All presidents like to project robust health, and are loath to admit weakness, even if caused by events beyond their control. When President Ronald Reagan was shot in March 1981, after just weeks in office, the public was told he was cracking jokes long before they learned the seriousness of his injury. But when a president’s health is abnormal, the public has a right to know, especially if the problem has any effect on his fitness to perform his duties. In Mr. Trump’s case, the unanswered questions are glaring.
On Nov. 16, 2019, Mr. Trump went to Walter Reed, eight months after his annual physical, a trip not on his public schedule. His press secretary said he underwent a “quick exam and labs” and he “remains healthy and energetic without complaints.” Sean Conley, the White House physician, said Mr. Trump had an “interim checkup” that was “routine” and had not had any chest pain nor undergone any “specialized cardiac or neurologic evaluations.” If truly routine, then why were medical personnel at Walter Reed required to sign nondisclosure agreements, a highly unusual procedure above and beyond their professional duties, as reported Thursday by NBC News and The Post? What was being nondisclosed?
Dr. Conley has been similarly dodgy about Mr. Trump’s condition since he tested positive for the coronavirus. Mr. Trump went to Walter Reed on Oct 2. Dr. Conley avoided questions when asked the next day whether Mr. Trump had received supplemental oxygen and declined to say whether scans had revealed any lung damage. While Dr. Conley reassured reporters that the president “is doing very well,” the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, told journalists “the president’s vitals over the last 24 hours were very concerning” and “we’re still not on a clear path to a full recovery.” Mr. Trump, upon his return to the White House, acknowledged in a video, “I was very sick.”
Dr. Conley has refused to answer a key question: When was Mr. Trump’s last negative test for the virus? The president had been on the move for a week, largely without distancing or face masks, introducing Amy Coney Barrett as his Supreme Court nominee, attending the debate in Cleveland, campaigning in Minnesota and New Jersey. The testing timeline is vital to understanding when Mr. Trump got — and where he might have spread — the infection. Even now, as Dr. Conley says the president is ready to return to public engagements, he has provided no information about viral loads and whether Mr. Trump might still be contagious.
Leadership matters, and Mr. Trump has been calamitously unable to provide it. In the pandemic, he offered glib reassurances when the nation needed realism. On the question of his personal health, a matter of public interest, we need more than spin doctors. We need real doctors providing real information.