Donald Trump picked a fight he couldn’t win. Donald Trump picked a fight with the most respected and most admired man in the nation. But he had been offended. He had been dissed. No real man would take this disrespect. So, he lashed out. He had his pride. He also seemed deeply insecure:
President Trump’s long-fraught relationship with Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease specialist, ruptured again this week in an ugly public dispute just as U.S. coronavirus cases have ticked past 50,000 per day and with three weeks left in a campaign dominated by the government’s response to the pandemic.
Trump on Tuesday responded to Fauci’s warnings that the president’s decision to resume campaign rallies this week was “very troublesome” by mocking him in a tweet that unfavorably compared his medical guidance to his errant ceremonial first pitch at a Washington Nationals game in July.
“Actually, Tony’s pitching arm is far more accurate than his prognostications,” Trump wrote, erroneously suggesting that Fauci’s advice in the early days of the pandemic that the public need not wear masks meant that the doctor was playing down the novel coronavirus.
This is tiresome, but this was predictable. Donald Trump hates being upstaged, and he’s smarter than any doctor. That was always the problem with this:
Trump has repeatedly undercut Fauci’s advice and sought to minimize the threat of a virus that has killed at least 215,000 Americans, while the doctor has tacitly criticized the president for failing to follow basic safeguards such as wearing a mask and social distancing.
Trump has not met individually with Fauci in more than a month, White House aides said, keeping tabs mostly by watching his appearances on cable news.
And then he found a way to put that little guy in his place:
Though he has continued to denigrate Fauci, his campaign offered an acknowledgment of the public’s high regard for the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases by including an out-of-context clip of him in a recent advertisement – a move Fauci publicly criticized.
The ad, which touted the president as “sparing no expense” to protect seniors from the virus, includes a brief video of Fauci saying, “I can’t imagine that anybody could be doing more” – a comment he made during a Fox News interview in March. The full interview makes clear, however, that Fauci was speaking about the White House’s coronavirus task force, of which he is a member, and not about the president.
Fauci, 79, said in a statement Sunday that he had never endorsed a political candidate in his nearly five decades of public service. In an interview with the Daily Beast on Monday, Fauci demanded the Trump campaign remove the clip. “By doing this against my will they are, in effect, harassing me,” he said.
That must have made Trump smile. Listen to that little loser whine. This was real dominance. This as also just a minor bit of revenge:
Trump and Fauci have existed in a state of tension for months, with semi-regular flare-ups as the doctor has sought to offer public guidance through media appearances despite White House efforts to muzzle him.
Trump aides have occasionally blocked him from prominent television interviews, chafing at how frequently he seems to book himself on shows…
One senior administration official said the White House moved to book Eric Trump, the president’s son, on the Sunday political talk shows this past weekend, rather than Fauci, to put forward a campaign-focused message.
The notion that the nation would like to hear from young Eric on these matters, not the good doctor, is curious, but “messaging” is tricky. The messenger really does matter. Don’t use Rudy. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported this:
About 75 Donald Trump supporters – many of them wearing masks with an Italian flag and the words Save Columbus – squeezed shoulder-to-shoulder into the campaign’s Northeast Philadelphia office Monday night to hear former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani make a case for the president…
The event was originally scheduled to occur in a much larger space – the 15,000-square-foot 2300 Arena – but the campaign was forced to relocate when the arena’s owners canceled Sunday night after finding out the event was a Trump rally.
Co-owner Christy Bottie said the event had been described as a private fund-raiser for a local politician. She said she didn’t want to host any event that might jeopardize her business.
“There’s just a whole lot of things that come with a Trump rally,” Bottie said, mentioning potential protesters and COVID risks.
The Trump advance-team had lied to her. She didn’t like it. She lucked out:
At the event in Northeast Philadelphia, Giuliani spoke off the cuff about issues such as the Democratic Party being “controlled” by Black Lives Matter and what he described as the president’s outstanding handling of the “Chinese Communist virus.”
“People don’t die of this disease anymore,” he said, adding that Democrats were overblowing COVID because they wanted to frighten people.
