Skip to 3:35 of the clip below. The question mark in the headline is due to the fact that Trump and his most ardent surrogates, like Sean Hannity, have made a point lately of questioning Clinton’s physical fitness for office. A few days ago Hannity went as far as to host a discussion among a panel of doctors, one of whom was Ben Carson, questioning her health. Newt’s way off-message here. To be clear, he’s not challenging the idea that a candidate’s health matters; of course it does. What he’s challenging is diagnosis by professionals from afar, like using a six-month old picture of Hillary being helped after she’d just slipped on a step to claim that she was having trouble ascending the stairs under her own power. How can you use your professional medical reputation, asks Newt, to advance a theory about someone’s health without having so much as spoken to them about it, let alone seen their latest medical records?
Steve Doocy’s also right, though, that this critique goes both ways and then some. For all the attacks lately in righty media questioning Hillary’s health, our supposedly nonpartisan professional media has come right back with half-assed pieces that attempt to clinically diagnose Trump’s mental fitness for office (usually while acknowledging that it’s unfair to diagnose someone without their participation). Google “Trump” and “psychiatrist” and see what you get. Three weeks ago, the Toronto Star ran a piece titled “Is Donald Trump OK? Erratic behaviour raises mental health questions.” Last year Vanity Fair, led by longtime Trump antagonist Graydon Carter, asked various psychotherapists for a verdict on Trump. Earlier this summer, The Atlantic commissioned a piece from a psychologist analyzing Trump and guessing what his personality might mean in the Oval Office. CNN has had doctors into the studio to spitball about Trump’s mental health, with the usual check-the-box caveat that it’s not an official diagnosis. Democratic politicians have gotten into the act too.
Just three days ago, in the guise of asking whether it’s fair for psychiatrists to pronounce upon Trump’s health, the Times gave them this soapbox to … pronounce upon Trump’s health:
Psychiatrists and psychologists have publicly flouted the Goldwater Rule, tagging Mr. Trump with an assortment of personality problems, including grandiosity, a lack of empathy, and “malignant narcissism.” The clinical insults are flying so thick that earlier this month, the psychiatric association posted a reminder that breaking the Goldwater Rule “is irresponsible, potentially stigmatizing, and definitely unethical.”…
[T]hose using clinical language to describe Mr. Trump’s behavior contend that this presidential election is vastly different, for a big reason: The proliferation of social media comments and video clips, which afford direct, unscripted access to candidates, was simply not available in previous races. The depth of that material creates a public persona complete enough to analyze on its own merits, they say…
Dr. Steven Buser, a psychiatrist who with his colleague, Dr. Leonard Cruz, coedited a new book, “A Clear and Present Danger: Narcissism in the Era of Donald Trump,” stressed, “We are careful not to make a clinical diagnosis here, to say that Donald Trump has narcissistic personality disorder.” The contributing writers include psychiatrists and psychologists, but Dr. Buser said, “We are focused on the image he projects, on TV, in tweets, in quotes.”
That’s a nice dodge. They’re not diagnosing Trump, they’re diagnosing his image. There’s no argument, of course, that partisans on both sides attack the health of their opponents regularly: Clinton’s a pathological liar, Trump’s a malignant narcissist, etc. That’s garden-variety political trash talk coming from laymen. Coming from an M.D., it carries weight. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether Newt’s objection to it is purely ethical, that there are some lines of attack he won’t countenance even if pushing them off the table helps Hillary Clinton, or if he’s thinking strategically, realizing that it’s harder to scold psychiatrists for armchair diagnoses of Trump if Team Trump is touting armchair diagnoses of Clinton.
By the way, apropos of nothing, if you watch the whole clip you’ll find Ainsley Earhardt note in passing that Ronald Reagan wasn’t ahead in 1980 until October, a hope-springs-eternal nudge to Trump fans in the audience that late surges to win can and do happen. This is a commonly held myth about Reagan. It’s true that he pulled away after the debate in 1980 but he was actually leading Carter for months before the election. The reason people remember it as a comeback, I think, is because Reagan had a big lead during the summer and then nearly lost it as the race tightened up.
Update: Sorry, Newt. Full speed ahead on quack diagnoses for Team Trump.