WI: Reagan has an obvious Alzheimer's episode while in office?

I know that the common consensus is that President Reagan may have begun showing some symptoms of Alzheimer's disease by the end of his second term. While he wasn't officially diagnosed until 1994, some, including one of his sons, have mentioned spotting potential episodes as early as midway through his first term in office.

What would have been the public reaction if President Reagan was, as many suspect, suffering from Alzheimer's early on and suffered from a more than obvious episode during his second term in office.

For instance, he becomes confused and can't find his wording during the State of the Union, or God forbid, the Challenger disaster speech.

Would it tarnish his legacy as it stands today? would he be met with sympathy or possible anger (as some believe he has hidden the condition? Would the Administration own up to the reality? or would it explain the episode away as "exhaustion" or something similar?

This has been an idea I haven't seen explored very much, but based on recent publications from his son, I found it worthy of discussion
 
Sympathy and could even increase his prestige, as an “old man which would spend his forces for the betterment of his nation”
By 1986 Reagan age was a kind of open secret - everybody knew that the President was of significant age but everybody disregarded it and waited for the best (which really happened in OTL). Additionally Reagan was, except during the Iran Contras affair, a popular President, economy was strong and Soviet Union was going down: why such concern if the President was just past his prime?
At the early signs, Administration would justify on stress, exhaustion or just emotion (much appropriate for the Challenger speech)...if things went bad George H Bush would step in for the daily management of things at WH or even a resignation by Reagan.
Anyway, Reagan legacy would be much enhanced: people loves martyrs (e.g: JFK and FDR)
 
Removal of Reagan From Office Suggested to [Howard] Baker : Report Said Aides Described President as Depressed, Inept in Wake of Iran-Contra Crisis

Los Angeles Times, Jack Nelson, Sept. 15, 1988.

http://articles.latimes.com/1988-09-15/news/mn-2825_1_president-reagan

‘ . . . early in 1987 . . . ’

‘ . . . that White House aides drew of Reagan himself: "They told stories about how inattentive and inept the President was. He was lazy; he wasn't interested in the job. They said he wouldn't read the papers they gave him--even short position papers and documents. They said he wouldn't come over to work--all he wanted to do was to watch movies and television at the residence.”

‘Cannon told The Times that he interviewed 15 to 20 White House officials, including senior aides, and "the overwhelming majority" painted that portrait of Reagan.

‘The portrait was so deeply disturbing to Cannon, who had served as an aide to Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller and as domestic policy adviser to President Gerald R. Ford, that he began his memo to the incoming chief of staff with this startling recommendation:

‘"1. Consider the possibility that section four of the 25th Amendment . . .’
Wow, this was serious stuff! So, what happened?

Well, this is when Don Regan was on his way out as Chief of Staff and Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee on his way in.

Baker got this memo from Cannon on March 1, 1987. The next day Baker, Cannon, and a couple of other aides closely watched Ronnie at a meeting and he did fine. I think they drew too definite conclusion from just one meeting.

Maybe Ronnie had his good days and his bad days. Maybe he really was struggling with depression and a downward spiral from the whole blow up and derailment of Iran-Contra.
 

Driftless

Donor
Wow, this was serious stuff! So, what happened?

Well, this is when Don Regan was on his way out as Chief of Staff and Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee on his way in.

Baker got this memo from Cannon on March 1, 1987. The next day Baker, Cannon, and a couple of other aides closely watched Ronnie at a meeting and he did fine. I think they drew too definite conclusion from just one meeting.

Maybe Ronnie had his good days and his bad days. Maybe he really was struggling with depression and a downward spiral from the whole blow up and derailment of Iran-Contra.
That is the way dementia works. My mother went through that - one minute, perfectly lucid and very articulate (she was a former school teacher); the next minute, with no warning, she might cover five utterly unrelated topics in a single run on sentence. There were times she was aware of her cognitive loss and times where she had no clue. You just never knew. It's onset can come in waves too; so again, you never know what you are dealing with.

*edit* That is not to say that there is one definitive progression that dementia takes. Still, if the Whitehouse doctors, senior staff, or Reagan himself were aware that Reagan was in the early stages of dementia, that would have been an egregious failure of responsibility for him to continue in office. Way too much at risk for a person of impaired cognitive ability.
 
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One thing to consider is that what a lot of staffers and others consider laziness (he never looked at my memo) is also a trait of his fairly big picture, broad sweep management style. Lots of managers and employees hate when their bosses don't look at something they poured their hearts into, so I agree he showed signs of dementia, but I also think self-important pettiness on the part of functionaries should not be ruled out.

If he had been a control freak micromanager, Iran-Contra would have badly nuked him.

Part of why I say that is that Reagan is very easy to paint as a stupid actor or cowboy, yet his complexity shows itself in his hatred of nuclear arms and working with Gorbachev's Soviet Union the way he did. He's also far more nuanced on things like taxes.
 
