Everyone makes mistakes, and anyone who steps onto a stage and starts blabbing on for an hour is probably going to make several. But Donald Trump does more than occasionally mix up a date or misidentify a supporter.
Trump gets lost in long asides about how he used to drive a Rolls Royce, how electric cars threaten Medicare, and whatever this gibberish means. Last week, he famously confused Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi while in the middle of telling lies about the Jan. 6 insurgency. This followed multiple instances in which Trump has claimed to have beaten Barack Obama and warned that President Joe Biden could be leading us into World War II.
Haley, his only remaining competitor in the race for the GOP presidential nomination, has finally questioned Trump’s mental fitness in the days leading to the New Hampshire primary, but she’s done it so timidly and so late in the process that it may not matter.
Meanwhile, Trump insists on talking about a “cognitive test” that he says he “aced” a few months ago. It’s not clear if this is a new test, or the one Trump first bragged about taking back in 2020. If it’s new, that raises the question of why Trump’s doctor thought another test was in order. If it’s the previous test, then Trump calling three years “a few months” is not the greatest sign of mental acuity.
“I’ll let you know when I go bad,” Trump told supporters at a New Hampshire campaign event. “I really think I’ll be able to tell you. Because someday we go bad.”
Not every brain is like a banana, and those that do decline aren’t always obvious. That’s the whole reason that dementia tests exist in the first place: Many people who have failing mental abilities either don’t recognize or are unwilling to admit they aren’t as sharp as they once were.
Just as he did in 2020, Trump insists on calling this a “cognitive” test and acting as if his performance indicates his brilliance. But that’s not the purpose of the Montreal Cognitive Assessment he keeps bragging about. The test is not looking at IQ. It’s not looking at emotional maturity or decision-making skills. According to Canadian neurologist and test designer Ziad Nasreddine, it is “intended primarily to test for signs of dementia or other cognitive decline.”
Recalling “person, woman, man, camera, TV” after a few minutes of distraction isn’t a qualification for Mensa. It’s just a signal that your short-term memory hasn’t completely checked out.
Dementia tests like the Montreal Cognitive Assessment tend to focus on ideas like image orientation, language skills, basic reasoning, and paying attention. As Trump noted at the time, the tests take only a few minutes to administer and contain a small number of questions. A score of 26 or above on the 30-point scale is considered “normal.” Trump did not release his actual score on the exam, though he called it “difficult.”
There are genuine cognitive assessment tests for older Americans that measure performance in many areas critical to an aging mind: working memory, sustained attention, processing speed, cognitive flexibility, and recognition. These are more extensive exams with a greater number and variety of questions, some of which are genuinely difficult.
If Trump has taken one of these more complex test batteries, then there’s something he could do to ease any concerns: release the results. He hasn’t done that. This certainly suggests that any test Trump has taken, like the one he was given while he was still in the White House, is more about checking to see if the lights are on.
With the possibility that the primary season may end on Tuesday, it’s no surprise that the Biden campaign has already picked up the baton on this issue.
If nothing else, the issue could help to defuse concerns about Joe Biden’s age, even though those “concerns” appear to be quite partisan. Daily Kos/Civiqs polling shows that 71% of cult-like Republican voters said they are “not concerned” about Trump’s age, while that number dropped to 49% of Democrats when asked about Biden’s age.
Biden may be three years older than Trump, but he’s not known for explaining how military systems work through “ding ding boom boom” sound effects.
A test designed to see if someone is still safe living in their own home is not the most suitable instrument for determining whether someone is qualified to place their stubby finger on the nuclear button. Besides, it looks like Trump could just fantasize about shooting things and remain happy.
Speaking of fantasies, all of this is on top of Trump’s “sir” stories. Every time Trump begins talking about how someone called him “sir,” it opens the door into a magical land where big, tough guys just can’t help getting emotional over Trump’s greatness.
These stories aren’t disturbing in the same way as tossing all strong women into a hopper labeled “Nancy Pelosi,” but they do speak to Trump’s mental fitness. Someone who goes around writing fanfic in their head in which strong men cry in their presence is, as the sign says, “not right.”
For Republican voters, all this may mean nothing. To quote Billy Joel, “You may be right. I may be crazy. Oh, but it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for.”
It’s unclear how big an issue Trump’s mental status may become in the upcoming general election.
But the biggest question may be how long the media deigns to grant this concern some cursory questioning before they go back to normalizing or just ignoring everything Trump says.
The Iowa primary took place Monday, and while traditional media outlets would like you to believe Trump won big the reality was anything but. Kerry and Markos talk about what the numbers really show and the possible ramifications for the rest of the primary season as well as the national election.