He’s only been in office a few months, but Congressman Ronny Jackson has truly embraced his role as an ultra-conservative Texas Republican with a penchant for outlandish and baffling statements. With his latest stunt, calling on Joe Biden to receive a test for dementia, it’s worth looking at how a former top White physician, and a Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy, found a second career as a rising star for the Texas GOP.
Jackson was born in Levelland, Texas and attended Texas A&M University at Galveston, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in marine biology. He then attended the University of Texas Medical Branch. Soon after, he became a naval officer and began serving in active-duty posts around the world, including as an emergency medicine physician in Iraq.
In 2006, Jackson came back to the United States and served in President George W. Bush’s White House Medical Unit (WHMU). He was then appointed as Director of the WHMU in 2010, and in 2013 during President Obama’s administration he was named Physician to the President.
He appeared to have a normal professional relationship with President Obama, who gave him glowing performance reviews. The last physical that Jackson oversaw for Obama is archived on a White House website. He even made a brief appearance on TMZ, when in January of 2017 he treated a visitor who was bitten by Sunny, one of the Obama’s dogs.
After taking office, President Trump opted to keep Jackson as his White House doctor and eventually named him Chief Medical Advisor and Assistant to the President. Trump’s previous doctor, Dr. Harold Bornstein, made headlines for a letter that stated Trump “would be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” As it turns out, Trump seems to have a knack for getting medical professionals to issue questionable pronouncements about his health.
Jackson too raised eyebrows after administering a physical on Trump in 2018 and announcing the findings in a subsequent press conference. In addition to claiming Trump was 239 pounds, he credited Trump’s mental and physical health to “genetics.” He also offered some speculative medical announcements like: “if he had a healthier diet over the last 20 years, he might live to be 200 years old.”
Trump’s fondness for Jackson only grew from there. He nominated Jackson to serve as Secretary of Veteran Affairs. After accusations emerged that Jackson contributed to a “hostile work environment,” the White House doctor withdrew his nomination.
Senator Jon Tester, ranking member of the Senate Veteran Affairs Committee, released a report that described Jackson’s conduct from 23 colleagues. The report revealed that Jackson even earned the nickname “Candyman” for his tendency to dispense prescriptions without proper protocol. The report also mentions multiple instances where Jackson was intoxicated, even on duty. One individual quoted in the report said the following about Jackson: “the most unethical person I have ever worked with.”
Jackson’s political ambitions were, however, not dashed. After U.S. Rep Mac Thornberry announced his retirement from Congress, Jackson jumped into the race for Texas’ thirteenth congressional district.
TX-13 district spans most of the panhandle and includes Amarillo and Wichita Falls. The Republican primary was crowded with fifteen candidates. Jackson made it into the run-off and handily won. In November 2020 he beat his Democratic opponent by sixty points.
As a candidate, Jackson parroted several of the Trump talking points about Democrats like open borders, Godless liberals, and the Deep State. On Twitter he reiterated the lie that President Obama, his former patient, spied on the Trump campaign.
“President Obama weaponized the highest levels of our government to spy on President Trump. Every Deep State traitor deserves to be brought to justice for their heinous actions,” wrote Jackson. For those in the Obama administration who knew Jackson as an apolitical professional, the about-face was stinging.
As a member of Congress, Jackson has fully embraced his second calling as a MAGA Republican. He attended the Keep America Great rally before the insurrection. He called mask mandates “worthless.” And he has persistently questioned Biden’s mental and physical capabilities.
On Fox News, Jackson unveiled his latest campaign: demanding Biden take a cognitive exam. Jackson submitted his request in a letter to the White House, which was also signed by thirteen other House Republicans (including Texans Pat Fallon and Beth Van Duyne).
Given the direction of the Texas GOP, it seems reasonable that Jackson and all of his unethical history, represents the future of the party. After all, nobody in the Texas Republican Party even batted an eyelash when an Inspector General report from the Department of Defense was released last March that offered even more damning details about his time at the WHMU.
In any other job setting, Jackson’s unscrupulous behavior would get him kicked to the curb. But, for the GOP, he remains a compelling torchbearer. There he was speaking at the Faith & Freedom Coalition (saying the quiet part out loud) that Republicans have a good chance of retaking the House thanks to gerrymandering. And next month he will be speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas.
From “the most unethical person I have ever worked with” to the new rising star of the Texas Republican Party, what he does next is anybody’s guess.