Jill Stein: Trump may have ‘memory problem’

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The physician turned Green Party candidate sees signs of health, mental, cognitive issues in the man atop the GOP ticket.

Jill Stein is a Harvard-trained internist, a doctor who diagnosed thousands of patients for a quarter-century in Boston and Chicago before making the late-career switch to Green Party presidential candidate and could-be Hillary Clinton spoiler.

So, as we settled in for our “Off Message” podcast interview last week in a drab hotel conference room in Baltimore (she had a rally there last Friday), I asked Stein — as a clinician used to making snap assessments — whether she agreed that Donald Trump “will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency,” as declared by the GOP nominee’s Bruce Vilanch-esque personal physician Harold Bornstein.

“You know, I don’t pretend to be able to do TV diagnosis, but I think the guy has a problem,” said the 66-year-old candidate, who is averaging somewhere between 2 percent and 5 percent in most national and state polls, enough (Clinton people say) to put a scare into the Democrat in too-close-to-call states. “The guy has a lot of problems — physical, mental, emotional, cognitive,” Stein said of Trump.

As proof of his (alleged) pathology, she pointed to his position-hopping on a range of issues, which she cast as erratic rather than calculating — from his fuzzy Iraq positions over the years, to his brief “softening” on immigration last month, to his decision (on the day we spoke) to suddenly renounce birtherism after five years of banging a drumbeat of lies.

“It’s hard to, you know, to think too hard about anything Donald Trump says because he will change his mind in the next hour, if not the next day, or whatever,” she added. “Today, suddenly, after five years, he became convinced that it’s not an issue. Yesterday it was an issue. It will probably become an issue again for him. You know, the guy may have a memory problem. Who knows what it is? But he’s incapable of having a consistent thought or policy.”

Stein also thinks Trump’s getting a free pass because he spent his career in private business, and she wants him to release his tax returns. (She wants everybody else to do the same.) “At least with Clinton, you know, there was some degree of transparency,” she said. “But what’s going on with Trump, you can’t even get at, and what he said was that even to clarify 15 out of these 500 deals, these are just like the most frightening mafiosos around the world. He’s like — he’s a magnet for crime and extortion.”

A veteran protester who has had brushes with the law, Stein has a bit of Carrie Nation ferocity about her, but she also has a soothing, therapeutic mien — precisely the person you’d go to if you developed an unexplained rash after chaining yourself to a fracking facility.

Stein got 460,000 votes as an outsider candidate in 2012 for a left-of-left, anti-war party steeped in environmental issues, but adamantly denies any role as a spoiler. She won’t say whether she can better Ralph Nader’s 2.7 million total for the party in 2000 and generally avoids the whole Al Gore-Florida-handing-W-the-White House thing. And she claims that she’s drawing disaffected Bernie-or-Bust voters who never, ever would have voted for Clinton anyway — many of whom might have actually voted for Trump. (I told her I don’t buy that.)

As much as Stein despises Trump — and she really, really does — she describes the choice between him and Hillary Clinton as an abominable binary offering “death by gunshot or death by strangulation.”

But her contempt has a more cutting quality when she talks about Clinton. She mocks Trump as braying menace; Stein thinks he’s, at heart, a bumbler who would be neutered by his own party after being elected. But it’s Clinton who poses the greater threat, in Stein’s estimation, because she knows how to move the levers of Washington.

“Donald Trump, I think, will have a lot of trouble moving things through Congress,” Stein explains. “Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, won’t. … Hillary has the potential to do a whole lot more damage, get us into more wars faster, to pass her fracking disastrous climate program, much more easily than Donald Trump could do his.”

This is a boutique opinion among mainstream liberals, to put it politely. And a lot of people, Democrats and pollsters among them, see in Stein and her more popular Libertarian counterpart Gary Johnson (whose support flirts with double digits) as potent threats to Clinton because they draw disproportionately from her potential supporters, especially among younger voters. The TBS host and satirist Samantha Bee, who makes no secret about wanting to see the first female president elected, is so infuriated with Stein she refuses to even show her picture on TV — and encouraged Stein backers to mail their complaints to her vagina, though she used a different word.

