New scrutiny for Trump’s mental fitness after book, tweets
Fears about President Trump’s mental fitness have burst into public view with the upcoming release of a new book detailing the chaotic early months of his presidency.
While the concerns are being voiced almost exclusively by Trump critics and media figures, public figures openly questioning whether the president is mentally unwell is virtually unprecedented.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday faced questions for the second consecutive day about Trump’s fitness to serve as commander in chief.
“It’s disgraceful and laughable. If he was unfit, he probably wouldn’t be sitting there, wouldn’t have defeated the most qualified group of candidates the Republican Party has ever seen,” Sanders said, calling Trump “an incredibly good and strong leader.”
But White House denials haven’t stopped the torrent of speculation on cable news about the president’s mental state, which is also being fueled by Trump’s tweet taunting North Korea’s leader over the size of his “nuclear button.”
Some people have even floated the far-fetched possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment, which allows the vice president and the majority of the Cabinet to remove the president from office if they decide he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”
The amendment has never been used, in large part because the burden of proof to remove a president is tremendously high. Plus, there is no indication that Vice President Pence or the Cabinet have concerns about Trump’s mental state.
“Legally, there are many uncertainties; politically, it is hard to see it coming about; and historically, we are in uncharted territory,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a presidential historian at the University of Houston.
Still, the idea is catching on among some Trump critics in Congress, who recently held a briefing with Dr. Bandy X. Lee, the editor of a best-selling book assessing the president’s mental health.
“The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President” is controversial, with critics dismissing it as armchair psychiatry that does nothing more than confirm the suspicions of liberals that Trump is erratic and dangerous.
The American Psychiatric Association prohibits doctors from diagnosing public figure from afar, but Lee says she’s merely observing behavior that she believes deserves a diagnosis.
“We’re saying we see a lot of concerning signs and that he needs to be evaluated and that once he is, then they can diagnose him,” Lee said in an interview.
Among the behaviors Lee singled out: She says that “verbal aggressiveness indicates physical aggressiveness is not far behind”; that Trump has a history of “boasting about sexual assault”; that he has “incited violence at rallies”; and that he is “taunting a hostile nation with nuclear power.”
“We have a duty to warn potential victims to keep them from danger,” Lee said. “Why would that not apply to a public figure?”
Kim Mills, a spokesperson for the American Psychological Association, said the group advises psychologists against diagnosing people that they have not personally examined.
“Singling out mental illness is misguided and tends to further stigmatize mental health problems,” Mills said.
Christopher Ruddy, a longtime friend of Trump and the CEO of the conservative Newsmax Media, said that it’s “unprofessional” for Lee and others to judge Trump’s mental state without examining him or meeting him in person.
Ruddy told CNN he spoke with Trump roughly half a dozen times during his holiday vacation in Florida and “never noticed anything that I thought would show he was mentally unfit for office.”
Ruddy admitted Trump has a “theatrical flair” and likes to call people names, but he said it’s “absurd” and “unfair” to use that as proof he has mental-health problems.
“I think when you have Michael Pence, [Defense Secretary James] Mattis, [chief of staff John] Kelly — nobody around him is thinking that and I don’t think they would risk the country’s security if they thought he was not fit or able to conduct the office of the president,” he said.
The book has earned Lee national media interviews, as well as attention from some Democratic lawmakers in Washington. Lee said one Democrat was trying to arrange for her to testify on Capitol Hill. When that plan fell through, according to Lee, individual lawmakers began reaching out to her to brief them in their private offices.
Later this month Lee will speak to more than a dozen lawmakers at the home of Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.).
“They basically tell me that you don’t have to convince us, we’re already concerned,” Lee said.
Now mainstream media outlets are taking up the matter, with some leading voices at CNN taking up the charge.
“None of this normal, none of this acceptable, none of this, frankly, stable behavior,” CNN anchor Jake Tapper said on Tuesday, referencing Trump’s latest Twitter outbursts.
“There’s a word for this: madness. This is madness,” CNN media reporter Brian Stelter wrote in his daily newsletter.
MSNBC contributor John Heilemann said Trump seemed “demented and deranged,” while Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, a “Never Trump” Republican during the presidential race, tweeted that Pence should be preparing himself to take power in accordance with the 25th Amendment “in case it’s suddenly needed.”
Trump’s allies in conservative media are furiously beating back at the charge that he’s mentally unfit to be commander in chief, calling it a desperate attempt to undermine the president.
Two of Trump’s favorite Fox News shows, “Fox & Friends” and “Hannity,” have featured clips of media personalities and Democrats alleging that Trump is mentally unstable as evidence of anti-Trump hysteria.
“They want to all outdo each other,” Hannity said Wednesday night. “It’s like a competition. Let’s see who can be the most anti-Trump and if one liberal media personality said President Trump is demented, then another has to step in and say no, he’s really, really demented.”
Hannity likened Trump’s critics in the media to “drug addicts” who “crave their next Trump tweet.”
“He was responding to a nuclear threat from North Korea,” the host said of the president. “Not only are they all a bunch of sheep, you notice they also pretty much [say] the same thing.”