A conservative writer strongly disputed on Thursday the suggestion that Ronald Reagan was already mentally diminished before he left office.
During an appearance on “Morning Joe,” Craig Shirley, the author of two books about Reagan, pushed back after co-host Mika Brzezinski said that even White House insiders acknowledge that the late president “certainly suffered from the effects of age in office.”
“No, no, absolutely not,” Shirley said. “No, he did not suffer from the effects of age. If you’re talking about Alzheimer’s or mental deterioration, no.”
Brzezinski shot back, saying she “knew people that were in the room with him and he definitely had effects of age in office, especially in his second term,” but Shirley indicated that he’s heard different from Reagan’s staff.
“What every staffer will tell you is that when he went back to California in January of ’89 he was tired,” Shirley, who has glorified Reagan in his two books on the 40th president, explained to Brzezinski.
“But he went to Mayo [Clinic] every year and went through rigorous mental and physical testing, and passed through flying colors all eight years of his presidency. Everybody who was up close and personal with him said there was no evidence of any mental deterioration during his presidency. He was as sharp as the day he went in office.”
Reagan’s mental capacity has been the subject of debate for years. He announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in a 1994 letter to the American public, but some have said that he showed signs of the disease when he was still in the White House.
His son and liberal commentator Ron Reagan wrote in his 2011 memoir, “My Father At 100,” that his dad suffered from Alzheimer’s when he was in office during the 1980s. The claim was rebutted by Ron Reagan’s half-brother and conservative pundit Michael Reagan, as well as by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation.
Lesley Stahl, the “60 Minutes” correspondent, however, is among those who believes the Alzheimer’s surfaced before Reagan left office in 1989.
In her 2000 memoir, “Reporting Live,” Stahl recalled a 1986 visit to the Oval Office toward the end of her time as a White House correspondent.
“Reagan didn’t seem to know who I was. He gave me a distant look with those milky eyes and shook my hand weakly,” Stahl wrote. “Oh, my, he’s gonzo, I thought. I have to go out on the lawn tonight and tell my countrymen that the president of the United States is a doddering space cadet.”
She concluded in the book, “I now believe [Reagan aides and his wife Nancy] covered up his condition, and many continued to as they wrote their memoirs. But then, the public knew something wasn’t right. There were all sorts of signs. We all looked the other way.”
Stahl told Mother Jones in an email that Reagan’s aides had experienced similar episodes.
“Later, when I would ask White House officials if they had ever seen him float away like that, they’d say yes, but that, as with me, he always pulled himself together. It was confusing for everyone,” Stahl said.