Anti-Trump campaign group The Lincoln Project has released an ad defending Dr Anthony Fauci against criticism from the White House, and asking viewers whether they prefer to trust him or “Donald the dope”.
The ad describes Dr Fauci as “a natural leader” and runs through his long record of working with the government, which has earned him high praise from presidents of both parties.
It then contrasts him against the current president, including clips of Mr Trump suggesting that disinfectant could cure Covid-19, denying responsibility for the death toll, and saying he expects the virus to “disappear”.
“So who do you trust,” it asks: “Donald the dope, or the doctor?”
The ad comes after days of attacks on Dr Fauci from White House sources. Among them is a bullet-pointed list of the adviser’s past statements that have supposedly proven to be inaccurate. Deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino also posted an anti-Fauci cartoon on his Facebook page.
Most explicit of all was a USA Today op-ed from Mr Trump’s trade adviser, Peter Navarro, published on Tuesday, in which the economist wrote that Dr Fauci “has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on”.
After listing a series of disagreements on several major aspects of the pandemic response, he concluded that “when you ask me whether I listen to Dr. Fauci’s advice, my answer is: only with skepticism and caution.”
However, despite the earlier attacks on Dr Fauci, the White House was quick to distance itself from Mr Navarro’s work.
Less than 24 hours after the piece was published, Alyssah Farah, the White House’s director of strategic communications, defended Dr Fauci and denied that the op-ed had anything to do with the White House press team.
“The Peter Navarro op-ed didn’t go through normal White House clearance processes,” she tweeted, “and is the opinion of Peter alone. @realDonaldTrump values the expertise of the medical professionals advising his Administration.”
The Lincoln Project, founded by a group of anti-Trump Republican political veterans, has been running sophisticated ads against the president for several months, and is increasingly producing them quickly enough to keep up with breaking news.
The group has previously been able to manipulate Mr Trump himself by placing its ads in the breaks of Fox News shows the president is known to watch compulsively, knowing they have a good chance of goading him into tweeting about their attacks and thereby wrecking the White House’s efforts to control the news cycle.