Almost from the time Donald Trump rode down the Trump Tower escalator two years ago, one question has abounded–is he fit to be president? For a number of people on both sides of the aisle, including yours truly, the answer was and still is a resounding “no.”
On Sunday, CNN media critic Brian Stelter concluded that it was finally time to start asking that question. Indeed, he believes that at the moment, there’s no bigger question in this country.
Stelter started asking that question during a panel discussion on Trump’s escalating Twitter feud with Senator Bob Corker on the Sunday afternoon edition of “CNN Newsroom.” Watch here.
CNN presidential historian and NYU professor Tim Naftali mused that Corker and other Republicans who aren’t running for reelection now feel liberated to tell the American people how they really feel about “the chaos surrounding this presidency.” Naftali knows something about a White House in chaos; he spent four years as director of Richard Nixon’s presidential library.’
Naftali believed that most Republicans will limit themselves to “quiet opposition” that could nonetheless hamstring Trump’s legislative agenda. Corker, however, has no such worries since he doesn’t have to worry about a more conservative primary challenger breathing down his neck. As Naftali sees it, Corker is merely expressing the “deep seated frustration” that other Republicans who know something about foreign policy feel–but aren’t willing to express publicly.
That prompted host Fredricka Whitfield to ask Stelter about how Corker and other lawmakers are using Twitter as “a direct line of communication with the White House.” She wondered if Corker was trying to “fight fire with fire.”
Stelter believed it was a lot more than that, considering that Corker suggested that the White House had become “an adult day care center.” Stelter believed that it was “incredible” for a United States Senator to even make that suggestion in public. He believed that Corker was effectively asking a question that we all should be asking.
“I would make the case for there’s no bigger story in America today than the fitness of the president of the United States. Is he fit for office? Is he stable for office? And that’s what Corker is getting at. He’s getting at that big uncomfortable story about whether the president needs babysitting at the White House.”
Stelter recalled a number of reports that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly sees himself as Trump’s “chaperon,” and that his primary duty is to “protect the country from Trump.” He also cited reports that Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson often find themselves in “extraordinary situations” where they either have to “protect Trump from himself” or protect the country from Trump.
As Stelter sees it, Corker’s suggestion that Trump needs his hand held is no different from Tillerson reportedly calling Trump a “f**ing moron“–a claim that Tillerson didn’t deny when he vowed to stay on last week.
We’ve been asking this question for a long time, in the wake of the nearly daily outrages that have come from this White House. The most visible evidence that Trump is unfit comes from his decision to retweet a GIF of himself knocking Hillary Clinton down with a tee shot. Any president who would even think about hitting the retweet button on such an outrageous item does not have the impulse control to be within a country mile of nuclear codes.
You’ll have to pardon Stelter and other reporters for being loath to draw that same conclusion. Apparently he finally remembered something Andrew Sullivan told us in February–understanding the events of the day requires saying what you’re seeing with your own eyes. Apparently it took Corker’s very loud wake-up call for Stelter to see it.
The most telling thing about this is what we haven’t heard. Whenever CNN airs even mildly critical coverage of Trump, it triggers a 140-character rant about “fake news CNN” being “very unfair.” But as of Monday night, we haven’t seen that from Trump. Did Kelly or one of the other handlers at the White House day care hide Trump’s phone? Or does Trump know Stelter has him busted? It says a lot about the current state of affairs that either scenario is very plausible.
(featured image courtesy Michael Vadon, available via a Creative Commons BY-SA license)