Trump became a real household name when he began hosting The Apprentice, but for those of us who lived and worked in the New York City area in the 80s and 90s, it became clear long before then that this was a man who always wanted to be the center of attention. He was a regular fixture on Page Six of the New York Post, and more often than not, he was the source of the stories.
The president, however, craves not just attention, but positive attention. It's easy to spot when he's not faring well in the public because he'll lash out at his political rivals or hype his support within the Republican Party. Currently, Trump enjoys good poll numbers for how he's handling the coronavirus pandemic, despite his attempts to downplay the danger a month ago — the latest Gallup poll shows 60 per cent of Americans approve.
Still, the possibility exists that Trump's approval may be the direct result of two people most Americans hadn't heard of just two months ago, Dr Anthony Fauci and Dr Deborah Birx.
Trump sees people who work in his administration and those supportive of him through the lens of celebrity, not job performance. He's described Rex Tillerson, John Kelly, Alex Azar, Sen. Tom Cotton as "stars," and he did the same thing for Dr Fauci, describing him as a "major television star." But there is one thing Trump doesn't like, and that's when his "stars" begin to take the spotlight from Trump.
Dr Fauci has grown bolder as of late when it comes to correcting the president or inserting what he thinks is best when it comes to dealing with the coronavirus. Health crisis or not, there's still politics in Washington D.C., Trump is no doubt concerned about how the coronavirus will affect his chance at reelection. Understandably, he's attempting to paint a rosier scenario than Fauci.
However, Fauci is a doctor, and he's not at all concerned about the politics, which leads him at times to offer more blunt and sometimes darker assessments than the president would like. At the same time, Fauci, who has worked in every administration since Ronald Reagan was president, retains a high level of credibility among the press corps and Democrats on Capitol Hill. That insulates him — for now — from any public pushback from Trump.
Still, it hasn't gone unnoticed. Maggie Haberman, at the New York Times, reports Trump's patience with Fauci's public disagreements is wearing thin. Enter, Dr. Deborah Birx.
Birx has been speaking more at the press briefings as of late and displays a whole lot more diplomacy at times towards the president than Fauci. That's undoubtedly natural for Birx as she is a diplomat coming over from the State Department after having served as Ambassador-at-Large and United States Global AIDS Coordinator since 2014. Serving as a physician in the United States Army, she is the recipient of two U.S. Meritorious Service Medals and the Legion of Merit Award.
She is likely one of those "stars" Trump likes, and Birx is adept at dealing with the machinations of Washington D.C. politics. She has a distinct comfort level with the president, as was revealed when Trump jokingly moved away from her after she disclosed that she had a low-grade fever over the weekend, laughing when he did it. Birx also knows how to handle the Washington press corps as she skillfully answers questions and manages to keep herself from being at odds with the president. At the same time, she doesn't feel the need to have lavish him with praise as other members of the administration typically do to stay in his good graces.
How long all the goodwill lasts is anyone's guess. Right now, with Trump's approval of his handling of the coronavirus very high as well as his overall job approval increasing, people can expect to continue to see Fauci and Birx sharing the stage with Trump. But if things start to go south, the president will look for someone to blame, and if history is any guide, he won't take it upon himself.
Jay Caruso is managing editor at the Washington Examiner