Dr. Anthony Fauci, the most popular face in fighting the coronavirus, released a statement Sunday disputing being used in a new advertisement from President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign meant to tout the White House’s handling of the pandemic.
The 30-second spot seeks to highlight how Trump, who caught COVID-19 this month, and the U.S. economy are recovering from the contagion. It tries to portray the president as taking decisive action despite previously downplaying the disease in public.
“President Trump tackled the virus head on as leaders should,” the narrator says, followed by a short clip of Fauci saying, “I can’t imagine that anybody could be doing more.”
But Fauci rebuked the use of the small snippet in the ad on Sunday, which made it seem as if he was endorsing Trump’s effort. He said in his “nearly five decades of public service” he has never endorsed a candidate publicly.
“The comments attributed to me without my permission in the GOP campaign ad were taken out of context from a broad statement I made months ago about the efforts of federal public health officials,” Fauci said in a statement provided to CNN.
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The clip comes from an interview Fauci did in March, where he was talking about how much time he had been devoting to combating the coronavirus.
“I’m down at the White House virtually every day with the task force,” Fauci said at the time. “I’m connected by phone throughout the day and into the night and when I say night, I’m talking twelve, one, two in the morning. I’m not the only one. There’s a whole group of us that are doing that. It’s every single day. So I can’t imagine that under any circumstances that anybody could be doing more. I mean, obviously, we’re fighting a formidable enemy — this virus. This virus is a serious issue here.”
Trump campaign manager Tim Murtaugh defended using Fauci’s image and words in the spot when reached for comment on Sunday.
“These are Dr. Fauci’s own words,” he said. “The video is from a nationally broadcast television interview in which Dr. Fauci was praising the work of the Trump administration. The words spoken are accurate, and directly from Dr. Fauci’s mouth.”
The president repeated that defense in a Tweet Sunday night, writing, “They are indeed Dr. Fauci’s own words. We have done a “phenomenal” job, according to certain governors. Many people agree.”
Trump opined over the summer about how Fauci was seen as more credible source than him. He noted Fauci’s high approval ratings outpacing his own while working for the administration.
A September poll released by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation showed 68% of Americans said they have a great deal or least a fair amount of trust in Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
That’s about 28 percentage points higher than the 40% who said the same about Trump, according to the survey.
But Fauci’s approval numbers took a significant dip among Republicans with his favorables nosediving by about 30% since April. Roughly 48% of GOP voters said they had a great deal or fair amount of trust in him while at the same time confidence in him increased among Democrats from 80% to 86% since April.
The president’s reelection team using Fauci in such a prominent ad could be interpreted as an admission that despite some conservatives souring on the public health official, he remains a popular and trusted figure in terms of combating the virus.