Unsteady appearance prompts new scrutiny of Trump's health

After appearing to struggle a bit with a glass of water and a ramp, Trump's unsteadiness has generated a new round of questions.
Image: Donald Trump West Point
President Donald Trump speaks to over 1,110 cadets in the Class of 2020 at a commencement ceremony on the parade field, at the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., on June 13, 2020.Alex Brandon / AP

A Washington Post report noted over the weekend that Donald Trump is "exceptionally attuned to -- some advisers say obsessed with -- the image he presents to the public and strives to be seen as strong and vigorous." It's against this backdrop that the president is facing new scrutiny of his health. The New York Times reported:

President Trump faced new questions about his health on Sunday, after videos emerged of him gingerly walking down a ramp at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and having trouble bringing a glass of water to his mouth during a speech there.

At one point during the Republican's remarks, Trump paused to drink some water, though he appeared to struggle a bit with the task. He raised a glass partway with his right hand, and then used his left hand to push the water higher to his face. After the remarks, the president descended down a ramp, taking slow, short, and careful steps. Discussion about Trump's wellbeing soon followed. (The Lincoln Project seemed especially eager to make use of the #TrumpIsNotWell hashtag.)

To be sure, there's some familiarity to these questions. In 2017, for example, the president appeared quite cautious on a flight of stairs, which led to similar speculation. The same year, Trump's use of two hands to raise a small glass of water to his mouth generated related chatter.

But that doesn't necessarily mean the latest round of discussion is more of the same. For one thing, there's Trump's explanation for his cautious walk on the ramp: on Twitter, the president wrote that the ramp was "very long," "steep," and "very slippery." None of this appeared to be true. He added that he "ran" down the final 10 feet of the ramp, which is plainly at odds with the video.

Trump's willingness to explain his apparent unsteadiness with obvious untruths only fuels speculation.

Just as importantly, there have long been questions about the president's physical wellbeing that have gone largely unaddressed. In November 2019, for example, Trump made an unscheduled, two-hour trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for what was described as the first "phase" of the president's physical. As we discussed at the time, the circumstances were curious.

The Washington Post's Karen Tumulty, hardly a fringe bomb-thrower, wrote in a column, "The only thing of which we can be fairly certain about President Trump's mysterious Saturday-afternoon trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is this: The White House is not telling the truth when it claims the president was there 'to begin portions of his routine annual physical exam.' We know this because -- well, because those people lie about pretty much everything. And the compulsion of Trump and his team to contradict the obvious reality that we see with our own eyes is particularly egregious where the president's health is concerned."

The assessment came to mind when the president tweeted about running the final 10 feet of the ramp at West Point, when our own eyes told a different story.

Finally, let's not lose sight of the election context. When Hillary Clinton fell briefly ill in 2016, it was a major national story, which was featured in attack ads that fall. If Joe Biden, whom Republicans are eager to characterize as frail, used two hands to drink a glass of water and took an unsteady walk down a ramp that wasn't especially steep, common sense suggests Trump would have quite a bit to say about the matter.

With this in mind, the president and his political operation shouldn't be too surprised by questions about his apparent difficulties on Saturday.

Postscript: Six years ago, Trump complained that Obama is "so inelegant and unpresidential" when the then-president walked down Air Force One's stairs. I don't know how or why there's always a tweet, but there's always a tweet.