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Fauci under fire

Conservatives are spending big on bashing Anthony Fauci

Conservatives are fundraising, list-building, and spending big on bashing Dr. Anthony Fauci, an effort that has redoubled following the release of his emails through various Freedom of Information Act requests this week. But while the emails have given Fauci's critics new fodder — albeit, with a distinctly conspiratorial bent — they're also the culmination of a months-long effort to discredit the nation's top infectious disease expert. In the past month, for example, Republicans and conservative interests have dumped some $300,000 into Facebook ads targeting Fauci, Politico reports based on data from Bully Pulpit Interactive.

More recently, conservatives have selectively pointed to Fauci's emails to make the false claim that the correspondences offer proof the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases "privately supported a theory that the virus leaked from a Chinese lab and lied about masks in an effort to amass political power," Politico writes, going on to clarify that "neither was true. Fauci has said he thinks it's more likely that the virus spread from animal to human but would not rule out a lab leak, and while he initially downplayed the need for masks, it was, he said, out of fear that medical professionals would lose access to them if the public began panic purchasing."

Still, conservatives sense their opening. Former President Donald Trump's senior advisor, Jason Miller, explained to Axios that the reaction to Fauci among the politician's base is "visceral": "People see Anthony Fauci and they think of shuttered businesses, lost school." Trump reportedly plans to capitalize on that emotion, and make Fauci his "new Hillary" at upcoming rallies, Axios adds. 

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, meanwhile, is also fundraising and list-building through longtime Fauci critic Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who is calling on President Biden to fire the NIAID director.

"Targeting Fauci erodes trust in scientific institutions and makes them seem partisan – just as universities are increasingly seen as partisan, the media, the bureaucracy," Karen Kornbluh, a senior fellow and director of GMF Digital at the German Marshall Fund of the U.S., told Politico, adding: "These strategies don't have an easy response."