What does "obvious" mean here? Edmund Morris acknowledged that "There were ... days late in his Presidency when he drifted off, as old men do. On May 29, 1988, for example, he emerged from an extended one-on-one with Gorbachev unable to recall a word that had been said." Yet Morris argued that "such lapses were rare, and could usually be ascribed to fatigue...." and claimed that "in all the years I observed Ronald Reagan until 1992--when he suddenly became weird--I never saw any sign of cognitive dementia." https://groups.google.com/d/msg/soc.history.what-if/KJMwyiRNSFQ/NoUagJA31kwJ
 
If you wanna spin up the first debate against Mondale you can see clearly for yourself exactly how bad Reagan could get. The media had zero desire nor the fortitude needed to take down another President after Nixon (On Bended Knee is essential reading), if they ignored—and they did—the ongoing reality of Reagan what’s one more lapse to throw on the fire? He had that great line about “youth and inexperience” after all just one debate later!

Charles P. Pierce
It also involves one of the most serious of all history's Unspoken Truths. What set Will's chilly blood aflame apparently was the fact that, in his book, Killing Reagan, [Bill] O'Reilly pretty baldly states that Ronald Reagan was a symptomatic Alzheimer's patient for most of his presidency, and that having been shot was trauma enough to start what AD researchers call a "cascade" of symptoms that accelerated the progress of his disease.

(As it happens, O'Reilly's speculation is on solid scientific footing. Alzheimer's researchers and caregivers have known for years that physical trauma can worsen the effects of the disease. Certainly, the recent research into the connection between head trauma and dementia backs this up, and I remember a fascinating Japanese study at an Alzheimer's research conference that I attended in Osaka that studied the effect of a massive earthquake in that country on Alzheimer's patients in the affected regions. In almost all cases, the disease accelerated.)

I am not willing to go as far as O'Reilly apparently does, but I have believed—and written—for years that Reagan was a symptomatic AD patient at least throughout his entire second term. My initial concern in this regard arose in 1984, during Reagan's first debate with Walter Mondale, when he plainly did not know where he was or what he was supposed to be doing. At the time, my father was beginning a slow slide into Alzheimer's himself. I knew what I was looking at on TV—and so, I learned later, did Dr. Dennis Selkoe, a prominent AD researcher in Boston. Since then, accounts of Reagan's curiously vacant episodes have popped up all over various historical accounts, and personal memoirs, of the Reagan presidency. In the latter case, everybody from Ollie North to Lawrence Walsh mentions at least one moment in which the person who was Ronald Reagan disappeared right before their eyes. In an interview in 1999 for this magazine, John McCain told me of his experience at a White House dinner, when Reagan lapsed into some middle space of his own.
 
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“Worrying about Reagan,” The New Yorker, Jane Mayer, Feb. 24, 2011.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/worrying-about-reagan/amp

‘ . . . early 1987 . . . ’

‘ . . . Cannon was astounded to learn, too, that the aides “felt free to sign his initials on documents, without noting that they were acting for him.” When Cannon asked a group of key aides who among them had authority to sign for Reagan, there was a long, uncomfortable silence, after which one answered, “Well—everybody, and nobody.” . . . ’
This is a presidency in decline and serious disorganization.

Wow.

In addition to Alzheimer symptoms, President Reagan may have been suffering from depression the first part of 1987, in large part, as the article suggests, from the fallout due to the Iran-Contra. Maybe the embarrassment, the feeling that he had let people don’t, disappointment in self, not knowing what to do next.

=======

Jane Mayer is the author of this article, and also co-author with Doyle McManus of the book Landslide: The Unmaking of the President (1988)
 
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This is a presidency in decline and serious disorganization.

Wow.

In addition to Alzheimer symptoms, President Reagan may have been suffering from depression the first part of 1987, in large part, as the article suggests, from the fallout due to the Iran-Contra. Maybe the embarrassment, the feeling that he had let people don’t, disappointment in self, not knowing what to do next.
I also think part of this was staff mismanagement. His performance in office was very poor during this period, but got significantly better when Regan left and Baker came on as chief of staff.
 
What does "obvious" mean here?
By obvious i meant a situation in which he doesnt recognize someone or blanks/badly trails off during an important speech to the point where it would be hard to explain away. Such as the second debate was linked to overpreperation
 
Weirdly enough, there was a parody of a Time magazine article I read somewhere at the time that 'joked' about Reagan having Alzheimers and having to be removed from office and how officials in DC had to deal with the aftermath (like removing Soviet bases from Canada). Always wondered how those guys felt later when it turned out he really did have that awful disease...
 
