Updated October 19, 2020 - 4:29 pm
WASHINGTON— President Donald Trump turned his ire on Dr. Anthony Fauci on Monday, telling campaign staffers that people are tired of hearing from the doctor about the coronavirus and calling him a “disaster.”
“I have the biggest rallies I’ve ever had and we have COVID,” Trump told campaign aides on a conference call before leaving Las Vegas Monday,the day after he addressed a packed rally in Carson City.
On the call from the eponymous Trump International Hotel before he headed to speak at two rallies in Arizona, the president referred to Fauci as one of “these idiots” who got key aspects of COVID wrong.
Trump recalled that Fauci, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, cautioned the public against wearing face masks in the task force’s early days – Fauci changed his mind a month later and came out in favor of cloth coverings – and opposed Trump’s decision to bar travel from China to slow the spread of the disease.
The recurring spat between the president and the nation’s leading infectious disease expert went public after Fauci appeared on “60 Minutes” Sunday and said that he feared Trump would get infected after Amy Coney Barrett was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court on Sept. 26. The Rose Garden event nominating Barrett, he said, was “crowded, no separation between people and almost nobody wearing a mask.”
“When I saw that on TV, I said, ‘Oh my goodness, nothing good can come out of that,” Fauci offered, adding, “And then sure enough, it turned out to be a super-spreader event.”
On Oct. 1, Trump announced that he had tested positive for the coronavirus. The next day he was taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center where he spent three nights before he returned to the White House and later to the campaign trail.
Biden backs Fauci
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, lambasted Trump for feuding with a task force doctor.
“Coronavirus infections are spiking across the country, but President Trump decided to attack Dr. Fauci again today as a ‘disaster’ and call public health experts ‘idiots’ instead of laying out a plan to beat this virus or heeding their advice about how we can save lives and get our economy moving again,” he said in a statement.
“The American people have never backed down from a challenge, but they need a leader to show the way and all President Trump has done is cower and wallow in self-pity,” Biden added.
As of Sunday, the New York Times estimated a 30 percent increase in American COVID-19 cases over the last two weeks and a one percent decrease in COVID deaths. Nearly 220,000 Americans have died from the disease the virus causes.
The Carson City crowd, estimated in the thousands, exceeded Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak’s 250-person cap on events.
Nevada GOP chairman Michael McDonald, however, maintains that the large crowd gets a pass as “political protest.”
The “60 Minutes” segment also revisited a dispute between Fauci and the Trump campaign over an ad that features the doctor appearing to praise the president’s response to the coronavirus and saying, “I can’t imagine that anybody could do more.”
The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, Fauci maintained that the ad appeared to make it seem that he endorsed Trump, which was “outrageous,” and said that his remark was taken “out of context.” Fauci asked the campaign to pull the ad but it refused.
“These are Dr. Fauci’s own words,” maintained campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh in a statement. “The video is from a nationally broadcast television interview in which Dr. Fauci was praising the work of the Trump administration. The words spoken are accurate, and directly from Dr. Fauci’s mouth.”
‘A nice guy’
Fauci also told “60 Minutes” that he has “not been allowed to go on one of many, many shows that have asked for me.”
Trump scoffed at the notion on Twitter. “Dr. Tony Fauci says we don’t allow him to do television, and yet I saw him last night on @60Minutes, and he seems to get more airtime than anybody since the late, great, Bob Hope. All I ask of Tony is that he make better decisions. He said ‘no masks & let China in.’ Also, Bad arm!” a reference to Fauci’s short and off-the-mark first pitch for a Washington Nationals baseball game in July.
“Every time he goes on television there’s always a bomb, but there’s a bigger bomb if you fire him,” Trump said of Fauci, whom he also called “a nice guy.”
At least one professor of bioethics came to Fauci’s defense Monday.
“I think attacking Fauci reveals he (Trump) is fighting this plague by listening to people who tell him what he wants to hear rather than what he needs to know from the best experts available such as Dr. Fauci,” said Art Caplan, a professor of bioethics at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine. “This has led to the culpable mismanagement of the pandemic with many lives lost that should not have been.”
Monday’s call with campaign aides occurred as the RealClearPolitics average of polls showed Biden ahead by nearly 9 percentage points. There also have been news reports of low morale at the campaign’s Arlington, Virginia, headquarters.
Campaign manager Bill Stepien led off the call announcing that the team “is sure right now that we’re going to win this campaign in 15 days.”
“We’re going to win,” Trump told his troops. “I wouldn’t have told you that two or three weeks ago.”
Contact Debra J. Saunders at email@example.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.