Trump supporters smeared Clinton over health: Now they’ll do the same to Biden

TrumpWorld is pushing conspiracy theories about Biden — psychiatrists say Trump poses much bigger danger

By Igor Derysh

Deputy Politics Editor

Published March 12, 2020 6:00AM (EDT)

Donald Trump, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton (Getty Images/ Salon)
Donald Trump, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton (Getty Images/ Salon)

Trump supporters are pushing conspiracy theories about former Vice President Joe Biden's mental health after smearing Hillary Clinton with similar baseless claims in 2016.

Trump backers and right-wing news outlets like Fox News pushed discredited stories questioning Clinton's mental and physical health throughout the 2016 campaign that were quickly amplified by Russian operatives. The Washington Post reported that the claims were part of a "concerted effort" by the Trump campaign to "pump up questions" about Clinton's fitness for office.

The effort was successful in raising questions in the minds of some voters, so TrumpWorld is re-upping their strategy to push similar attacks against Biden.

Donald Trump Jr., the president's oldest son, suggested that Biden had "Alzheimer's" after the former veep was recorded telling a man who confronted him about gun rights that he was "full of shit."

"A 50 year career politician doesn't snap back this way to a blue collar guy asking him a reasonable question given his parties stance on the issue," he wrote on Twitter.

"Does this man seem at all well and up to the task of running the country?" he added in response to another video of Biden dodging questions from reporters.

Fox News host Sean Hannity also raised questions about Biden's mental health during his show on Tuesday.

"Does he have the stamina, does he have the strength, does he have the focus, the alertness, the mental focus, mental toughness and the mental stability to be president?" he questioned after showing the clip of Biden arguing with the worker. "It's a fair question. Is this how he's going to treat world leaders?"

Fox News pundit Brit Hume wondered after Super Tuesday, "How many of the people who voted for him tonight would agree that he's senile? Or getting there?"

Trump has pushed these claims as well.

"Sleepy Joe," Trump told Fox News last week, "he doesn't even know where he is or what he's doing or what office he's running for. Honestly, I don't think he knows what office he's running for."

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., refused to take the bait when Fox News asked him about Biden's "mental acuity" during a town hall earlier this week.

"I'm not going to go on that level in attacking — that's for people to decide," he said. "I'm not going to be making personal attacks on Joe. That's not what I do."

Fox News host Howard Kurtz also pushed back on his colleagues' attempts to smear Biden.

"I always criticize liberal commentators for saying things like 'President Trump is mentally ill' and 'President Trump has psychosis, and he's narcissistic' and all that, so I do think it was unfortunate that some commentators on Super Tuesday — Brit Hume, Marc Thiessen, people I respect — said Joe Biden is senile or getting there," he said. "Certainly, he's forgetful with his memory lapses, and you can question his performance."

Yale psychiatrist Bandy X. Lee pushed back on concerns about Biden's mental health on Medium, arguing that Trump's mental state poses a much larger danger.

"Joe Biden does not nearly meet my threshold for signs of dangerous mental instability," she said. "Biden should not even come up if we cannot address the catastrophic dangers of Donald Trump, whose mental impairments are presently costing lives, tangibly and quantifiably, through his mishandling of the most serious epidemic in recent years."

MSNBC's "Morning Joe" hit out at Republicans questioning Biden's mental health with a montage of Trump looking confused and wandering away during official meetings and ceremonies.

"President Trump and his supporters are making a concerted effort to paint Joe Biden as somehow confused," said co-host Mika Brzezinski. "Well, we do know the president has certainly had his own share of stumbles in the spotlight. That is, when he can actually find the stage."

The Washington Post's Greg Sargent argued that the media holds some culpability for allowing Trump to spread these conspiracy theories while the media ignores warning signs about his own mental fitness.

"Now that Biden might be the nominee, Trump is already casting him as mentally unfit for the presidency," he wrote. "But Trump might not perceive the space to get away with this if the press corps had not thus far failed, in some very fundamental sense, to reckon with just how mentally unfit for the job Trump is himself."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's Deputy News and Politics Editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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