President Trump's media allies and social media attack dogs are deflecting criticism of the federal government's response to the coronavirus pandemic by giving viewers and Twitterers other targets of ire.
The targets include Democratic governors, presidential candidate Joe Biden and even a key member of Trump's coronavirus task force, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci.
On Friday, Trump's re-election campaign promoted anti-Biden messages on social media, including an image that said, in all-caps, "Biden left the federal stockpile of N95 masks depleted" and "failed our country."
Biden left the vice presidency more than three years ago.
Bashing Biden, the expected Democratic nominee for president, is a no-brainer for Trump allies. But one of the other recent targets is much more surprising.
While some in conservative media have praised Fauci, including Sean Hannity and his prime time Fox News colleague Laura Ingraham, other influential pro-Trump voices on social media have come after him for, in their view, urging excessive measures to slow the spread of the virus. Moments when Fauci has contradicted Trump's misinformation have also drawn ire. One far-right commentator has given Fauci the derisive nickname "Dr. Doom."
Jerome Corsi, an author, conspiracy theorist and associate of Roger Stone, implied that Fauci was trying to stoke fear by comparing him to an Elizabethan character who dabbled in black magic.
"How Dr. Faustus hates giving up his little bit of power & his moment of glory SCARING USA that COVID-19 may become seasonal, returning stronger next year," he said in a tweet.
In what appears to be an attempt to smear Fauci, right-wing opinion site The Gateway Pundit published an article on Friday that called out what it said was his "friendship" with the director-general of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The Washington Post pointed out that on Fox News' business network, host Lou Dobbs said on Monday that "frankly Fauci was wrong" about the use of experimental medicine.
Politico said the Fauci critics are on the "right-wing fringe," and noted that both Trump and Fauci have dismissed talk about Trump being unhappy with the doctor.
The Post noted that while both men are trying to "tamp down the appearance of tension," the President is growing wary of medical consensus.
That Hannity interview
Some of the right-wing commentary has an "I'm rubber, you're glue" feel — as hosts like Hannity scrutinized the federal government's failures and bounced it back to Trump's critics.
On Thursday night, before Trump called in to Hannity's show and said the federal government is merely a backup system for the states, Hannity tore into New York governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City mayor Bill de Blasio. An on-screen graphic of their faces was titled "FAILURE TO PREPARE."
"Both of you need to stop politicizing this national emergency," Hannity told them through the TV.
Cuomo and de Blasio have challenged Trump to provide more military resources, nationalize the medical supply chain and take other steps to help states. Trump has bristled at the criticism — and so have his supporters with big media megaphones.
Hannity said New York City and the state should have been better prepared for the pandemic: "You need to own up to your mistakes," he said Thursday night.
Trump's re-election campaign has been pushing the same set of talking points, seemingly shifting blame from the president to local officials.
"The people of New York City are suffering because of Bill de Blasio's incompetence," the @TrumpWarRoom Twitter account asserted on Thursday, followed by a hashtag that misspelled the word coronavirus.
During his 40-minute-long chat with Hannity, Trump said he is "getting along" with Cuomo, though he cast doubt on New York state's scientific projections of the spread of the virus. Regarding ventilators, he said officials like Cuomo "say we want 30,000 of them. 30,000! Think of this. You go to hospitals, they'll have one in a hospital, and now all of a sudden everybody's asking for these vast numbers."
Cuomo's pleas are based on best-in-class modeling and medical expertise. But Trump still expressed skepticism about the scale of the crisis. He told Hannity, "I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they're going to be. I don't believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators."
Trump also used the televised phone call to criticize two Democratic governors, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Jay Inslee of Washington state.
"We've had a big problem" with Whitmer, he said, without identifying her by name.
Trump also noted Inslee's political standing, calling him a "failed presidential candidate" who is "always complaining."
"We don't like to see the complaints," he added.
Trump's remarks generated a new round of criticism on Friday morning. On MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Willie Geist said governors are having to factor in Trump's emotions: "If you dare raise hell, because literally the life of your citizens depends on it, he calls in to Sean Hannity's show and rips you as a failed presidential candidate. That's the balance these governors are looking at."
Countless political commentators have observed that Trump always needs an enemy. As the pandemic has overtaken national politics, his chosen enemies have included China, news media outlets and Biden.