With just two weeks to go until Election Day and polls showing his Democratic opponent Joe Biden with a formidable edge in the polls, President Donald Trump has stepped up his attacks -- on science and scientists.
He's doing so encouraged by Dr. Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no background in infectious diseases, who after getting attention being interviewed on Fox, has become the president’s most trusted adviser on the coronavirus in recent months, backing his views on masks and reopening schools and calling most restrictions a mistake.
Over the weekend, Atlas, who calls himself a public policy expert, posted on Twitter “Masks work? NO” and prompted the social media company to remove the post for violating its policies against spreading misinformation.
Despite Atlas' suggestion, the science is clear that masks work.
Public health experts, and indeed even top officials in the president’s own administration, have said that masks are an important tool in slowing the spread of the virus, even saving thousands of lives.
But as Trump portrays it, bad science is personified by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert.
At a rally in Arizona Monday, Trump launched a new attack on Biden by warning he would actually heed Fauci's advice.
"He wants to listen to Dr. Fauci. He wants to listen to Dr. Fauci," Trump told the audience, suggesting Americans would think it was a bad idea to listen to a scientist polls show they trust far more than they do him.
Biden responded to the president's attack with a one word tweet: "...yes".
Earlier in the day, the president unleashed on Fauci during a call with his campaign staff, with reporters on the line.
"People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots -- these, these people, these people that have gotten it wrong," Trump said of the highly respected director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases during the call.
"Every time he goes on television, there's always a bomb. But there's a bigger bomb if you fire him. But Fauci's a disaster, I mean this guy," Trump said.
The president’s comments come the morning after Fauci appeared on the CBS News program "60 Minutes" and said the White House has controlled his ability to speak to the news media.
He said he wasn't surprised when Trump caught the novel coronavirus because he was putting himself in a “completely precarious situation” by persisting in holding large events despite the pandemic, including that Rose Garden Supreme Court nomination event Fauci has called a "superspreader."
The president has long had a strained relationship with Fauci, whose candid assessments of the virus have at times contradicted Trump's attempts to put a more positive spin on things, but the president is now actively driving a wedge between himself and Fauci.
It is unclear what Trump's political strategy is in attacking a non-political government scientist, who is widely trusted in the court of public opinion. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll last month found that 68% of people trusted Fauci to provide reliable information on the coronavirus compared to 40% who trusted President Trump to do the same -- a 28-point margin.
Overall, the president's marks on the handling of the pandemic continue to suffer. An ABC News\Washington Post poll earlier this month found that 58% disapprove of his handling of the public health crisis, and Biden holds a 17-point lead over Trump in trust to handle the coronavirus pandemic.
But despite months of polling offering poor reviews of the president's handling of the pandemic and his own personal battle with the disease, Trump is more defiant than ever as he barnstorms battleground states with back-to-back rallies jam-packed with thousands of people, many of whom follow the president’s lead in eschewing masks amid the pandemic.
He has charted a course of defiance as he digs in on his approach to beating Biden -- and tries to cast the pandemic response as a choice between the economy and public health.
"He will listen to the scientists. If I listen totally to the scientists, we would right now have a country that would be in a massive depression instead of -- we're like a rocket ship," Trump said mockingly over the weekend, even as the economy continues to struggle.