Reagan Biographer Craig Shirley Schools Mika Brzezinski Over Questions About Reagan’s Health

During a discussion about what role that Hillary Clinton’s age might play in her potential presidential run, MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski attempted to claim that President Reagan suffered the effects of old age during his second term. 

Appearing on Morning Joe on Thursday, May 15, the Reagan biographer slapped down the MSNBC co-host’s claim and pointed out that Reagan“was as sharp as the day he left as the day he went in office.” [See video below.] 

Brzezinski insisted that “These stories [about Reagan] exist though because there's a tinge of something to them. Isn't that fair enough? Ronald Reagan certainly suffered from the effects of age in office. And you can hear that from insiders who worked with him.”  

Shirley immediately condemned Mika’s swipe at Reagan and argued out that “he did not suffer from the effects of age." Mika then tried to correct her comments by arguing "But I know people who were in the room with him, and he definitely had the effects of age when he was in office especially in his second term."  

Despite Mika's attempts, Shirley concluded his takedown of the Morning Joe co-host’s ridiculous claim: 

Every staffer will tell you is that when he went back to California in January of '89 that he was tired. But he went to Mayo 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 left as the day he went in office. 

See relevant transcript below. 


MSNBC

Morning Joe 

May 15, 2014 

7:15 a.m. Eastern 

WILLIE GEIST: Let's bring in presidential historian, Reagan biographer Craig Shirley. Craig, good to see you this morning. 

CRAIG SHIRLEY: Thank you. 

GEIST: I wanted to talk to you about this latest line of attack. Not just from Karl Rove but the talk now about Hillary Clinton’s age if she does decide to run for president . It will come up, it will be an issue. It has been an issue in the past. You talk about John McCain or Bob Dole or Ronald Reagan. Why is it different this time if you think it is? 

SHIRLEY: Well, I'm not sure it is different. First of all, I want to correct what Bill Clinton said. What Samuel Johnson said was foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. So he needs to work on his Samuel Johnson research. I'm not sure it's different. As a matter of fact, this is pretty much of a softball. I’m not wanting to defend Karl Rove. But in 1979 and 1980, GOP operatives were saying that Ronald Reagan was palsy, prone to strokes. Those are all direct quotes. Gerald Ford said he had premature orange hair. John Connolly was saying that Reagan better be careful. If he slips on ice in the New Hampshire primary, his campaign will be all over. The attacks on Reagan and his age were utterly and completely vicious.

Oh, it gets even worse. It was terrible. And so actually, this stuff -- the problem with this is it's twofold. One is that the Clinton's overreacted. And that is just catnip to the vile Republican consulting classes. Because now they're all laying in wait and said, look, if we drew blood on this. We're just going to come at them with everything. So they made the mistake. What Reagan did, was he would handle it with humor. And by the way, let me talk to you why we need to cut taxes for the American people.

He didn't get upset, he didn't overreact. He used to joke about like during the campaign primaries in 1980, he was talking about why wage and prices didn't work. And he made reference to the Roman emperor Diocletian who would order the death penalty for anybody who violated the wage and price controls 4000 years ago. And he said and by the way there’s no truth to the rumor that was there when Diocletian made that ruling. So he handled it deathly with humor. And then he would take the issue attacks, and then pivot it and focus it back on the issues that he wanted to talk about. 

GEIST: Craig, there’s obviously you're bringing this up, another famous moment. The 1984 debate. One of the debates with Mondale. Let's watch. 

HENRY TREWHITT (Clip from 1984 debate): You already are the oldest president in history. And some of your staff said you were tired after your recent encounter with Mr. Mondale. I recall that President Kennedy had to go days on end with no sleep during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Is there any doubt you would be able to function in such circumstances? 

RONALD REAGAN (Clip from 1984 debate): Not at all Mr. Trewhitt and I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience. 

GEIST: Funny part about that clip is you realize how hard Mondale laughed at the joke. 

SHIRLEY: That was it. He hit it out of the park. And that was it. The campaign was over. But he did that many, many times during the run-up to the 1980 campaign and then during his presidency.

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: So can we -- before we wrap it up here, I mean these stories exist though because there's a tinge of something to them. Isn't that fair enough? Ronald Reagan certainly suffered from the effects of age in office. And you can hear that from insiders who worked with him. 

SHIRLEY: No, no. Mika, absolutely not. 

BRZEZINSKI: Excuse me? 

SHIRLEY: No, he did not suffer from the effects of age. If you're talking about Alzheimer's or mental deterioration, no. 

BRZEZINSKI: No, I did not say that. I can tell you exactly If you’d like but I don't think you want me to. 

SHIRLEY: Go ahead. 

BRZEZINSKI: But I know people who were in the room with him, and he definitely had the effects of age when he was in office especially in his second term. 

SHIRLEY: Every staffer will tell you is that when he went back to California in January of '89 that he was tired. But he went to Mayo 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 left as the day he went in office. 

Jeffrey Meyer
Jeffrey Meyer
Jeffrey Meyer is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center.