on Fox News of the administration’s response to the virus: “I can’t imagine that under any circumstances that anybody could be doing more.”
And Dr. Fauci is savvy not just about the inner workings of the government but about the news media that covers it.
When Vice President Mike Pence took over as the lead of the coronavirus task force, his advisers wanted to put a 24-hour pause on interviews that administration officials were giving as they assessed where the administration was after a chaotic few weeks. They were initially fine with Dr. Fauci’s appearances, meeting with him before interviews to get a sense of what he planned to say.
But in the past two weeks, as Dr. Fauci’s interviews have increased in frequency, White House officials have become more concerned that he is criticizing the president.
Officials asked him about the viral moment in the White House briefing room, when he put his hand to his face and appeared to suppress a chuckle after Mr. Trump referred to the State Department as the “Deep State Department.” Dr. Fauci had a benign explanation: He had a scratchy throat and a lozenge he had in his mouth had gotten stuck in his throat, which he tried to mask from reporters.
Some officials have not questioned that Dr. Fauci is giving interviews, but they have wondered how he has so much time for so many requests from the news media.
Dr. Fauci, for his part, has been dismissive of some questions about whether he was at odds with the president, treating it as a news media obsession.
“I think there’s this issue of trying to separate the two of us,” he said on CBS.