Is Trump going the way of Reagan?

This is a preface.

Way back in another political era, I was invited in 1987 to a President Reagan press conference for eight regional economic writers. Reagan stepped the podium in the Executive Office Building near the White House and with his customary smile and warmth started to answer our questions. I never got to ask mine.

The 76-year-old president started fumbling with his responses. His assistant Frank Carlucci took him by the elbow, led him offstage and then came back to finish the Q&A.

Back in Wisconsin, I wrote that the president of the United States appeared to be failing mentally. Reagan finished his second term in 1989 and died 15 years later from the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. It was later deduced by some that he had early Alzheimer’s late in his term and that Carlucci, Nancy Reagan and Vice President George H. W. Bush were running the White House while he was still in office.

Could that scenario happen again?

All signs point to another octogenarian in the White House by 2027 if either President Biden, now 81, or former president Donald Trump, now 78, wins the presidency this Nov. 5.

How much mental decline the two men have suffered in their long tenure on this earth will – and should be – a matter of intense scrutiny in the ten months leading up to the election.

Nikki Haley is a very long shot to be on the ballot, but the nation is well served by her decision to stay in the GOP primary race. In effect, she is running against both of them: Trump in the upcoming primaries and potentially Biden in the general election. At 52, she will be calling out both of them on their mental fitness for the biggest job on the planet.

She recently labeled Trump’s rants against her continuing candidacy as “totally unhinged.” Previously, she proposed a mental competency test – not an intelligence test – for any candidate 75 or older.

Trump brags he aced the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA), but it is a screening for mental impairment, not an intelligence test. It tests whether a person is in “function junction” (my words). He took the test five years ago; it is unclear whether Trump has retaken the test. It was not administered by an independent, objective examiner. It was administered by the White House physician selected by Trump.

I am not a psychiatrist or psychologist, though I talk to a bunch of them. But you can see and hear what your non-lying eyes and ears are telling you – as with Reagan in 1987. My eyes and ears are more ancient than either Biden’s or Trump’s, but they are good enough to hear Biden making some gaffes during his many public appearances.

There is no equivalency, though, between the two likely candidates. Trump, who never shuts up, issues blizzards of misstatements, even crazy ones, like being put on this earth by divine intervention, like he could have been done better than Lincoln at staying out of the Civil War, like going on and on about how water on Naval ship elevator magnets take away their magnetism (not).

How does this looney stuff get into his head, get past his brain’s governors and get out of his mouth?

You have to ask whether he has early cognitive dysfunction or advanced dementia (the latter bring Alzheimer’s disease).

It’s not fatal that he repeatedly mixes up Haley and Nancy Pelosi, Biden and Obama and which war he says Biden will get us into (WWII or WWIII?)

For openers, though, Trump’s judgement comes into question when he frequently raises his mental fitness for the top job. Why does he open that door and call attention to his mental issues?

Back in 2017, his first year in the Oval Office, a panel of mental health experts gathered at Yale University and analyzed the president’s words and behaviors, albeit from afar. They declared him unfit “upstairs” for the leadership of the free world. They reported their consensus that he has “a dangerous mental illness.”

Among his personality defects cited are extreme narcissism, delusional thinking, paranoia about his opponents and an anti-social personality disorder.

He has said recently that, if elected, he will be vengeful to those who crossed him.

These findings were well-known when he ran and lost in 2020. What’s new are signs of impairment – physical injury in the brain, such as possible poor blood flow.

Again, I am just a journalist who watches patterns, not a medical scientist. That’s the same for most of us. But we can observe behaviors, speech patterns and content, and we must come to our own conclusions about his mental fitness.

Please do so, and email me your observations.

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