The early June meeting in the Cabinet Room was intended as a general update on President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, but the president had other topics on his mind.
Trump had taken a cognitive screening test as part of his 2018 physical, and now, more than two years later, he brought up the 10-minute exam. He waxed on about how he’d dazzled the proctors with his stellar performance, according to two people familiar with his comments. He walked the room of roughly two dozen White House officials and reelection staffers through some of the questions he said he’d aced, such as being able to repeat five words in order.
At the time, the Montreal Cognitive Assessment – which includes animal pictures and other simple queries aimed at detecting mild cognitive impairment such as dementia – was intended to quell questions about Trump’s mental fitness. But in recalling it, Trump said he thought presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden would never be able to pass it and suggested challenging him to take the test, said the people familiar with Trump’s comments, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share private details.
The seeming non sequitur was part of Trump’s growing preoccupation in recent weeks over perceptions of his mental and physical health at a time when critics have mocked him for episodes in which they say he has appeared frail or confused. The attacks Trump has previously levied against Biden – dismissing the former vice president as “Sleepy Joe,” secreted away in his basement and enfeebled – have boomeranged back on him, as opponents have seized on Trump’s own missteps to raise concerns.
Another sign of Trump’s unease came Saturday night in Tulsa, Okla., when the president devoted more than 14 minutes to regaling a campaign rally crowd with the tale of “the ramp and the water.” Eager to dismiss questions about his fitness after he struggled with a glass of water and walked unsteadily down a ramp after his June 13 commencement address at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Trump offered a revisionist history.
The ramp on that sunny day, Trump asserted, was as slippery as “an ice-skating rink.” But he “ran down” it nonetheless, he claimed, despite video evidence showing him shuffling down the incline haltingly. As for the water, Trump said, he used two hands to drink because he didn’t want to spill on his expensive silk tie.
“Anyway, that’s a long story, but here’s the story,” the president said, finally winding down. “I’ve lived with the ramp and the water since I left West Point.”
He had previously obsessed about the episode to aides in private and during a Wall Street Journal interview, when he brought the incident up unprompted and offered to produce the leather-bottom shoes he had been wearing that day, which he said were “not good” for ramps.