The political panel on CNN’s "360" Monday questioned whether President Donald Trump is able to perceive reality or whether he persuades himself of falsehoods.
Host Anderson Cooper discussed how Trump told the New York Times that the "Access Hollywood" tape he apologized for during the campaign may not have been authentic. Former presidential adviser David Gergen said he has talked to former Trump associates who have found him capable of changing his mind about material facts.
"He changes his mind about what happens, and he actually starts believing the second version that it becomes a reality to him," Gergen said. "I don’t know whether he forgets what the first version was or not, but I think the real issue now is: Does he actually believe that it’s not his voice [in the tape]?"
Gergen theorized that this indicates there may be a problem with "where he is in life."
"Has he changed his mind?" Gergen asked. "In which case, it raises a lot of questions about just where he is in life."
Cooper expressed his exasperation, saying it "defies common sense" that he would bring up the "Access Hollywood" tape again. Gergen argued that the wave of sexual harassment and assault allegations is making Trump concerned he may face increased scrutiny for his sexual behavior.
"The degree to which he may be living occasionally in an alternative reality is very disturbing because it is so important when a president is there, making decisions about war or peace and other very significant decisions," Gergen said. "If he’s not quite sure what’s real and what’s not, that has serious implications for the safety and security of the country."
Former Obama administration senior adviser David Axelrod agreed with Gergen that Trump may be unable to tell what's real.
"I think it very well may be that he persuades himself that this is not his voice, that he persuades himself that he is the most accomplished president in his first ten months in history, that he persuades himself of these things and really believes it," Axelrod said. "That may be one reason why he delivers it in ways that some of his supporters find authentic—because in his mind it’s absolutely the truth even if it’s completely contradictory to what he said before."
Gergen likened Trump’s behavior to believing in "an alternative set of facts," echoing the phrase White House adviser Kellyanne Conway made famous.
"I think he may persuade himself of things, as David Axelrod said, that aren't true," Gergen said. "But he persuades himself and states it categorically in various ways that it does come across as being authentic even though it is sort of like an alternative set of facts that other people don’t share."
Axelrod went on to say that Trump may have "blazed a trail" for Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore to issue his own denials of sexual misconduct.