After President Donald Trump retweeted a message Sunday night that declared #FireFauci, it didn't take long for the #FireTrump and #FireTrumpNotFauci hashtags to emerge overnight as an immediate and popular response.
Just hours after Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, appeared on CNN Sunday morning and confirmed the U.S. federal government "could have saved more lives" if it had acted earlier and more urgently to address the coronavirus, Trump issued an ominous threat against the widely respective infectious disease specialist by retweeting a post that declared "Time to #FireFauci."
Trump retweets message that says “Time to #FireFauci” after the disease specialist acknowledges that more lives could have been saved if the government had acted sooner to shut down society. https://t.co/S23BtJVOsi— Peter Baker (@peterbakernyt) April 13, 2020
The attack on Fauci was just one of many Trump posted to the social media platform Sunday night that attempted to defend his management of the outbreak, deflect criticism, and blame others.
And where are the tests, Donnie boy? What about the protective equipment for health care workers? Guess you forgot about that. https://t.co/BnEXyu1fD0— Dean Baker (@DeanBaker13) April 13, 2020
Fauci had appeared on CNN's "State of the Union" with Jake Tapper where he was asked about a "bombshell" New York Times article published Saturday that detailed Trump's failed response to the virus. The president, according to the reporting, "was slow to absorb the scale of the risk and to act accordingly, focusing instead on controlling the message, protecting gains in the economy and batting away warnings from senior officials."
.@JakeTapper: Do you think lives could have been saved if social distancing and stay-at-home measures had started in February instead of March?— CNN (@CNN) April 12, 2020
Dr. Anthony Fauci: "…Obviously, if we had right from the very beginning shut everything down, it may have been a little bit different" pic.twitter.com/KfCsLB2OHr
What Fauci explained to Tapper did not appear controversial, but Trump's Sunday night tweet—in which he called the Times reporting "Fake news" and included the very public jab at Fauci—makes clear that Trump took it as an affront. While Fauci has become one of the nation's most trusted voices from within the administration when it comes to the coronavirus outbreak—having served six presidents as a health advisor and known for his adherence to evidence and sound policy devoid of partisan politics—Trump loyalists and members of the right-wing media have been trashing Fauci for weeks as an enemy to the president.
NEVER FORGET: Trump on Feb 28 mocks and ridicules those warning of the threat of the coronavirus- this is BEFORE even one American died from the virus. Trump lied, Americans Died. #FireTrump pic.twitter.com/JT35O9LVfX— (((DeanObeidallah))) (@DeanObeidallah) April 13, 2020
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Despite the enormous amount of in-depth reporting and public record that documents a "botched" response on numerous fronts, Trump has continued to claim that he acted swiftly and appropriately to the pandemic. Trump repeatedly turns to his decision to close off travel from China in early February as one key example, but numerous experts and news outlets have reported that while the president restricted travel into the U.S. by foreign nationals who had recently been to the country, it was nowhere near to a full shutdown and far from the only kind of action that was needed to prepare the nation from the virus' coming onslaught. As the Times reported Sunday night:
Mr. Trump did not "ban China," but he did block foreign nationals who had been in China in the past 14 days from coming into the United States starting on Feb. 2. Despite the policy, 40,000 Americans and other authorized travelers have still come into the country from China since then.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly pointed back to those travel limits to defend his handling of the pandemic, but experts have said the limits were useful mainly to buy time that the administration did not then use to ramp up widespread testing and impose social distancing policies before infections could begin growing exponentially.
Will Trump actually fire Fauci? Historian Juan Cole, in his Monday morning column, certainly thinks it's possible.
"Trump could well get tired of being contradicted by Dr. Fauci, and we know he fires people at the drop of a hat," writes Cole. "Trump is perfectly capable of installing some suck-up crony as head of the coronavirus task force, someone who would be all right with declaring the pandemic over. Trump has an irrational dislike of the large scale testing and contact tracing method South Korea used to get back to work, and without Fauci there to champion testing, it could fall by the wayside, condemning us to waves of outbreaks and 18 months of on again off again shutdowns."
What recent history shows, Cole added, is that even top-level officials around the president "have to suck up to him frequently and publicly, or they won't be around after a while."