President Donald Trump has challenged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to a duel, suggesting that he and his beleaguered adviser match scores from their respective IQ tests to see who’s smarter.
To be fair to the president, Tillerson has reportedly called Trump a “moron.” Even away from Trumplandia, that’s a fighting word.
“I think it’s fake news, but if he did that, I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests,” Trump said of Tillerson in an interview that Forbes published Tuesday. “And I can tell you who is going to win.”
You betcha. No doubt who would win that one. After all, Tillerson—who is the former chief executive of one of the world’s largest corporations, Exxon Mobil, and has a degree in engineering—must be dumb if he didn’t realize that questioning Trump’s smarts is a dangerous game.
Trump’s always been the world’s leading gladiator when it comes to IQ smackdowns.
In 2016, he challenged London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, to compare IQ tests after Khan dismissed Trump’s take on Islam as “ignorant.”
Trump has also boasted that he has a higher IQ than George W. Bush, Barack Obama, George Will, Karl Rove and the entire staff of the Washington Post. Lest he missed anyone, Trump has also issued blanket warnings to those who might question his intellectual chops.
Trump was talking so much about his IQ way back in the early 2000s, when I covered him as a reporter and then spent time with him for a biography, that I once asked him for evidence of his lofty scores. He never produced anything.
Trump’s insecurity about his intellect is one of the constants of his journey on the public stage over the last several decades. (The other two legs of Trump’s insecurity stool are his sex appeal and the scope of his wealth; Trump sued me for questioning the latter, a case he lost in 2011.)
Trump’s bragging about his brain was also a hallmark of the 2016 presidential campaign, and beyond.
“I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain,” Trump told Morning Joe interviewers in 2016 when asked who was advising him about foreign affairs and diplomacy. “My primary consultant is myself, and I have a good instinct for this stuff.”
Such expertise extended to national security and intelligence matters, as he noted in an interview last December in which he explained why he doesn’t need daily briefings: “I’m, like, a smart person,” he said. “I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years.”
The day before he was inaugurated in January, Trump told a luncheon honoring his cabinet that, “We have by far the highest IQ of any cabinet ever assembled!” (It’s not clear where he ranked Tillerson at the time.)
On he rolled:
“Is Donald Trump an intellectual? Trust me, I’m like a smart person,” he told a gathering at the Central Intelligence Agency the day after he was inaugurated.
In February, he advised that anyone questioning the bona fides of a travel ban he had proposed against seven mostly-Muslim countries might not measure up academically:
“I was a good student,” he said. “I comprehend very well, okay, better than I think almost anybody.”
Trump’s alma mater, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, might have a different take on that. While a number of Trump profiles have described him as first in his class, college records don’t support that. A Trump biographer, Gwenda Blair, has noted that the president had merely ”respectable“ grades at Fordham University before he transferred into Wharton, a school he has lauded as ”super genius stuff,“ during his junior year.
The University of Pennsylvania’s student newspaper, the Daily Pennsylvanian, reported earlier this year that Trump never made the Dean’s List at Wharton. Former classmates described him as a lackluster student.
”He was not an intellectual man, but that wasn’t what his goal was,“ one classmate told the paper.
But even for Mika Brzezinski, Rex Tillerson and others who can’t make Trump’s IQ cut, hope is not lost. The president himself has offered an easy formula for getting back on the brainiac track.
”Tell yourself that you are a genius,“ he wrote in ”Think Like a Champion,“ one of his many books. ”Right away you will probably wonder why and in what way you are a genius. And right away, you will have opened your mind up to wonder — and to asking questions. That’s a big first step to thinking like a genius.“
If that advice isn’t enough, there are always tests available. Mensa, the international club for smarties, said on Tuesday that it’s ready to give the president’s statements a reality check.
”Mensa would be happy to hold a testing session for President Trump and Secretary Tillerson,“ the group announced.
By Timothy L. O’Brien
Timothy L. O’Brien is the executive editor of Bloomberg Gadfly and Bloomberg View. -- Ed.