President Donald Trump needs to run the table to win a second term.
If not, he will find himself at the other end of a quote he made famous on his “reality” TV show “The Apprentice,” where he told a motley crew of faded stars and celebrity wannabes, “You’re fired.”
At least, that’s what I have heard he said. Never watched an episode.
Trump is behind in both national polls and surveys taken in swing states. Right now, former Vice President Joe Biden would sweep to victory, crushing Trump in a landslide win.
But the election won’t be held for four and a half months. Trump has time to change his electoral fate, but he will need a strong run of success.
If he cannot reverse his fortunes, he will join the list of one-term presidents, leaders the country discarded. Their work was found to be substandard for a variety of reasons.
The first one to feel the sting of rejection was John Adams, the second president. He edged Thomas Jefferson, a once and future friend, in the 1796 election, which ended with Jefferson as his VP. The electoral process was still being figured out.
Jefferson unseated Adams in 1800, so angering his fellow Founding Father that Adams left Washington, D.C., before the third president could be sworn in.
The two presidents finally patched up their friendship after both left public life and wrote a series of letters to each other. Both died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of The Declaration of Independence that they had collaborated on.
Their deaths came during the presidency of Adams’ son, John Quincy Adams, who would become the second president not to earn a second term. It was a family trait neither desired.
Quincy Adams had finished second to Andrew Jackson in a crowded race in 1824 but was elevated to the presidency by the House of Representatives. In a rematch four years later, Old Hickory soundly defeated Adams, who would later return to politics as a congressman from Massachusetts.
He even died on the House floor.
The third man to only get a four-year ticket to the White House was Jackson’s protégé, Martin Van Buren. He was elected in 1836 after Jackson completed his second term.
Van Buren lost to an aging celebrity, General William Henry Harrison, in 1840, but he made bids for the White House again in 1844 and 1848, running as a third-party candidate in 1848 and finishing a distant third.
Harrison was a one-termer, and not much of one. He was determined to display his vitality so he spoke for two hours without a hat or coat at his cold, windy inauguration and died after 30 days in office.
His vice president, John Tyler, struggled to be accepted as the first non-elected president and couldn’t even earn the Whig or Democratic nomination in 1844. His life ended in disgrace, as he served in the Confederate Congress until he died in 1862 and was buried with a rebel flag on his coffin.
It was a time of one-termers, as Democrat James K. Polk served a single term and was an effective president, although his choice to wage war against Mexico and seize a huge chunk of property is now controversial. Polk did not seek re-election, returning to Tennessee, where he died a few months after ending his public career.
The second Whig elected president was another general, Zachary Taylor, and although he lasted longer than 30 days, like Harrison, he died in office.
His VP was the unfortunately named Millard Fillmore, who served an undistinguished few months in office and slipped into the folds of history.
We then had a pair of single-term presidents, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, who did little to stop the onrushing Civil War. Both are largely forgotten and for good reason.
After the great Abraham Lincoln, the first president to be murdered, we had the inept, unqualified Andrew Johnson, who completed Lincoln’s second term and slunk off to well-deserved obscurity. In 1876, Rutherford Hayes became president through political machinations that defied ethics and the Constitution. He was another single-termer.
James Garfield, a brilliant man who may have become a great president, was the second to be shot and killed. His successor, Chester Arthur, was a symbol of his time, trained in payoffs and deals, and while he showed flashes of promise, he too slipped into the shadows.
William Henry Harrison — Ol’ Tippecanoe himself — only served for a month, but his grandson Benjamin Harrison got a full term, splitting the presidencies of Grover Cleveland, who served before and after him.
William Howard Taft won a single term in 1908 but was so unpopular he finished third in the 1912 election, with Democrat Woodrow Wilson winning and former President Theodore Roosevelt a strong second representing the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party.
The next short-term leader was Warren G. Harding, who died in 1923. His VP, Calvin Coolidge served a single full term — including spending three months in the summer of 1927 in the Black Hills — before choosing not to run in 1928.
He was succeeded by Herbert Hoover, a brilliant, accomplished man not up to the job of president and the challenges he faced.
Despite Hoover’s many accomplishments, he is remembered as a failure in the White House. Such is the fate of most single-term presidents.
Trump should note that.
John F. Kennedy was denied a second term by an assassin’s bullets and Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon were driven from office by angry mobs and personal doubts and flaws.
Gerald Ford had a long career in Congress and two-a-half years as president. He is best-remembered as a clumsy man who slipped and slid through his presidency, an unfair assessment of a skilled athlete who was an All-American football player.
Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush were bright, talented men who served their nation in uniform and in politics. They achieved the highest post in the land but were denied second terms, much to their displeasure and disappointment.
It’s unfair that two-term presidents are so revered and single-term leaders dismissed. Most two-term presidents do most of their significant work in their first four years.
They spend their second terms struggling for significance, creating their legacies and working with historians to craft their own histories. Presidents who get just one term are too busy tending the store and running for re-election to worry about their legacy.
If Trump loses on Nov. 3, he joins the ranks of the Adams, Van Buren, Buchanan, Hoover, Carter and Bush the elder.
He would prefer to be among Washington, Jefferson, Jackson — personal favorite — as well as FDR, Eisenhower, Clinton, Bush the younger and Obama, whose cool, accomplished style so clearly haunts him.
To earn a second term, Trump needs to change the flow of events and persuade voters he is a leader they respect and a man whom they won’t grow weary of watching for four more years.
It seems highly unlikely he can do any of those things. The clock is ticking on his term and his time to win a second one.
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