People don’t die of this disease anymore? About seven hundred do, each day, but Rudy is Rudy:
Midday, Giuliani made an impromptu appearance at the boarded-up Christopher Columbus statue at Marconi Plaza in South Philadelphia, railing against Democratic stances on abortion rights, taxes, and the economy. City officials have proposed moving the statue, which has become a magnet for protests and counterprotests during the national reckoning over racism and the commemoration of divisive historical figures. The move is tied up in court.
Rudy is Italian. That statue stays, or should, and Joe Biden issued a statement declaring it “Indigenous People’s Day” to counter him:
“With boundless resilience and strength, despite centuries of mistreatment and broken promises, Tribal Nations have fought to preserve their sovereign rights while also making countless contributions to strengthen the character of the United States,” Biden said. “It is a part of our history that every American must learn and respect.”
The battle lines were drawn. Sneer at Native Americans, or don’t. Choose sides.
Donald Trump is bad at that. The Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan reports this:
Joe Biden on Tuesday made his most direct appeal yet to older voters, seeking to lock in support from a group that favored President Trump four years ago but has emerged as one of the most significant groups to potentially shift toward Biden in 2020.
At a senior center in Florida a day after Trump visited the state, Biden argued that Trump has turned his back on older Americans, citing the president’s widely criticized response to the novel coronavirus, his attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and his approach to Social Security and Medicare.
“You’re expendable. You’re forgettable. You’re virtually nobody. That’s how he sees seniors,” Biden said in a speech at a community center for seniors in Pembroke Pines, during which he wore a mask the entire time.
He later added, “The only senior that Donald Trump cares about – the only senior – is the senior Donald Trump.”
There’s proof of that, but the man does fight back:
Trump is hardly conceding the group to the Democratic nominee. His campaign Tuesday debuted a television commercial seeking to make the case that the president is a stronger advocate for seniors’ interests.
The ad suggests that the “far-left health-care plan” embraced by Biden and Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) could threaten private insurance. Biden has proposed enacting a public insurance program that would be optional.
Is that an issue? Few of them have private insurance. They survive on Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid. Something’s wrong here:
Trump, 74, was the oldest president at his swearing-in, and Biden, 77, would claim that title if he wins in November. Both are seeking to cast the other as out of touch with the needs of his fellow seniors, and they have questioned each other’s physical and mental preparedness for the job.
But as both candidates stress their own vigor and youthfulness, they have rarely played up the notion that they are senior citizens. Still, Trump has not hesitated to level increasingly personal attacks on Biden’s age.
Late Tuesday night, Trump posted a doctored image on Twitter suggesting Biden belongs in a retirement home. The photo shows seniors seated in wheelchairs; a picture of Biden’s face was pasted onto one of them. The caption underneath read: “Biden for President,” but with the “P” crossed out to spell “Resident.”
Biden should be in a retirement home!? That’s a tough sell to those in retirement homes. Biden has the easier job now:
If Biden captures Florida, it would put Trump’s pursuit of an electoral college majority in serious jeopardy. Biden is wagering that Trump’s response to the pandemic, both rhetorically and in his administration’s actions, will help him seal these gains at the ballot box.
His Tuesday speech reflected the stark contrast Biden is trying to draw, as he made a direct reference to Trump having contracting the coronavirus. Trump tested positive after months of playing down the threat and flouting or dismissing public health recommendations, including making fun of Biden for wearing a mask while rarely doing so himself.
“I prayed for his recovery when he got covid,” Biden said of Trump, referring to the disease caused by the virus. “I had hoped at least he’d come out of it somewhat chastened. But what has he done? He’s just doubled down on the misinformation he did before in making it worse.”
But that’s who he is:
Biden made his pitch personal at points, asking, “How many of you have been unable to hug your grandkids in the last seven months?”
He also pointed to comments that Trump has made saying the virus “affects virtually nobody,” although more than 215,000 people have died and many more have become seriously ill. Trump at the time was arguing that young people had largely been spared and that elderly people with medical conditions are the group it “really affects.”
Oddly, Trump seems to be fine with that, and his recovery was awkward:
In contrast to Biden’s carefully prepared speech Tuesday, the president released an unscripted video address on social media last week aimed at seniors.
“To my favorite people in the world – the seniors. I’m a senior. I know you don’t know that. Nobody knows that. Maybe you don’t have to tell ‘em, but I’m a senior,” Trump said in the video, which he posted on Twitter.