Stein is used to this kind of thing and believes she is taking one for the lefty team. Earlier this year, she hinted about dropping out if Sanders stayed in and still pines a bit for the Hillary-backing Vermont socialist.

“I’ve tried to talk with Bernie, but, you know, Bernie is — he is a team player,” she said, lamenting his refusal to even chat with her. “I think he’s on the wrong team, perhaps because he’s been in Washington, D.C., too long, because he used to really understand independent politics and why we cannot have a viable political system unless we have independent political parties. … Maybe it’s a generational thing.”

Sanders, stumping for Clinton over the weekend, dismissed Stein and Johnson as a self-defeating “protest vote” but there’s more than a little truth to her argument that third-party candidates will lure voters away from the Democratic nominee, with some polls showing a quarter to a third of under-30 voters opting for Stein, Johnson or none of the above.

“The millennial problem is real,” a senior Clinton aide recently told me. “It shouldn’t be overstated, but we have work to do.”

Like Sanders, Stein has an affection for Russia and a soft spot for Botox strongman Vladimir Putin. Critics like Clinton ally Neera Tanden have noted just how often Stein appears on the Putin-controlled cable network RT. And a gushing video Stein recorded after her appearance at a democracy conference in Moscow earlier this year sparked all sorts of speculation on the part of Team Clinton about a broader Cyrillic conspiracy to undermine the Democratic nominee that included Trump, his former aide Paul Manafort and Hillary-hating WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, whom Stein has spoken about in heroic terms.

When I asked her whether Putin is a despot, I got a yes-and-no answer, with traces of Trumpian ambivalence. “To some extent, yes, but there could be a whole lot worse,” Stein said when I asked about the reportedly rigged Russian elections this year. “When we needlessly provoke him and endanger him and surround him with war games — this is sort of the Cuban missile crisis on steroids … and I don’t think this is a good idea.”

Moreover, she doesn’t think Russia was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee email system or that Putin is trying to sway the election in Trump’s favor — despite U.S. officials’ claims to the contrary and media reports that the Russian president is hell-bent on seeing Clinton defeated. “I don’t think we have evidence — there is really no hard evidence” of Putin’s meddling, she said. “We need to take a deep breath on this. This really doesn’t seem to be happening.”

The other controversy ensnaring Stein is questions over her commitment to vaccinations, after comments she made earlier this year expressing sharp skepticism about the Food and Drug Administration and its willingness to buck corporate interests to produce safe formulations. On this topic she is less equivocal, and says she sees zero link between autism and vaccinations, although she remains concerned about the developmental impact of chemicals included in shots given to small children.

Stein is extremely fastidious about her health (she sipped on an organic berry smoothie before our talk) and is acutely conscious of the environment, and not only in the abstract sense. At one point during our chat, after a bout of coughing, she pointed to the well-worn hotel carpet and told me the chemicals used to cover up the dirt are so toxic she spreads sheets on the floor every time she’s in a big-chain hotel. She is an ex-marathoner who clears her email inbox every morning during a brisk six-mile walk and has no detectable body fat.

Thus, it is one of the small jokes in a big-joke 2016 that both Stein and Johnson are ultra-buff exercise freaks who are in far better shape than the puffier major-party candidates. As we were discussing Trump and Clinton’s dueling doctor’s notes, she offered the following declaration: “I am healthy, yes. I assume I have the lowest blood pressure of any candidate,” she said running a long finger down the medical office-type clipboard, stuffed with clips and talking points, that she totes everywhere.

Cool. Trust but verify. Clinton provided her numbers — could she produce hers?

“Last I recall it was around 110/70,” Stein said.

“I’m sorry. Hillary Clinton has a 100/70,” I said.

A few minutes into the podcast, an aide had handed Stein a note informing her she had (as expected) been locked out of the debates, and she responded with a smiling shrug. The blood-pressure revelation elicited a graver response.

“Are you serious?” Stein said, pausing — before offering Clinton a challenge.

“Man. … Well, I would be happy to run a race with her anytime.”

 

 

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