The White House is struggling to contain the national discussion about President Trump’s mental acuity and fitness for the job, which has overshadowed the administration’s agenda for the past week.
Trump publicly waded into the debate spawned by a new book, “Fire and Fury” — Michael Wolff’s inside account of the presidency — over the weekend by claiming on Twitter that he is “like, really smart” and “a very stable genius.” In doing so, the president underscored his administration’s response strategy — by being forceful and combative — while also undermining it by gleefully entering a debate his aides have tried to avoid.
Trump privately resents the now-regular chatter on cable television news shows about his mental health and views the issue as “an invented fact” and “a joke,” much like the Russia probe, according to one person who recently discussed it with him.
Doubts about Trump’s state of mind have been whispered about in Washington’s corridors of power since before he was elected and have occasionally broken into the open, such as when Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said last August that Trump lacked “the stability” and “some of the competence” to be successful as president.
But Wolff’s book has thrust the topic to the forefront of public debate, prompting the White House to confront the issue directly.
So far, Trump’s advisers have adopted a posture of umbrage and indignation. Rather than dignifying questions about whether their 71-year-old boss is fit to be president, they attack the inquisitors for having the gall to ask.
In an emailed statement Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders slammed what she called “ridiculous reports from detractors” and described an “outpouring of support from a totally indignant staff.”
“The White House perspective is outrage and disgust that people who do not know this President or understand the true depth of his intellectual capabilities would be so filled with hate they would resort to something so far outside the realm of reality or decency,” she said.
Asked Monday by reporters whether Trump’s physical exam, scheduled for Friday at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, would include a psychiatric component, deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley barely engaged the question. He replied, simply, “No.”