President Trump is on TV and in newspapers more than any human on earth, and yet Michael Wolff, based on his time gossiping, has convinced the national media that grandpa got away and is now drooling in the Oval Office.
Wolff’s new book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House repeatedly suggests that Trump is in a state of rapid cognitive decline and that all of his staff and associates know it.
Wolff describes a person who repeats and rambles, doesn’t recognize reality, and is effectively illiterate. (Reminder: The book is about Trump, not Al Sharpton’s attempts to read a teleprompter.)
In the book, Trump has an impossibly short attention span, refuses to learn from policy briefs and fails to grasp the fundamentals of U.S. government.
Where was this version of Trump when giving one of his dozens of interviews, hosting his rallies, or delivering public remarks at any point between 2015 and now?
Yes, Trump mostly spoke extemporaneously during the campaign, often repeating words and themes, a phenomenon otherwise known as speaking aloud.
But he's also delivered dozens of speeches off teleprompters, proving he can actually read, frequently going off-script to offer commentary and then returning to the prepared remarks.
During the campaign, from January to September in 2016, he hosted more than four-and-a-half hours worth of press conferences, compared to Hillary Clinton's 38 minutes worth.
Here’s an experiment: Put a truly mentally slow older person, like Dana Milbank, for example, on stage in front of reporters to answer a succession of questions for one hour. Then compare it to the multiple times Trump did it, and see who comes out sharpest.
As president, Trump frequently approaches the press pool in order to answer a range of questions, something former President Obama rarely did.
In Wolff’s book, he says Trump is perpetually distracted, can’t train his mind on substance, and couldn’t recognize his own friends.
Contrast that account with the transcript of a 30-minute interview Trump gave at his golf club in Florida on Dec. 28 to the New York Times. It shows him talking at length about the Russia investigation, the threat from North Korea, and immigration. He even interrupts his thoughts to speak with guests he presumably recognizes.
From part of the transcript concerning immigration, as printed in the Times:
NYT: It sounds like you’re tacking to the center in a way you didn’t before.
TRUMP: No, I’m not being centered. I’m just being practical. No, I don’t think I’m changing. Look, I wouldn’t do a DACA plan without a wall. Because we need it. We see the drugs pouring into the country, we need the wall.
NYT: So you’re not moving. You’re saying I’m more likely to do deals, but I’m not moving.
TRUMP: I’m always moving. I’m moving in both directions. We have to get rid of chainlike immigration, we have to get rid of the chain. The chain is the last guy that killed. … [Talking with guests.] … The last guy that killed the eight people. … [Inaudible.] … So badly wounded people. … Twenty-two people came in through chain migration. Chain migration and the lottery system. They have a lottery in these countries.
That doesn’t read like a mentally impaired geriatric’s interview. More accurately, it reads like someone who can speak casually about policy and assumes his audience has some grasp of it, too.
I interviewed Trump in July 2016, four days before the start of the Republican National Convention. For nearly 15 minutes, he answered every question, sometimes with surprising specificity.
“Well I’ve always been pro-worker because I grew up with workers,” he said at one point in the interview. “Workers were my friends, carpenters and plumbers and policemen and, you know, I’d be on a job site where my father would build houses and I’d be working there as a young boy and even when I got out of college or during different times I’d be working there. I got to know the carpenters, and the plumbers. I got to know the sheet rockers and they were my friends and somehow I relate very well to them, I always have.”
Do most reporters know what a sheet rocker is? I still don’t.
Trump did stop the interview at certain points, interruptions you might call "distractions." One was to answer a separate call from someone named “Larry,” who he asked to call him back later. Later on, he asked for me to hold while he watched a cable news segment about the speakers that were lined up for the convention. “We have some great speakers, they’re just announcing the speakers now,” he said while I held. Then we resumed.
At other times he did use peculiar phrasing, like when he described himself as a “Republican conservative,” or when he referred to the “LBGT community.” (That a 70-year-old white, heterosexual male got even the letters right should have inspired Salon.com to endorse him.)
Citing an impossible-to-understand mix of conversations, Wolff otherwise says Trump is mentally diminished. And reporters believe it, despite what we’ve all seen with our own eyes over the course of two years.
But they don’t believe it because they know it’s true. They believe it because they want it to be.