We all know the routine by now. When talking about the commander-in-chief or aspirants to that post, mention of family is off limits — especially offspring. That’s not a hard and fast rule, but it is a matter of etiquette that journalists on both sides of the ideological divide are expected to follow.
But what about the president or the candidates themselves? For an answer, I refer you to CNN’s Editor-at-large Chris Cillizza, who suggested last week that “partisanship should have its limits. And one of those limits should be raising entirely unfounded questions about a presidential candidate’s health.”
Perhaps Cillizza is still feeling the burn from 2016, when questions about Hillary Clinton’s health arose after she appeared to collapse while being helped to her van during an event at New York’s 9/11 memorial.
In any case, the presidential candidate Cillizza had in mind in this instance was former Vice President Joe Biden, who kicked off his current campaign with a speech riddled with slurs and stammers.
Since then, Biden has stumbled repeatedly, prompting commentators on Fox News (among others) to wonder aloud whether the 76-year-old is fit to serve, if elected.
One might argue that questions about a president’s fitness to serve ought to be fair game since voters have a right to know, but Cillizza’s pique over Fox News’s brashness reveals a glaring hypocrisy. Namely, the mainstream media have been obsessed with Donald Trump’s mental acuity almost since Day One. That includes Cillizza himself, who wrote in January 2018:
A debate over his mental competence is not one that Trump should want. He should be talking relentlessly about the rising stock market, the economy, the companies giving their employees bonuses because of the tax cut he shepherded to passage.
Debating whether he is a) smart b) mentally competent or c) in a state of mental deterioration is a stone-cold loser for him. Strategic politicians fight only on ground that is favorable for them. Or they steer conversations or debate to ground that is favorable to them. They don’t engage in fights they can’t win. And the “I am really a very smart genius” fight is not one that has a “win” for Trump.
Cillizza also wrote a piece around the same time titled “The case for Donald Trump’s mental fitness,” which suggests he is confused and in any event is a case he is not professionally equipped to make.