Anthony Fauci becomes a fringe MAGA target

“A Deep-State Hillary Clinton-loving stooge,” read a Saturday headline on the American Thinker, a far-right website, latching on to a WikiLeaks-released email that showed Fauci praising Clinton for her Benghazi testimony as secretary of State.

“Guy was a Hillary mole,” pro-Trump podcaster Bill Mitchell tweeted on Monday.

“Disrespectful,” read a Monday headline on the right-wing Gateway Pundit, comparing Fauci to ousted general Stanley McChrystal.

The narrative has even started to migrate to Fox News, a key source of information for the president.

“He’ll still have a job at the end of this, whatever happens,” Fox News host Steve Hilton argued during his Sunday night monologue on “The Next Revolution.” “Our ruling class and their TV mouthpieces whipping up fear over this virus, they can afford an indefinite shutdown.”

Fauci’s portrayal in conservative media circles could play a crucial role in the coming days as the country comes to the end of a 15-day period of social distancing and business closures intended to slow the coronavirus outbreak. While public health officials like Fauci have cautioned that the country will likely have to extend that period, Trump and his team are signaling that they want to get people back to work soon, by mid-April if possible. The cues from right-wing media, as split as they are, could influence how much Trump listens to Fauci.

“He obviously has the backing of the president right now, but a lot of people on the right in the grass roots are extremely skeptical of this entire coronavirus thing,’” said Lee Stranahan, the host of “Fault Lines” on Sputnik Radio, a Russian government-backed media outlet. The coronavirus has killed hundreds in the United States and almost 20,000 worldwide, according to researchers and government officials, overwhelming hospitals and straining global medical supplies. Cases and deaths are expected to keep rising in the coming days.

For the moment, Fauci — director of the National Institute Of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984 — still has the respect of large swathes of Trump’s supporters, reflecting the unique fissures that have emerged in the MAGA movement during the coronavirus. Trump supporters who praise Fauci also tend to believe the president should employ swift, severe measures — and keep the economy shuttered — as long as necessary to keep coronavirus under control.

In past, non-pandemic times, the right would have likely unified in rallying against a government official publicly quibbling with the president. But this time, reliable Trump boosters like Breitbart and the majority of the Fox News stable are leaving him alone.

“I think he’s obviously excellent at his job, and I think he’s aware that he’s on that stage to offer detail and help finesse language, and he seems cool with it,” said Raheem Kassam, the former editor of Breitbart London and host of the podcast “War Room.”

Fauci’s criticism of palace intrigue reporting on his relationship with Trump has endeared even more to this crowd.

“Mainstream media and several journalists, especially as it pertains to the White House press corps, are purposely trying to get Fauci to contradict Trump for a juicy conflict in the middle of a pandemic,” said Stephen Miller, a conservative media columnist who contributes to The Spectator USA, the American division of the long-time conservative British outlet.

The New York Times published an article Monday suggesting the president was losing patience with Fauci’s willingness to oppose him in public and in interviews, even as the NIAID director has gone out of his way to praise Trump to more conservative outlets.

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