There are two comforts President Trump takes when comparing himself to others.
The first is his height. Trump is reportedly 6-foot-2 (although some reports put him at 6-foot-3), making him above the average height for an American man (a bit over 5-foot-9). His height is the apparent source of his disparaging nicknames for his political opponents, including Liddle Marco Rubio and Liddle’ Bob Corker, coined on Tuesday. (The purpose of the apostrophe is unclear.)
The other point of security to which Trump appeals is his intelligence. This, too, made an appearance on Tuesday as part of an interview conducted by Forbes magazine.
Trump was responding to reports that his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, had privately referred to the president as a “f—— moron.”
“I think it’s fake news,” Trump said, “but if he did that, I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win.”
Trump thinks Trump will win. Because Trump both puts a lot of weight on IQ tests as an objective measure of intelligence (to which scientists probably would object) and believes that few, if any, people can match his own score. Trump uses his IQ like he uses his net worth: It’s always higher than you might assume and there’s no way to ever pin it down.
Bragging about his IQ has been a consistent theme over his time in politics, as has his casually challenging others to an IQ-off. (As far as we know, no one has ever accepted.)
Defenses of his own IQ and IQ-related fights
Columbus, Ohio, March 2016:
“I’m a free trader, but free trade has to be smart trade, it has to be equal trade. We can’t let these people, these so called egg-heads and by the way, I guarantee you my IQ is much higher than theirs, alright. Somebody said the other day, ‘Yes, well the intellectuals–‘ I said, ‘What intellectuals? I’m smarter than they are, many of people in this audience are smarter than they are.’”
Disparagement of the IQ of others
Interview with Howard Stern, October 2007:
“I really don’t think [George W. Bush] has much of an IQ. I can’t imagine he has any IQ at all. He’s the worst president in the history of the United States, he’s a disaster.”
Birmingham, November 2015:
“You can’t call these dopes — they’re dopes! They’ve got IQs that are low, believe me — you can’t call the leader of the dopes ‘a mastermind.’ You can’t do it!”
Cedar Falls, January 2016:
“They glamorize them. They call this thug in Paris ‘the mastermind.’ What’s the master — He’s a guy with a very low IQ, I guarantee. I call him ‘the guy with the dirty hat,’ because he had this horrible disgusting filthy hat on.”
Challenges of others to IQ battles
Rochester, N.Y., April 2016:
“In fact, this is the second record cold spell on the whole big section of the United States. It’s not just Rochester. The whole big section. It’s like record, record cold. And I keep hearing about global warming. Now they’ll say, ‘He doesn’t understand. This is a world-wide problem.’ Oh no, I don’t understand? Let’s do IQ tests.”
“Good Morning Britain,” May 2016:
PIERS MORGAN: Sadiq Khan is the first Muslim Mayor of London. He has attacked you for being ignorant. He says that if you’re president…
TRUMP: Let’s do an IQ test.
Trump repeated his disparagement of Rick Perry’s intelligence several times on the campaign trail. There was this retweet …
… and his references to his previous challenge to Perry.
Norwood, Mass., August 2015:
“I get attacked by Lindsey Graham. I get attacked by (Rick) Perry. You know, and then I got angry and I said, ‘Why are you wearing glasses? Just to look intelligent?’ And then I said to get on the debate stage … I said ‘No, no no. He should not be allowed … He has to pass an IQ test first.’”
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), mentioned above, played golf with the president Monday and had nothing but compliments to offer. Low-IQ Rick Perry? He’s Trump’s energy secretary.
Which is ironic, because Trump once bragged about the high IQs of his Cabinet members.
“They were so nice to Tom, right? Where’s Tom? This guy’s become a star. Where is Tom? Man, were they nice to you,” Trump said in January of this year. “It is a lovely group of people, Tom. They wanted to end his career so fast. And then they found out, man, he’s smart. We have a lot of smart people. I tell you what. One thing we’ve learned we have by far the highest IQ of any Cabinet ever assembled.”
The Tom to whom Trump was referring above was Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services who resigned two weeks ago after being caught spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on charter flights. Still in Trump’s Cabinet, of course, is Trump’s latest IQ-challenger, Rex Tillerson.
Some bad news for Trump in terms of his confidence in his own smarts: Over the time that he has been president, Americans’ perceptions of his intelligence have sunk by about 10 percentage points. Only a little more than half the country now uses the word “intelligent” to describe him, according to polling from Quinnipiac University.
But, then, what do I know? I’m just a low-IQ Washington Post reporter.