When Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona was running for the Republican presidential nomination in 1964, he suggested during an interview that the use of “low yield” atomic bombs in North Vietnam could block off supply lines from Communist China. Despite strong blowback depicting him as a war monger, the rightwing populist won his party’s nod to lead the country. “In your heart, you know, he’s right,” trumpeted his followers.
Supporters of Democratic president Lyndon B. Johnson, who succeeded John F. Kennedy after his assassination in Dallas, came up with a counter-slogan for Goldwater: “In your gut, you know he’s nuts.” LBJ crushed him in a landslide.
These days, “nuts” and “insane” and are among the pejoratives regularly lobbed by critics from both parties at Donald J. Trump, the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee now notorious for his erratic stream-of-consciousness patter, some of it outrageously vulgar. But does he really dwell in a twilight zone?
His detractors claim he’s mentally and emotionally unqualified to have his tiny fingers on the nuclear trigger, citing as evidence Trump’s extreme proposals — such as building a wall to keep out Mexican “rapists” and other criminals, advocating killing the families of terrorists in the fight against ISIS (he now denies saying this), and claiming he had witnessed thousands of Muslims celebrating the fall of the twin towers on 9/11 — a proven lie. He has also called for violence against protestors at his rallies (“knock the crap out of them, would you?” Trump said during a Feb. 1 event in Cedar Rapids).
On July 12, New York Times columnist Gail Collins told Arthur C. Brook in a published conversation that she expected that the bloviating Manhattan billionaire would prevail at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland next week. But she added. “I actually do have faith that over the next few months people will realize that Trump is, as a potential president, totally bonkers.”
A few days earlier, during a Cincinnati rally, Trump’s commentary seemed unhinged as ever as he praised “bad guy” Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein as being “good” at killing terrorists. He also defended an image put out by his campaign of a six pointed star that struck many as anti Semitic, saying he wished it hadn’t been taken down. His rambling speech prompted The New Yorker writer John Cassidy to inquire online: “Is Trump losing it?”
In his article, Cassidy quoted John Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary and a New York Post columnist who had tweeted in part: “The man is a mental patient.” Cassidy also cited Kyle Foley, a commentator for the conservative Web site RedState, who wrote: “If you choose to support Trump, that is absolutely your prerogative, but he has proved tonight (and pretty much every night) that he is absolutely and certifiably insane.”
And so it goes as varied pundits — not mental health experts — describe Trump as a whack job run amok across America. The Trump campaign itself did not respond to questions about his mental state.
A Park Avenue clinical psychologist told The National Memo that Trump “fits to a t” the definition of a person with a narcissistic personality disorder, showing such traits as grandiosity and lack of empathy. She said that “the shoe still fits,” even though that disorder was recently removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders.
Although several prominent therapists went on the record to characterize Trump as narcissistic for Vanity Fair article last November, this psychologist asked not to be identified, apparently fearing reprisals from the candidate. She noted that Barry Goldwater had “successfully” sued a publication —Fact Magazine — for libel after it published a 1964 article polling psychiatrists on his fitness to be president without ever meeting with him personally. She deemed their conduct an ethical breach of medical privacy, one that evolved into the Goldwater Rule issued by the American Psychiatric Association: Never comment on anyone unless you have examined that person. Goldwater had sued the APA for a substantial amount.
Goldwater sued Fact Magazine, its publisher, Ralph Ginzburg and managing editor Warren Boroson for $2 million. A jury awarded Goldwater $1 in compensatory damages and $75,000 in punitive damages against Fact and Ginzburg. Fact and Ginzburg appealed the decision, which was eventually upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Boroson, who went on to write a syndicated column for Gannett newspapers and to pen about 20 books, said in a telephone conversation yesterday that he didn’t regard Trump as clinically disturbed (but insisted Goldwater was).
“Trump is just a clown and a petty dictator with a monstrous ego. He’s someone who’s been pampered all his life and surrounded by yes men, but I don’t think he’s nuts,” Boroson said. “He has supreme self-confidence. Yes, he changes his mind all the time, but he’s basically just a very shallow person. Shallow is the best description of him. He shares prejudices with a lot of Americans who are in favor of him because he’s rich and they think he’s successful. But he’s going to lose this election badly.”
Michael Long, chairman of the Conservative Party of New York State, doesn’t think Trump is crazy either and believes that Hillary Clinton “started” the media commentary that the real estate mogul has lost his marbles. Indeed, Clinton has claimed that Trump is temperamentally unfit to lead the country.
“Donald Trump’s ideas aren’t just different — they are dangerously incoherent,” she said during a foreign policy speech in San Diego on June 2. “They’re not really ideas, just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds and outright lies.”
Long, who told this reporter last spring that he had never seen a campaign like Trump’s in his lifetime, nonetheless supports him over Clinton. “And I believe the rank and file will endorse Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton will take the country in the wrong direction. The pathway to stop Hillary Clinton is through Donald Trump.”
As for Trump’s mental state, Long said: “I don’t believe he’s mentally unstable. I think that’s a narrative Hillary Clinton began. I know he’s not perfect and says many things that a conventional candidate wouldn’t say. He’s not politically correct. But it’s clear that he has resonated with people across the country. And they’re not all crazy. He speaks his mind and strikes a chord with American people who are fed up with politics as usual.”
Meanwhile, quite a few Republicans are voicing buyer’s remorse about Trump. Some find themselves echoing a Hillaryesque mantra that he’s too much of a volatile drama queen to occupy the Oval Office. One is Republican strategist Evan Siegfried, who announced he was voting for Mrs. Clinton in a May 4 op-ed for the New York Daily News.
Siegfried, 33, author of the forthcoming book, GOP GPS: How to Find the Millennials and Urban Votes the Republican Party Needs to Survive, wrote that many in the GOP were terrified at the prospect that Trump’s candidacy would bring down Republican majorities in the House and Senate. He also said it was “insanity” when Trump insinuated during the primaries that Ted Cruz’s Cuban father had been involved in John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
But in speaking to The National Memo, Siegfried stopped short of saying that he and other Republicans who have turned against Trump consider him out to lunch. “They’re out car shopping because they realize that they’ve bought a lemon,” he said, adding that he decided to support the previously “unthinkable” Hillary Clinton because of Trump’s rants against minorities and his “authoritarian” bent.
“Everything he says reveals character and temperament and gives many Republicans great pause,” Siegfried said in an interview earlier this week. “He’s remaking the party in a bad way. We have worked long and hard to reach out to [diverse] communities. We have had trouble reaching them and Trump has single handedly disintegrated” those efforts.
Siegfried also claims Trump is losing the white collar vote, “a voting bloc which Romney carried and which Trump needs to win.”
Although Siegfried won’t be going to the RNC next week, he fully expects a “Dump Trump” contingent to “voice dissatisfaction. But at the end of the day, he’ll be nominated. I’m a realist.”
Will Trump be able to accept reality if voters reject him in November? Perhaps, but this 70-year-old man who seems intent on imposing his views on the public and appears to identify with William Randolph Hearst, the iconic, lonely-at-the-top publishing magnate portrayed in his later years by Orson Welles in the 1941 film Citizen Kane.
Trump, who has called the film his “all time favorite,” was interviewed about it for a short documentary by Errol Morris.
“Do you have any advice Charles Foster Kane?” Morris asks.
“Get yourself a different woman,” Trump replies, smirking.