Donald Trump is the one making his mental fitness an issue in the election: MSNBC panel
President Donald Trump pointing (MSNBC)

The only reason that people are talking about President Donald Trump's mental fitness for serving in the presidency is that he is the one who keeps bringing it up.


An MSNBC panel discussion Wednesday addressed the recent revelations that Vice President Mike Pence was "on standby" when Trump went to Walter Reed hospital if he had to go under anesthesia. While Pence claimed he "doesn't remember" the incident from 2019, he didn't deny that it happened, MSNBC host Nicolle Wallace said.

Former Vice President Joe Biden said during a press conference Wednesday that the only time he was ever "on notice" was when the president was traveling outside the country. Other than that, he was never placed on any kind of "standby" out of fear that former President Barack Obama would be incapacitated.

"If you ran into a guy behaving the way Trump behaves at a backyard barbecue in your neighborhood, back when you were still allowed to have backyard barbecues in your neighborhood, and you met that guy, you would be expressing sympathy to your relatives saying, 'Yeah, I've had someone in my family who have had issues with dementia,'" said John Heilemann. "But we hesitate to go here because none of us on this show right now are doctors. None of us is qualified to do a diagnosis. I'm not qualified to do a diagnosis. I'm not going to pretend like I am."

He said that he'd seen friends and family who have dealt with dementia stages or some form of degenerative brain disease. There are familiar things that many frequently see like delusional tendencies, paranoia, and many people stop suppressing any racist tendencies, and unfortunately, it comes out in full force.

"You see the 80-year-old, 90-year-old man, often men, who have become paranoid, delusional and more racist than maybe they exhibited in their first signs of racism or what they low level of racism was exacerbated on that age," said Heilemann. "And in that [Laura] Ingram interview, all of that is on display. Comparing the shooting of Jacob Blake to the choking on a three-foot putt. The stuff when he talked about the low-income housing in the suburbs, those were just nakedly racist in the case of the housing claim. The three-foot putt thing has shown such disregard for Black lives that it is also clearly racist and this crazy Antifa plane story?"

Trump parroted a conspiracy theory that was pushed out several months ago about a plane full of anti-fascist protesters dressed all in black packed into a plane and on their way to protest. Attorney General Bill Barr similarly claimed during a Wednesday CNN interview that he had "reports" of anti-fascist protesters coming to Washington for Trump's speech. This conspiracy theory hasn't been reported publicly and didn't seem to surface during Trump's speech last Thursday evening.

"I know some people want to say, well, he's playing for the QAnon vote, but that is the sounds of a man who is drifting off into the nether world of paranoid, delusional conspiracy theories that unfortunately are a hallmark of dementia," said Heilemann. "And so, again, I can't diagnose the guy, maybe he doesn't have any at all, but if he doesn't have dementia, he's exhibiting signs of a lot of people who do have dementia, and I think everyone in this panel is right and anyone in America who watches this behavior and is terrified by it for the reasons that [David] Plouffe referred to before: the nuclear football, they should be terrified. It's terrifying."

Wallace noted that none of this would be part of the political debate if Trump hadn't made it part of the discussion.

"If Donald Trump wasn't doing interviews where he said 'man, woman, potato, cucumber, tamale,'" she said, referring to Trump's mental fitness test. "He's thrust his own mental acuity by talking about a test that is designed to screen the tragic diseases in the category and including Alzheimer's and frontal dementia. They are not I.Q. tests, as Donald Trump seems to remember it is. So, I mean, John, to your point, we're talking about this because Donald Trump wants us to.

Heilemann agreed, saying that many times with Trump, something is either a confession or a projection. In this case, it appears to be both.

"The same way he's denying the story about the strokes, with the mini-strokes, before anybody raised the possibility of there being mini-strokes, he often is, he projects like crazy, but when it comes to his health, in a lot of cases, he is, or, at least he gives every appearance, trying to confess to us what's actually going on with him and I think the issue of him putting the cognitive test on the table is a classic example," he said. "There is no leader in America, let alone a president of the United States, but a CEO who had a public company had a board of directors, who would start putting forward the question of, 'Hey, I went and proved that I don't have dementia, I took a test to prove it,' unless he had some questions about it in his own mind, because why are you talking about this if it's not something that you are thinking about and an issue that's been raised with you by people close to you. I just think, you know, it has all the hallmarks, in case, of a kind of confessionalism on the part of Donald Trump."

Watch the full discussion below: