Democracy Dies in Darkness

The Fix | Analysis

White House says questioning Trump’s health based on slurring is ‘ridiculous.’ Has it forgotten 2016?

By Aaron Blake

December 7, 2017 at 4:29 PM

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President Trump slurred his speech and mispronounced some words toward the end of his Dec. 6 announcement that the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. (The Washington Post)

The Trump White House is apparently where self-awareness goes to die. After Candidate Trump attacked President Barack Obama relentlessly for golfing, President Trump has golfed more than Obama. After Candidate Trump ran the most bare-knuckle campaign in modern history, his family has complained about the “viciousness” of politics. After Trump attacked Hillary Clinton with gusto for using a private email server as secretary of state, numerous White House aides have used private email.

We can now add one more to the list.

At Thursday's White House media briefing, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders bid reporters adieu but then decided she wanted to address one more question: About Trump's health. Toward the end of his speech Wednesday on recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, you see, Trump began slurring and mispronouncing his words.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Dec. 7 said President Trump will undergo a physical exam early next year. (The White House)

But before she answered (she said Trump's mouth was dry, again), Sanders had a bone to pick. “I know that there were a lot of questions on that,” she began, “frankly, ridiculous questions.”

Yes, because questioning someone's health based upon anecdote is a really bad thing to do — except of course when you're Trump and the person you're talking about is Hillary Clinton.

The Trump campaign in 2016 made a concerted effort to raise questions and stoke insinuations about Clinton's health using exactly this kind of evidence. At one point, it even ran an ad featuring video of Clinton stumbling at a 9/11 memorial and coughing repeatedly, as well as a photo of her getting assistance while walking up some stairs.

“Hillary Clinton doesn't have the fortitude, strength or stamina to lead in our world,” the narrator intoned as dark music played.

The ad built upon conspiracy theories about Clinton's health that dated back months and even years, using the same images and videos that were passed around by Internet users offering their own Clinton diagnoses.

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A video released by Republican Donald Trump's presidential campaign Oct. 10 shows footage of rival Hillary Clinton coughing, being helped up stairs and stumbling at a 9/11 memorial. (Donald Trump)

Trump himself never connected the dots so directly, but he did repeatedly question Clinton's stamina. “She's supposed to fight all of these different things, and she can't make it 15 feet to her car? Give me a break,” he said after Clinton stumbled at the 9/11 ceremony, which her campaign blamed on a previously unreleased pneumonia diagnosis.

Trump also tweeted about Clinton's coughing fits.

But while Trump didn't offer specific diagnoses, his campaign did. At one point national spokeswoman Katrina Pierson said Clinton was suffering from a condition called dysphasia.

“What's new are the other reports of the observations of Hillary Clinton's behavior and mannerisms, specifically with what you just showed in those previous clips, as well as her dysphasia, the fact that she's fallen, she has had a concussion,” Pierson told MSNBC.

Dysphasia is a language disorder defined as the “loss of or deficiency in the power to use or understand language as a result of injury to or disease of the brain.” So the parallels to Trump's situation couldn't be more direct. The White House says that merely raising questions about Trump's health isn't okay even though Trump's campaign offered specific diagnoses and insinuations about similar episodes for Clinton.

That's not to say anybody should be speculating too much about Trump's health. Building theories based upon a small fraction of Trump's public remarks is taking things too far. But the White House has opened itself up to this — both through the Trump campaign's conduct on the 2016 campaign trail and Trump's own insufficient disclosures about his health. (We found out earlier this year that Trump's doctor didn't disclose all the medications he was taking, particularly a hair-loss drug, for example.)

As The Fix's Callum Borchers noted last week, White House reporters have been asking for months about when Trump might get a physical, and they haven't gotten answers. Thankfully, Sanders disclosed Thursday that Trump will have a full physical early next year and that the results will be made public.

So if reporters got nothing else from asking about the slurring, at least they got an answer to that question.


Aaron Blake is senior political reporter for The Fix.

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