The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Conspiracy theories about Trump’s weight are becoming gratuitous

Navy Rear Adm. Ronny L. Jackson, the lead White House doctor, said on Jan. 16 that President Trump’s “overall health is excellent.” (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

The White House press briefing has played host to plenty of tortured moments during Donald Trump's presidency. But none may have been quite as cringeworthy as Tuesday's. After White House doctor Ronny Jackson ran through the results of President Trump's annual physical, reporters peppered him with questions about Trump's weight, eating and exercise habits, and, yes, even his mental health. The inescapable undertone of it all was basically: Is this 71-year-old man stable, and might he deteriorate and die?

That conversation has continued into Wednesday, thanks in large part to armchair physicians suggesting Jackson lied about Trump's height and/or weight — the term “girther” has quickly taken hold — and CNN's Sanjay Gupta even diagnosing Trump with heart disease, which Jackson disputed Tuesday.

Two things:

1. Trump has, in many ways, brought this upon himself. His medical disclosures during the 2016 campaign were hyperbolic and unserious. The zany doctor behind them, Harold Bornstein, admitted he was put under pressure when he wrote that Trump would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” Trump appeared to deliberately hide some of the drugs he was taking, including a hair-loss drug, Propecia. And he and his campaign repeatedly used innuendo about Hillary Clinton's health — both physical and mental — to suggest she wasn't fit to be president. By Trump's own account, this stuff is fair game. The public has a clear interest in knowing about Trump's health, and the White House's previous disregard for the truth can't help but color this stuff.

And now for the second one:

2. This is getting a little out of hand.

Yes, it's kind of funny that people are comparing Trump to athletes with similar measurements to Trump's reported 6-foot-3 and 239 pounds, which is one pound shy of “obese,” according to body mass index calculators. I've seen the photos that appear to indicate he's hardly two inches taller than President Barack Obama, whom Jackson measured at 6-foot-1. Trump's own driver's license has put him at 6-foot-2.

But quibbling with an inch here or a few pounds there probably doesn't mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things — Jackson even admitted Trump needed to lose some weight and would attempt to help him do so — and it sure makes it seem like Trump's opponents, and even the media, are anxious to cast him as “the fat guy,” as mentally unfit or even as dying. It feels . . . gratuitous. And it's especially dumb to compare Trump to athletes, whose physiques are considerably different from Trump's because they exercise for a living and have much higher compositions of muscle, which is denser than fat.

Part of Trump's base-solidifying strategy seems to be lowering the standards of American politics so that, when those same lower standards are applied to him or even slightly lowered, it looks like persecution. We should always be skeptical of the Trump White House's claims, but we should also be wary of making that persecution look very real. And harping on Trump's weight is a fantastic way to accomplish that, especially when there are so many other issues of much greater consequence.