I also think part of this was staff mismanagement. His performance in office was very poor during this period, but got significantly better when Regan left and Baker came on as chief of staff.
And this is Senator Howard Baker (R-Tennessee). And yes, I think the argument can be made that while Don Regan may have done a good job as Treasury Secretary in the first term, he did a poor job as Reagan’s chief-of-staff in the second term (‘85-‘87).

And Don Regan famously butted heads with Nancy. I’ve read that Nancy never really dove that much into policy matters, but she did have a keen sense on who was loyal and serving Ronnie well. And that he kind of relied on her in regarding this. And that Reagan didn’t like personal confrontation regarding staff, basically that he didn’t like to fire people, and that he would put this off hoping things would get better on their own, until it got to the point where he had no choice.
 

Driftless

Donor
Short term memory lapse is very common for dementia sufferers, but their long term memories can remain solid. (i.e. they cannot remember what they did one minute ago - not at all; but they can remember in great specific detail events from thirty years ago)

That frontier between what constitutes short term and long term memory can be variable though.
 
Much of it was him just becoming a less detail oriented person, but he certainly wasn't a bumbling mess by the end of his second term. If you look at his unscripted moments, like his trip to the USSR in 1988, he held his own walking around with Gorbachev and chatting with reporters, and he was able to talk on policy (in broad terms) with ease. Reagan would be able to cope with short term memory loss better than most, because his years of acting left him very comfortable with performance. As we got into the 1990s, his ratio of good days to bad days flipped as his disease progressed.
 
By obvious i meant a situation in which he doesnt recognize someone or blanks/badly trails off during an important speech to the point where it would be hard to explain away. Such as the second debate was linked to overpreperation
And I think people will try to find excuses such as this. People want to believe in their president.

except . . . in those rare windows when you can do something about it, such as 1983 when there was still a live question who would be the Democratic nominee.

Once Mondale won enough delegates by around May ‘84, he just wasn’t popular enough with a big enough cross-section of the American electorate. I think because he had lined up endorsements early in the primary season and the perception was that he had promised everything to everyone. And thus, what normally would be a positive flipped to a negative.

And frankly, unless a person is in a union and benefiting from a union, he or she tends to think of unions as benefiting someone else at their expense. And so, once U.S. labor unions started declining below certain thresholds, it was easy for them to keep declining.

.

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Alright, then flash forwarding to 1987, Reagan only had two more years to go anyway and I think most citizens would just want to see him respectfully finish his term.
 
Am trying to relate all this discussion of Reagan's "impairment" with my real-time observation of what (certainly with respect to the cold war) was a highly successful presidency. I watched Nancy Pelosi attempting to give a speech on Thursday night news with, sadly, every evidence of the deterioration Reagan was accused of, but did not ever seem to show during his time in office. Does media concern with the mental acuity of our politicians only extend to the right?

Dynasoar
 
. . . certainly with respect to the cold war . . .
I think it’s a very mixed bag.

Reagan ramped up tensions with the USSR, to the point where the Soviets thought the Nov. ‘83 military exercise “Able Archer” was a cover for the real thing. But then he reduced the size of the poker raise, so to speak.

Reagan asked, Are the Soviets just huffing and puffing or are they really scared? He was told, It looks like they’re really scared. And he easily and comfortably made an executive decision, without a lot of second guessing, that they would not include heads of state in the military exercise, at least not on the American side. Nor do I think the British did.

And then President Reagan sold the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) to the American public and the U.S. Senate, and if not Reagan, it would probably have taken another conservative to do this. This was signed by Reagan and Gorbachev in Dec. ‘87 and ratified by the Senate in May ‘88.
 
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Am trying to relate all this discussion of Reagan's "impairment" with my real-time observation of what (certainly with respect to the cold war) was a highly successful presidency.
I don't see any necessary contradiction, at least if mild cognitive impairment http://geriatrics.modernmedicine.com/geriatrics/content/did-president-reagan-have-mild-cognitive-impairment-while-office?page=full is the issue rather than Alzheimer's.
("A diagnosis of MCI can be made if the patient meets all of the following criteria: 1. a memory complaint, corroborated by an informant; 2. abnormal memory function documented by impaired delayed recall of one paragraph from a subtest of the Wechsler Memory Scale-Revised (figure, p. 15); 3. normal general cognitive function; 4. no or minimal impairment in activities of daily living; and 5. not sufficiently impaired to meet the standard criteria for AD.3")

Obviously, politicians (and others) of any age can give rambling speeches, etc. But I do think that to emerge "from an extended one-on-one with Gorbachev unable to recall a word that had been said" may suggest some impairment of memory--not necessarily incompatible with functioning satisfactorily as president, especially if you have advisers who can remind you of the things you have forgotten, and to whom you delegate the details.
 
My understandsing is that even during the some of the top security briefings, such as Joint Chiefs and Cabinet meetings, Reagan supposedly fell asleep alot.
 
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