“Unprecedented” may be the most overused word in political discourse today, but it applies to the ongoing presence of Donald Trump. Never has a former president dominated the news like Mr. Trump, whose private company and “stop the steal” campaign, which culminated in the Jan. 6, 2021, mob attack at the U.S. Capitol, are under multiple civil and criminal investigations. Despite all the negativity, Mr. Trump remains the dominant force in the GOP, purging the Republicans who voted to impeach him and preparing for another possible run for the White House.
In this episode of History As It Happens, historian Jeremi Suri talks about the role of former presidents who left office under clouds of scandal or failure.
Unlike Richard Nixon, who became a pariah in his own party after resigning in the Watergate scandal, Mr. Trump remains the most popular Republican in the country. While Nixon’s lies were irrefutably exposed by the release of the “smoking gun” White House tapes, Mr. Trump has apparently convinced without evidence a significant number of Republican voters that the 2020 presidential election result was fraudulent.
“With Donald Trump’s presidency, although it ended on Jan. 20, 2021, the most important controversies did not end then. So we’re still fighting the fights about the election, the legal uses of presidential power… and those controversies have been personalized by Trump in a way they usually aren’t in a change of administration. The second big difference is this was not a peaceful transition,” said Mr. Suri, a historian at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.
Some aspects of Trump’s continuing command of the nation’s attention are not without precedent. Other major politicians ran for president multiple times, such as William Jennings Bryan and Grover Cleveland, who won in 1884, lost in 1888, and won in 1892. Cleveland is the only president who served non-consecutive terms.
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Herbert Hoover maintained a public profile after his landslide defeat to FDR in 1932. Hoover in public letters and essays repeatedly attacked the New Deal during Roosevelt’s presidency and for many years afterward. Hoover outlived FDR by two decades, but he remained an unpopular politician to his death.
Listen to the full episode with Mr. Suri by downloading this episode of History As It Happens.