The relationship between Donald Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci has been a rocky one for a long time. However, the president’s remarks in a phone call with supporters this week seemed to hit a new low when he used the word “disaster” to describe the long-time head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and prominent member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Trump added that Fauci was a “nice guy” and, derisively, that he’s been here for “500 years.” The chart below shows why the president’s remarks are likely to have little impact on Dr. Fauci’s reputation. People have made up their minds about both men’s performance during the pandemic.
In the latest iteration of a question asked weekly by Morning Consult/Politico, 63 percent of registered voters gave Dr. Fauci an excellent or good rating for handling the virus (30 percent rated his performance just fair or poor). Thirty-eight percent gave President Trump an excellent or good rating while 57 percent gave him a just fair or poor rating. Only Congress fares worse than the president, with 30 percent giving it a positive rating. In most polls, around 35 percent approve of the way the president is handling coronavirus. That’s down from nearly half (49 percent) in Morning Consult’s late February-early March survey.
The standings reflect performance-based judgments and levels of trust. Anxiety about coronavirus in weekly Axios/Ipsos panel studies has not risen in recent weeks as cases have spiked, but a substantial and steady 55 to 60 percent have been extremely or very concerned about the outbreak since May. In addition, in late March, 10 percent knew someone who had tested positive. That number has risen six-fold to 61 percent in their latest mid-October poll. In late April — the first time the question was asked — 12 percent knew someone who had died from coronavirus. That number is now 22 percent.
The president’s repeated attacks on Dr. Fauci haven’t damaged his reputation, but they have probably contributed over time to Trump’s tarnished one. With the election less than two weeks away and coronavirus worries on the minds of many Americans, these self-inflicted wounds are likely contributing to Trump’s weak standing in the national presidential match-ups.
This article first appeared in 2020 on the AEI Ideas blog.