In an interview with National Geographic last week, the federal government’s leading infectious-disease expert was asked whether it was safe for Americans to vote in person in November.

“I think if carefully done, according to the guidelines, there’s no reason that I can see why that [should] not be the case,” Anthony S. Fauci replied. “For example, when you look at going to a grocery store now in many regions and counties and cities that are doing it correctly, they have Xs every six or more feet. And it says, ‘Don’t leave this spot until the person in front of you left their spot.’ And you can do that, if you go and wear a mask, if you observe the physical distancing, and don’t have a crowded situation, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to do that.”

He added that those who don’t want to take the chance or who might be at higher risk from the virus could vote by mail, something “that has been done for years in many places."

“So there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to vote in person or otherwise,” Fauci said.

On Sunday, Trump shared a somewhat truncated version of Fauci’s comments with his tens of millions of Twitter followers.

Trump’s emphasis, of course, was on the “no reason” part of what Fauci said. His campaign’s rapid-response team simply excluded the part about the guidelines in its summary of Fauci’s response when it shared a video of the interview last week. To Trump, Fauci’s answer isn’t about how we now know about ways in which the spread of the virus can be carefully controlled. It was, instead, a useful chit in Trump’s great battle against mail-in voting.

For several months now, Trump has been railing against mail-in ballots as some sort of threat to American democracy. His primary stated concern is that mail-in ballots, which he distinguishes from absentee ballots, pose a significant risk of fraud, tainting election results. There’s no evidence that the de minimis amount of fraud that occurs in any election will be significantly increased by an expansion of voting by mail, but by attacking mail-in voting as problematic, Trump keeps open a door for contesting ballots counted after Election Day — ballots that are likely to skew more heavily toward Democrats.

Fauci stipulated that guidelines should be met, but Trump has this tendency of endorsing guidelines that will allow a careful deployment of normal activity and then calling for normal activity to resume unfettered. The government issued guidelines for reopening the economy to which Trump paid lip service before demanding that businesses reopen. The government developed guidelines for reopening schools that the White House later pushed to soften. When it comes to safe in-person voting, there’s no reason to assume that Trump cares about the “safe” part to any significant degree.

An honest assessment of Fauci’s assertions about the ability of people to vote in-person on Election Day should address the ease of doing so. Sure, we can set up a process by which people can maintain social distance and vote safely, but how long will it take? How will weather affect the ability of potential voters to stand in lines stretching for a half-mile down a street? Who will ensure that poll workers have the protection that they need? These, too, are not the sorts of concerns that Trump has ever indicated he spends much time worrying about.

Instead, he frets about purported fraud, for reasons both sincere and not. His advisers have reportedly been telling him that his 2016 popular-vote loss was a function of fraudulent mail-in ballots — requiring that more than 1 in 10 of the mail ballots cast that year was both fraudulent and, somehow, never detected.

But Trump’s fraud assertions aren’t even coherent. Asked about his views on absentee voting during a conversation with “Fox and Friends” on Monday morning, Trump claimed to support the validity of absentee votes.

“Would you support someone writing in a request for a ballot?” host Brian Kilmeade asked. “And having said my reason, concerned about covid” — referring to covid-19, the disease cause by the coronavirus — “would that be something you accept?”

“I totally support,” Trump replied. “That’s called absentee, yeah, that’s called absentee ballot, Brian. That’s a great thing. That’s like Florida.”

Florida, from which Trump has requested an absentee ballot, drawing accusations of hypocrisy.

A bit earlier, Trump tried to explain the distinction he’s drawing.

“Absentee ballots, like in Florida, those are great things. You send for it. You ask for it. They send it to you. You send it back with your vote. Those are great things,” Trump said. “Universal ballots, where they drop millions of ballots into a community, into a state — like New Jersey is doing now, it’s going to be a disaster. Look at Nevada, what’s going on over there. It’s going to be a disaster. No signature verification. You can you can bundle up. You can — they call it harvest. I mean, harvesting is illegal in most places, and they’re letting you harvest. It’s going to be a disaster.”

Trump’s presentation of things is incorrect. Nevada does have signature verification to ensure that ballots being cast are valid. Laws about third-party ballot submission, which Trump refers to as “harvesting,” vary from state-to-state.

This differentiation between requested absentee ballots and ballots that are sent to voters automatically, though, is the crux of Trump’s complaints. It’s also a differentiation that will make very little difference in November.

A New York Times analysis of how states are responding to the pandemic finds that nearly 80 percent of voters live in states that aren’t going to be mailing out ballots automatically. Most of those voters are in California and New Jersey, each of which introduced the system this year in response to the pandemic. More voters live in states where concern about the virus won’t be considered a valid excuse than live in states where voters will be sent ballots directly.

The majority of Americans live in places where the response to the pandemic has been to encourage absentee voting of the sort Trump claims to support. A number of states will automatically send absentee ballot applications to voters, including Ohio, Massachusetts and Wisconsin.

Several of those states where ballots will be sent have been voting using that process for some time, including Oregon and Utah. Of the five states that will send out ballots, four supported Hillary Clinton by at least 14 points in 2016, suggesting that there’s not much mystery about what those mail-in ballots will reveal. The fifth is Nevada, which Clinton won by a bit over 2 points — and which Trump would very much like to flip. Hence his stated concern.

Trump’s concerns often fall into the category of complaints-for-the-sake-of-complaining. Consider his tweet Monday morning about ballot drop boxes, something his campaign is opposing in Pennsylvania.

It’s a baffling distinction to draw: A big locked box of ballots collected by the county is somehow more subject to manipulation than all of those ballots coming to the county through the mail? (Here, for example, is how it works in Colorado.) Not to mention that the method of receiving the ballot — absentee or mailed directly to voters — bears no relationship to how they will be returned, meaning that finding only absentee ballots “acceptable” is irrelevant to drop-box collection of those ballots.

But of course, whether Trump finds absentee ballots acceptable is also dependent upon context. During the “Fox and Friends” interview, Trump again pointed to a contested House primary in New York City, where disputes over absentee ballots delayed the declaration of a winner for weeks.

“Look at Carolyn B. Maloney,” he said, referring to the incumbent representative who was ultimately determined to have prevailed, “that horrible thing that took place in New York just now. They still don’t know what — they’re declaring a winner. They have no idea what the ballots are, whether where the votes are. They should do that election over.”

New York is one of the states that doesn’t mail ballots to all voters. In fact, it’s a state where concern about the coronavirus itself is not a sufficient excuse for requesting an absentee ballot — making its absentee vote rules stricter than what Trump claims he wants to see.

What Trump’s worried about isn’t process or legality. It’s outcome. And if Fauci says something useful to that end or the results in a place reinforce what he wants to talk about, that becomes something worth elevating.

Even if it doesn’t actually bolster his point.