Opinion: Nikki Haley’s right. Red flags about Trump’s mental fitness can’t be ignored

Editor’s NoteDean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show.” Follow him on Threads. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.

GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley raised an important issue Saturday about former President Donald Trump that demands far more media attention. After an alarming series of recent verbal missteps by Trump, Haley questioned whether he is “mentally fit” to serve in the White House.

Dean Obeidallah - CNN
Dean Obeidallah - CNN

Haley — who is challenging Trump for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination — raised questions about Trump’s mental acuity, pointing to a major slip-up he made related to the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol in which he appeared to confuse her with Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic former speaker of the House.

At the Trump event on Friday, Trump told the audience, “By the way, they never report the crowd on January 6. You know, Nikki Haley, Nikki Haley, Nikki Haley … did you know they destroyed all of the information, all of the evidence, everything, deleted and destroyed all of it?”

He added: “All of it, because of lots of things, like Nikki Haley is in charge of security, we offered her 10,000 people, soldiers, national guards, whatever they want. They turned it down.”

The 77-year-old Trump then repeated the glaring error, stating, “Nikki Haley is in charge of security. We offered her 10,000 people, soldiers, national guards, whatever they want. They turned it down.”

Back in the real world, Haley — a Republican former governor of South Carolina who served as Trump’s UN ambassador from 2017-2018 and who did not hold public office on January 6, 2021 — had nothing to do with security at the Capitol that day. Yet Trump invoked her name multiple times during that speech. That’s why Haley spoke at length the following day expressing doubts regarding Trump’s mental fitness.

“Last night, Trump is at a rally and he’s going on and on, mentioning me several times as to why I didn’t take security during the Capitol riots. Why I didn’t handle January 6 better. I wasn’t even in DC on January 6. I wasn’t in office then,” Haley said. “They’re saying he got confused. That he was talking about something else. That he was talking about Nancy Pelosi. He mentioned me multiple times in that scenario.”

Haley told the crowd that the confusion by the president is beyond worrisome. “The concern I have is — I’m not saying anything derogatory — but when you’re dealing with the pressures of a presidency, we can’t have someone else that we question whether they’re mentally fit to do it.”

As controversy over his misstatements swirled, Trump later Saturday boasted about his cognitive abilities, saying, “A few months ago I took a cognitive test my doctor gave me … and I aced it.”

He continued: “I’ll let you know when I go bad; I really think I’ll be able to tell you. Because someday we go bad,” he said at a campaign event in Manchester, New Hampshire. “I feel my mind is stronger now than it was 25 years ago.”

Meanwhile, a senior Trump campaign adviser, Chris LaCivita, glossed over the error on Saturday, posting on X, “Nancy … Nikki … its a distinction without a difference.”

In truth, the differences between Haley and Pelosi are substantial and the two prominent politicians are hard to mix up — starting with the fact Pelosi is a frequent Trump antagonist who served as Democratic speaker of the House, while Haley is a Republican who once served in Trump’s own administration.

Trump’s often cited claim that Pelosi oversaw January 6 security is a lie that has been fact checked numerous times. This raises another valid question about Trump’s mental state: Is he knowingly lying, or does he sincerely believe facts that are detached from reality?

Haley is 100% correct to raise red flags about Trump’s cognitive abilities. The president of the United States must be mentally fit to do the job. To be clear, Haley also raised questions during her campaign event about President Joe Biden’s potential cognitive issues. But to be blunt, those issues — as well as concerns about Biden’s age — have been litigated extensively in the media, which allows voters to make up their own minds on the subject.

By contrast, Trump — who will turn 78 in June — has been subjected to much less scrutiny about his mental acuity, despite a series of mental gaffes that led conservative television host Megyn Kelly to raise alarm bells last month.

Speaking on conservative pundit Glenn Beck’s radio show, the former Fox News anchor said of the former president ,“There’s no question that Trump has lost a step or multiple steps.” Kelly cited a number of errors by Trump, including instances when he claimed to have defeated former President Barack Obama at the ballot box and when he said he’s currently running against Obama.

Trump, Kelly remarked, “is confusing Joe Biden for Obama. I know he’s now saying he intentionally did that — go back and look at the clips, it wasn’t intentional.”

Kelly is correct about Trump’s long and growing list of mental glitches. For example, in October, he misstated what country his longtime ally Viktor Orban — the prime minister of Hungary — is the ruler of, wrongly telling voters that Orban was the leader of Turkey.

That same month, Trump greeted a crowd of supporters with the words, “Hello, to a place where we’ve done very well, Sioux Falls! Thank you very much.” In reality, Trump was in Sioux CityIowa — not in Sioux Falls, a city in South Dakota — prompting a local elected official to whisper in his ear where he actually was at the time so that he could clean up his remarks.

And the list goes on.

This is not the first time one of his opponents for the GOP presidential nomination has raised the issue of Trump’s mental sharpness. In November, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s campaign posted on social media a thread of more than two dozen confusing remarks Trump had made, claiming this was the reason “why his handlers won’t let him debate.”

But given the fact that Trump handily won last week’s Iowa GOP caucus and is well positioned to wrap up the GOP presidential nomination shortly, it’s imperative that the media robustly cover the issue, so that GOP voters can be fully informed about the mental fitness of the person they may nominate to be president. This is especially true for conservative media outlets, since that is where Republican voters are likely gathering their information.

True, these conservative media outlets may be reticent to cover negative stories about Trump out of fear of potentially upsetting their viewers. But this is an issue that transcends partisan lines.

If there’s anything that ought to outweigh party identity, it’s our collective concern about the potential threat posed to our nation by a future president who might not be up to doing the job mentally of being commander in chief.

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