At a rally in Florida last night, President Trump suggested he would fire infectious disease specialist Anthony Fauci after the election. After encouraging a “Fire Fauci” chant, a popular Trumpist slogan, he told the crowd, “Don’t tell anybody but let me wait till a little bit after the election.”
It has been obvious for weeks that President Trump plans to fire Dr. Fauci. Trump has stripped Fauci and other public-health officials of all influence in decisions on how to handle the pandemic — or to be precise, not to handle it — and handed it over to unqualified right-wing crank Scott Atlas. Trump and his minions have repeatedly mocked Fauci for saying true things about COVID-19 (masks work, we have not turned the corner, a vaccine is not going to make it disappear quickly) that violate his political line.
Of course, presidents have the right to fire executive branch officials. (Fauci is a civil servant, which means Trump would need to order Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to fire him.) The reason he has held off is that Fauci is extremely popular. Trump’s advisers clearly prevailed upon him to wait until after the election to fire his beloved, high-profile public-health adviser. (Likewise, they got him to wait to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions until immediately after the 2018 midterms.)
But firing Fauci is like the Christmas present sitting in the corner that Trump can’t wait three more days to open. His polls are bad, and he needs the display of dominance to perk up his psyche now.
If Trump wins reelection, the course of pandemic strategy is set: He is following Atlas and letting the coronavirus tear through the public, refusing to take even the most painless steps (like urging mask usage in public) to contain it, while insisting official measures of its toll are lies. If he loses, Fauci won’t be around to help steer policy in a less-dangerous direction during a long, dark winter transition. Of course, if Trump loses, his interest in helping minimize pain and damage won’t exactly be high.
This post has been updated.