Donald Trump’s final days in office were some of the most tumultuous for an American president in the history of the republic.
With his pending departure amid two unprecedented impeachments and a riot at the U.S. Capitol Building that Democrats and some Republicans say was an “insurrection” he incited, Trump notched a 34-percent approval rating according to polling firm Gallup.
But, as the New York Post’s Mary Kay Linge noted in a column published Saturday, that’s hardly the lowest for a departing American president.
That dishonor goes to Richard M. Nixon, a Republican whose approval rating had plunged to just 24 percent in the week before he resigned from office in 1974 amid the Watergate scandal. In retrospect, some presidential experts believe he would have become the first U.S. president to be successfully impeached and removed from office.
As for Trump, two other presidents in the modern era — George W. Bush in 2009 and Jimmy Carter in 1980 — also notched 34 percent approval ratings, or two points more than Harry Truman who left office in 1953.
Nevertheless, the former GOP presidents still managed to rehab their reputations as more Americans viewed them increasingly favorable in the years following their terms — and the same is likely to happen to President Trump as more people reflect on positive developments during his term, Linge notes.
Some observers and experts disagree, however.
“I think it’s highly unlikely” Trump rehabilitates his image, Jonathan Alter, Carter’s biographer, told Linge. “Trump basically has clinched the title of the worst president in American history. For him, it’s a very, very steep climb.”
“Trump was such a danger to the republic that I can’t imagine him being rehabilitated in any way, shape, or form,” added Matthew Dallek, a historian at George Washington University.
Others refute those opinions.
Steven Hayward of the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley told Linge that post-presidential attitudes towards Trump will improve as they have for other presidents who left office on a downward trend.
“Nearly all presidents, especially those defeated for re-election, eventually enjoy some revisionist second looks,” he told the columnist. “It will likely happen for Trump, too, as the intense passions surrounding him recede.”
A lot of that is likely to depend on what Trump does now that he’s out of office — and thus far, he’s been laying low, playing golf and recuperating at his Mar-a-Lago resort.
“It depends largely on what Trump makes of his post-presidency,” Harold Holzer, a historian and director of Roosevelt House at Hunter College who has traced post-presidential performances since 1829 when John Quincy Adams lost his reelection bid.
“Even Herbert Hoover made a PR comeback of sorts by working in later years on world hunger. If Trump devotes himself to good works, who knows?”
Following Nixon’s resignation, he made a distinct effort to repair his reputation. After remaining largely secluded for four years, he scripted a comeback to political life that started with a state dinner in the Carter White House that led to off-the-record evenings spent with journalists and publishers.
“Behind the scenes, Nixon cultivated relationships with Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton,” said Alter, who predicted that won’t happen with Trump who he claims “has burned too many political bridges to repair.”
It may actually be that Trump hasn’t burned bridges so much as he was never accepted by Washington’s political class in the first place after defeating the ‘favored’ candidate, well-known insider Hillary Clinton.
Other former Republican presidents including Bush have had to work hard to repair reputations, but in his case, his presidential bona fides were burnished by Trump. A mainstream media that was overwhelmingly hostile to Bush when he was in office took to touting him as preferential over the New York real estate tycoon.
The same could happen for Trump, conservative columnist Ed Driscoll told Linge.
“I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see former President Trump given strange new respect four years from now to bash whoever the front-runner is in the GOP,” he said.