Nobody knows that? Everyone thought he was a buffed out thirty-year-old blond Adonis? Who thought that? He’s a fat old man with anger issues, and syntax issues too:
He claimed “tremendous progress” fighting the coronavirus, even as some states hit new seven-day average highs of cases. He vowed to make the treatment he received, and other medications and therapies, available to seniors.
“You’re not vulnerable. But they like to say ‘the vulnerable.’ But you’re the least vulnerable. But for this one thing, you are vulnerable. And so am I,” said Trump, who told seniors they would get the same treatments he got free of charge, though it is not clear how or if he could do that.
None of this made much sense, and things got worse:
At his rally Monday, Trump made another appeal to seniors, arguing that letting in too many immigrants and giving them government benefits would threaten Social Security and Medicare.
“We have to take care of our people first. And if they let that happen, you would be decimating Medicare and destroying your Social Security,” Trump said. “While I’m president, no one will touch your Medicare. No one will touch or hurt in any way, shape or form your Social Security.”
Fine, but he says he’s poised to end the Payroll Tax forever. That tax funds the daily operations of Social Security. Social Security would shut down within six months – no money to pay anyone anything. But tell the millions of now-homeless seniors to blame the Mexicans, not him. Will they? This is not a careful thinker.
And it gets worse. The Washington Post’s Joel Achenbach reports this:
Maverick scientists who call for allowing the coronavirus to spread freely at “natural” rates among healthy young people while keeping most aspects of the economy up and running have found an audience inside the White House and at least one state capitol.
The scientists met last week with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist who has emerged as an influential adviser to President Trump on the pandemic.
When asked for comment, HHS referred a reporter to Azar’s subsequent Twitter statement about the meeting: “We heard strong reinforcement of the Trump Administration’s strategy of aggressively protecting the vulnerable while opening schools and the workplace.”
Can they do both? That’s the plan:
A senior administration official told reporters in a background briefing call Monday that the proposed strategy – which has been denounced by other infectious-disease experts and has been called “fringe” and “dangerous” by National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins – supports what has been Trump’s policy for months…
“Everybody knows that 200,000 people died. That’s extremely serious and tragic. But on the other hand, I don’t think society has to be paralyzed, and we know the harms of confining people to their homes,” the official added.
This does seem risky:
Trump has long chafed at the economic damage from shutdowns imposed to control the pandemic, and has repeatedly pushed states to reopen, at one point threatening to withhold federal funding from states that did not open schools. After he contracted the virus and developed symptoms of COVID-19 serious enough to require hospitalization, Trump still urged the public, “Don’t be afraid of Covid.”
And don’t listen to experts:
In pushing his agenda, Trump has steadily drifted away from the counsel of his own government’s top doctors, such as White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx and Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Into that void has stepped Atlas, who has relied on the maverick scientists to bolster his in-house arguments. At a recent White House news briefing, he cited them by name.
The three scientists pushing the strategy, which they call Focused Protection, have distinguished academic appointments. Martin Kulldorff is an epidemiologist at Harvard University. Sunetra Gupta is an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford. Jay Bhattacharya is a physician and epidemiologist at Stanford Medical School.
They have codified their argument in the form of a document posted online that called itself the Great Barrington Declaration, named after the town in Massachusetts where it was unveiled on Oct. 4 in a ceremony at a libertarian think tank.
And here’s the plan:
The declaration does not mention wearing masks, engaging in social distancing, avoiding crowds and indoor environments, or any of the other recommendations pushed by most government and scientific experts.
The authors contend that permitting the virus to spread naturally among young people – who are much less likely than their elders to have a severe outcome – will shorten the pandemic by hastening the arrival of herd immunity, the point at which there’s enough immunity in the general population to prevent the virus from spreading at epidemic rates.
“The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk,” the declaration states.
That’s the plan. Make sure every single young person gets the disease right now. They’ll be fine. And make sure no one else, particularly seniors, gets the disease. That would kill them all. So do the right thing. Everyone agrees:
The online document claims that thousands of doctors and scientists have signed it, as well as hundreds of thousands of people in the general public. Britain’s Sky News reported last week that some of the names are transparently fake, such as “Dr. Johnny Bananas” and “Dr. Person Fakename.”
