Trump and Fauci's Complex Relationship with GOP Covid-19 Policies

Fauci in the Crossfire: Navigating GOP's Shifting Stance on Covid-19

by Faruk Imamovic
Trump and Fauci's Complex Relationship with GOP Covid-19 Policies
© Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla

On Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci faced intense scrutiny on Capitol Hill, highlighting his enduring unpopularity among the GOP’s conservative base. Despite Republicans leveraging this disdain, former President Donald Trump's association with Fauci remains a point of contention as he battles an insurgent independent campaign from Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Kennedy's third-party White House bid is gaining momentum by criticizing Trump's Covid-19 policies. He has accused Trump of “inventing lockdowns” and questioned the safety of the Covid vaccine developed under Trump's administration. Kennedy has also criticized Trump’s reliance on Fauci, who served on the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Recently, Kennedy's campaign launched merchandise tying Trump and Fauci together, with slogans like "Vote for Trump/Fauci 2024" and "Give us another shot!"

In response, Trump has downplayed Fauci's role in his administration. In a recent interview with Tim Pool, Trump claimed that Fauci "wasn't a big player in my administration like he was after I left when Biden made him the king of everything." However, Trump's party increasingly targets Fauci as a symbol of the retribution they seek if the GOP regains power.

GOP's War on Fauci

During Monday's House subcommittee hearing on the US response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Republicans did not mention Trump while grilling Fauci, who testified publicly for the first time since his retirement. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene asserted that Fauci “belongs in prison” for his pandemic response, echoing sentiments from other Trump supporters.

After Rep. Brad Wenstrup thanked Fauci for his service, conservative provocateur Laura Loomer posted on social media: “Dr. Fauci is a criminal and needs to be treated like one. Not be thanked by the REPUBLICAN CHAIR of the Select subcommittee on coronavirus.”

Kennedy has echoed these views. In a recent interview with conservative commentator Glenn Beck, when asked why Fauci isn’t in jail, Kennedy responded, “He’s not in jail because Joe Biden is president.”

This isn’t the first time Fauci has been used to create a wedge between Trump and his base. During the GOP primary, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis frequently invoked Fauci to criticize Trump, noting that Trump awarded Fauci a commendation on his last day in office. Despite DeSantis' efforts, they failed to significantly impact Trump’s support among GOP voters.

Dr. Fauci Testifies In House On COVID Origins
Dr. Fauci Testifies In House On COVID Origins© Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla

Kennedy's Challenge to Trump

While Kennedy faces significant challenges in getting on the ballot in every state, his campaign is already causing headaches for Trump, particularly as Kennedy focuses on vaccines and the coronavirus response. A Monmouth University poll showed that support for Kennedy among Republicans grew once they were aware of his views on vaccines and Covid-19. This trend highlights the urgency behind Trump’s recent attacks on Kennedy.

David Robertson, a real estate developer from San Antonio, switched his support from Trump to Kennedy after hearing Kennedy discuss Covid-19 on Joe Rogan's podcast. Robertson expressed feeling misled by Trump's handling of the pandemic, especially regarding lockdowns.

“I just felt like we were misled, you know, and a lot of ways and a lot of stuff that we were told that wasn’t true, we’ve now found out that it is true,” Robertson said. “Towards the end with Covid, the way he handled it, with the lockdowns and everything else, I felt like he just kind of bowed down to what he was told to do.”

In response to Kennedy’s rising popularity, Trump has labeled him an “extreme liberal” and a “fake anti-vaxxer.” Despite Kennedy's long-standing promotion of anti-vaccine misinformation, Trump attacked him in a social media video, claiming, “RFK’s views on vaccines are fake, as is everything else about his candidacy.”

Trump's Complicated Relationship with Vaccines

Trump’s relationship with the Covid-19 vaccine, a significant achievement of his presidency, has been complicated. As the vaccine became unpopular among Republicans, Trump ceased mentioning it. Amid criticism from DeSantis and Kennedy's ascent, Trump announced he would not support any school requiring Covid-19 vaccines or masks.

In a recent Time interview, Trump both praised Operation Warp Speed and hesitated to commit to pushing vaccines as aggressively in the future. He noted, “I’ve been given a lot of credit for Operation Warp Speed. But most of that credit has come from Democrats. And I think a big portion of Republicans agree with it, too. But a lot of them don’t want to say it. They don’t want to talk about it.”

The Road Ahead

As the 2024 election approaches, the dynamic between Trump, Fauci, and Kennedy will continue to shape the political landscape. Trump's attempts to distance himself from Fauci, despite their shared history, reveal the complexities of navigating the GOP's evolving stance on Covid-19 policies. Meanwhile, Kennedy’s criticisms may force Trump to further address his administration's pandemic response, potentially reshaping voter perceptions in a crucial election year.

The influence of Fauci and the response to Covid-19 remain central themes as Trump and Kennedy vie for support. Trump’s efforts to balance his legacy with current GOP sentiments and Kennedy’s attacks on his handling of the pandemic demonstrate the ongoing political reverberations of the crisis. As both navigate their campaigns, the way they address these issues will likely have significant implications for the upcoming election and beyond.