Donald Trump is the oldest person ever elected president. If Joe Biden wins in November he will break Trump’s record.
Both men are in their seventies, and this week their health re-emerged in the presidential race in major ways.
First, we learned from a forthcoming book by my colleague Michael Schmidt, that when Donald Trump made his mysterious, unscheduled visit to Walter Reed military hospital last fall, Vice President Mike Pence was put on standby to assume the presidency.
“In reporting for this book, I learned that in the hours leading up to Trump’s trip to the hospital, word went out in the West Wing for the vice president to be on standby to take over the powers of the presidency temporarily if Trump had to undergo a procedure that would have required him to be anesthetized.”
This was apparently not necessary, but we still don’t know the reason for the visit. At the time, the White House said that Trump was getting a head start on his annual physical, but that never made sense. Mike Pence said that he didn’t recall being put on standby on that particular day, as if that was a thing one would forget. He said he was always on standby to replace the boss.
What medical need could the president have had that could not be handled by medics in the White House?
CNN’s Sanjay Gupta said after Schmidt’s revelation was made public that such a hospital visit typically “comes down to two issues: Something to do with the brain or something to do with the heart.”
This is particularly worrisome since Trump has recently displayed odd behavior like struggling to lift a glass of water, walking gingerly down a ramp and repeatedly slurring his words.
“It never ends! Now they are trying to say that your favorite President, me, went to Walter Reed Medical Center, having suffered a series of mini-strokes. Never happened to THIS candidate — FAKE NEWS. Perhaps they are referring to another candidate from another Party!”
That leads to the second revelation this week: ABC News reported that “In early July the Department of Homeland Security withheld publication of an intelligence bulletin warning law enforcement agencies of a Russian scheme to promote ‘allegations about the poor mental health’ of former Vice President Joe Biden.”
The bulletin assessed with “high confidence,” that “Russian malign influence actors are likely to continue denigrating presidential candidates through allegations of poor mental or physical health to influence the outcome of the 2020 election.”
This is a line of attack that Trump himself initiated against Biden months ago.
Dan Scavino, the White House media director, has shared several doctored videos of Biden, some clearly meant to suggest that Biden has some form of mental decline.
One video from March, retweeted by Trump, shows Biden slurring his words and stumbling over them. Twitter labeled the video “manipulated media.”
Biden does sometimes stumble over words or search for them, but he has attributed this to his lifelong struggle with stuttering.
While delivering remarks at in Wilmington, N.C., on Wednesday, Trump recognized Hershel “Woody” Williams, a veteran, and couldn’t miss the opportunity to compare the 96-year-old Marine (Trump incorrectly stated that he was 97) to Biden:
“I’ll tell you, he’s a 100 percent sharp. He’s a 100 percent sharp,” Trump said of Williams. I know a 78-year-old that’s not so sharp, but he’s 97, and he’s 100 percent. It has nothing to do with that. Seventy-eight is young. It depends on who’s 78.”
Listen, the truth is that Trump and Biden are two elderly men. Their age will manifest in their appearance and comportment, and because we are human beings, our health has a natural cognitive decline as we grow older. Those are just facts.
We as voters have to decide to what degree those things should matter in the selection of a president. Being healthy enough to do the job sounds like a simple standard, but that metric can easily tip over into ageism.
Is the slurring of words, the searching for words, or a feeble comportment not to be expected, even if occasionally, of septuagenarians? I search for words now more than I used to and I’m 50.
Still, to some degree, front-of-mind or not, age and health will be on the ballot in November. But it seems to me that the concern over the health of these two candidates cancels each other out. If so, what remains are policy and character, and on those measures the choice is clear.
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