And five more simply chose not to run for a second full term: James Polk, James Buchanan, Rutherford Hayes, Theodore Roosevelt (in 1908) and Calvin Coolidge. Cleveland also opted out of another run in 1896; apparently two terms, even if not consecutive, were enough. (He did wind up getting his picture on the $1,000 bill, though, which, as my mother used to say, is not nothing.)
In the postwar era, Dwight Eisenhower finished a second term in January 1961 — but after him came another run of presidencies suspended. John Kennedy was killed in his first term. Lyndon Johnson, worn down by Vietnam, decided not to run again. Richard Nixon was re-elected — and then had to resign. Gerald Ford wasn’t re-elected; neither was Jimmy Carter.
I’m in my 60s now. I was 30 years old before I saw a president finish a second term — Reagan, in 1989.
All of which may provide some perspective for Donald Trump, who — if the current polls hold — could find himself in Jimmy Carter’s shoes this January. If so, he’ll need to consider what role he might play as an ex-president.
Here too, history provides some good (and some not so good) models.
First the bad news: A lot of former presidents kick the bucket fairly soon after they leave office (and this, of course, is not counting the eight who didn’t reach the post-presidency, thanks either to an assassin’s bullet, heart attack or a bowl of bad cherries). Polk left office in March 1849 and was dead by June. Arthur was gone in less than two years. Four more survived less than five: Wilson, Washington, Coolidge and Lyndon Johnson.
On the other hand, there’s Ford, who left office in 1977 and lived for 30 more years. Or Hoover, who lived for 31. Or Jimmy Carter — currently at 39 years and counting. So, assuming Donald Trump stays away from the death cherries, what might he do in the years to come?
One president, Andrew Johnson, was re-elected to the Senate. This was a real vindication for the first president to be impeached, although admittedly, dying of a stroke after only five months in the Senate took some of the shine off it. Then there was Taft, who first became a professor at Yale Law School, and then, in 1921, chief justice of the Supreme Court.