“It couldn’t be further from the truth,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Monday after the White House anonymously circulated old Fauci quotes.
But just a day later, Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro wrote an op-ed denouncing Fauci in USA Today. Despite the op-ed using similar talking points, the White House suggested Navarro had gone rogue. “The Peter Navarro op-ed didn’t go through normal White House clearance processes and is the opinion of Peter alone,” White House communications aide Alyssa Farah said. “@realDonaldTrump values the expertise of the medical professionals advising his administration.”
It’s not at all subtle what the White House is doing. It’s undermining Fauci, while trying to avoid the perception that Trump is totally disregarding the nation’s foremost infectious-disease expert in the middle of a pandemic. Even the president himself has made a point recently to claim Fauci “made a lot of mistakes.” And it’s virtually impossible to disconnect all this from the growing chasm between Fauci’s prescriptions and those of Trump.
The White House indeed seems to be pulling back, which Fauci notes in a new interview with the Atlantic. “I think they realize now that that was not a prudent thing to do,” he said, “because it’s only reflecting negatively on them.”
But the underlying argument here — that Fauci got it wrong — is also extremely rich coming from the White House. As I wrote Monday, many of the quotes it highlighted omitted crucial context and ignored Fauci’s clear caveats. And perhaps most importantly, they sounded a lot like things Trump himself said much later in the outbreak, long after health officials such as Fauci adjusted their comments to reflect new information.
Indeed, however much you could criticize Fauci for his early comments, they pale in comparison with the president’s own flawed commentary and bad predictions. If this is the standard the White House is setting, they might want to take some time for self-reflection.
Here’s a recap of some of Trump’s biggest whoppers.
1. 15 cases “is going to be down to close to zero”
Feb. 26: “When you have 15 people [with confirmed cases] — and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero — that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”
It’s one thing to have been spiking the football so early in the outbreak by citing the low number of cases, as Trump often did; it’s another to predict those cases would drop to “close to zero.” The United States has more coronavirus cases than any other country in the world — both cumulative and daily — with more than 3.4 million total cases and an average of more than 60,000 daily new cases. Even if you adjust for population, the United States has way more daily cases than do Western European counties who squashed the virus in ways the United States still hasn’t.
2. Warm weather in April ‘kills the virus’
Feb. 10: “It looks like by April, you know in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away — I hope that’s true.”
Feb. 13: “We think and we hope, based on all signs, that the problem goes away in April because — which is not too far down the road — because heat kills this virus. We think.”
Feb. 19: “I think it’s going to work out fine. I think when we get into April, in the warmer weather, that has a very negative effect on that and that type of a virus. So let’s see what happens, but I think it’s going to work out fine.”
Trump has explained these comments by saying he was merely floating theories. And in many cases, he did add caveats to his comments. But he also suggested this repeatedly and said his theory was “based on all signs.” He also stated without qualifying it that the warmer weather “has a very negative effect” on the virus.
That went infinitely further than health officials were willing to go. Fauci noted there was reason to believe it was possible heat could help and charitably allowed that Trump was merely being optimistic. But Fauci also said, “You must assume that the virus will continue to do its thing. If we get some help from the weather, so be it, fine. But I don’t think we need to assume that.”
And indeed now, with coronavirus cases spiking across the South and Southwest, some are theorizing that the heat might actually exacerbate the spread, because it forces people indoors where air is constantly being recirculated.
3. Only 50,000 or 60,000 deaths
April 19: “It looks like we’ll be at about a 60,000 [death] mark, which is 40,000 less than the lowest number thought of.”
April 20: “But we’re going toward 50- or 60,000 people [dead]. That’s at the lower — as you know, the low number was supposed to be 100,000 people. We — we could end up at 50 to 60.”
These were the earliest in botched attempts by Trump to predict the eventual death toll. And as the numbers continually surpassed his goal posts — often very shortly after he set them — he kept upping them slightly. You could potentially argue that Trump wasn’t making firm predictions, but the fact that he contrasted his numbers with experts’ predictions (of between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths), it’s abundantly clear what he was doing.
Today, we have more than 133,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths — well more than double Trump’s prediction from three months ago.
4. We probably won’t need 5 million tests
March 13: “The FDA’s goal is to hopefully authorize their application within 24 hours — it’ll go very quickly; it’s going very quickly — which will bring, additionally, 1.4 million tests on board next week and 5 million within a month. I doubt we’ll need anywhere near that.”
Trump’s commentary on testing continues to be baffling, but this is one of a few instances in which he actually predicted they wouldn’t be needed.
While Trump predicted here that we wouldn’t need even 5 million tests, today we’ve had to conduct more than 40 million, with more than 3.4 million confirmed cases. In other words, the number of confirmed cases could at some point be higher than the number of tests Trump predicted wouldn’t be necessary.
5. Hydroxychloroquine, the ‘game-changer’
March 19: “We think it has a very serious — a very good impact on what we’re talking about with respect to the virus. So you’ll take a look at that. Then you can coordinate with us. But I think, to me, that’s a game-changer.”
March 21: “HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE & AZITHROMYCIN, taken together, have a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine.”
As with some of the above predictions, Trump sometimes offered caveats when it came to suggesting drugs could be “game changers.” But other times he eschewed them and ventured into more predictive territory, as he did in the above statements.
Amid pressure from Trump, the Food and Drug Administration at one point cleared the malaria drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine for emergency use. But then, in an extraordinary move in June, it reversed itself.
“It is no longer reasonable to believe that oral formulations of [hydroxychloroquine] and [chloroquine] may be effective in treating covid-19, nor is it reasonable to believe that the known and potential benefits of these products outweigh their known and potential risks,” the FDA said.
Trump and his allies aren’t letting go of the idea that the drug could be helpful, and they are now pressuring the FDA to reverse itself again, while relying upon a much-criticized study. What’s clear from pretty much every study, though, is that the drugs are hardly the “game-changer” Trump suggested.