The Great Barrington Declaration is not a scientific document. As critics readily point out, it presents no data. It has no footnotes, few specific suggestions for how to implement the societal segregation and, unlike most scientific arguments, does not discuss potential objections to the proposal.
“What I worry about with this is it’s being presented as if it’s a major alternative view that’s held by large numbers of experts in the scientific community. That is not true,” Collins, the NIH director, said in an interview.
“This is a fringe component of epidemiology. This is not mainstream science. It’s dangerous. It fits into the political views of certain parts of our confused political establishment,” he said. “I’m sure it will be an idea that someone can wrap themselves in as a justification for skipping wearing masks or social distancing and just doing whatever they damn well please.”
Allowing the virus to spread more rapidly among younger and healthier populations will increase the threat to people who are already vulnerable, noted Natalie Dean, a University of Florida biostatistics expert.
“Is the solution then that we hide away the old people until society can safely resume for them? The solution is not very appealing to the elderly,” she said.
Trump has a problem here, and Jonathan Martin adds more to that:
With just three weeks until Election Day, and President Trump on the defensive in every major battleground state, the president’s top aides know they must change the trajectory of the race.
So as Mr. Trump returns to the campaign trail this week after being hospitalized for his coronavirus infection, his advisers are sending him out with a teleprompter, as they at times did before his diagnosis, in hopes he’ll drive a more coherent message against his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
And on Tuesday night, in a more pointed effort to nudge Mr. Trump toward his script, the president’s campaign also shared excerpts with reporters of the speech they said he would deliver upon landing for his rally in Johnstown, Pa., about 70 miles east of Pittsburgh.
Yes, they’re trying to shut him up, but it’s too late for that:
Trying to revive his 2016 coalition in a part of Pennsylvania where he needs to run up his margins, the president scorned Mr. Biden as “a servant of the radical globalists” who “shipped away your jobs, shut down your factories and, you know it because you really suffered right in this area, threw open your borders and ravaged our cities.”
Yet the president also made clear he had other issues on his mind besides the populist message that his campaign wanted him to give in Johnstown. Namely, how embarrassing it would be to lose to an opponent he has repeatedly mocked as being senile.
“I’m running against the single worst candidate in the history of presidential politics, and you know what that does?” Mr. Trump said. “That puts more pressure on me.” He added: “Can you imagine if you lose to a guy like this? It’s unbelievable.”
Mr. Biden, said Mr. Trump, is “shot, folks, he’s shot.”
Nope, not now:
The president is trailing in the state by seven percentage points, according to a New York Times-Siena College poll taken this month, in large part because Mr. Biden is overwhelming him in the state’s metropolitan areas. This also appeared to register with Mr. Trump, and he used his remarks to directly address the constituency that is most imperiling his candidacy.
“Suburban women: Will you please like me?” he asked. “Please. Please. I saved your damn neighborhood, OK?”
Even though he was on the other side of the state from Philadelphia, and speaking in a long-distressed former steel community, Mr. Trump boasted that he had “saved suburbia” in America.
And he predicted that his fortunes with female voters, who in the recent Times survey were supporting Mr. Biden by 15 points, would turn around.
That will not change, not now:
Perhaps the most striking language from Mr. Trump’s speech that was not included in his prepared text was an acknowledgment that he is practicing “risky” behavior by appearing in public so soon after falling ill with a highly contagious disease.
“I got to get out and I have to meet people and I have to see people, and I know it’s risky to do that,” he said. “But you have to do what you have to do. You know, I’m the president, I can’t sit in the basement and say, ‘Let’s wait this thing out.’”
Continuing to minimize the risk of transmission, as he did even before he contracted the virus, Mr. Trump proclaimed in front of an array of people wearing “MAGA”-emblazoned masks, “Now, I’m immune.”
Then he said he could prove it.
“I could come down and start kissing everybody,” he told his supporters, echoing a line he used the day before in Florida. “I’ll kiss every guy — man and woman. Look at that guy, how handsome he is. I’ll kiss him. Not with a lot of enjoyment, but that’s OK.”
This is over.