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Donald Trump Ranked as the Worst US President in History, with Biden 14th Greatest

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Staff Writer, TLR

Published on February 21, 2024, 17:11:58

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USA, Trump, Election, US President, Biden

Former US President Donald Trump, embroiled in a multitude of critical legal challenges, ranked at the bottom as 45th on a list assessing US presidents by their greatness, trailing behind even "historically calamitous chief executives" who either failed to prevent the Civil War or mishandled its aftermath.

Worse for the likely Republican nominee this year, his probable opponent, Joe Biden, debuted at No 14.

“Biden’s most important achievements may be that he rescued the presidency from Trump, resumed a more traditional style of presidential leadership and is gearing up to keep the office out of his predecessor’s hands this fall,” Justin Vaughn and Brandon Rottinghaus, the political scientists behind the survey, wrote in the Los Angeles Times.

Rottinghaus, of the University of Houston, and Vaughn, from Coastal Carolina University, considered responses from 154 scholars, most connected to the American Political Science Association.

The aim, the authors said, “was to create a ranking of presidential greatness that covered all presidents from George Washington to Joe Biden”, in succession to such lists compiled in 2015 and 2018.

“To do this, we asked respondents to rate each president on a scale of 0-100 for their overall greatness, with 0=failure, 50=average, and 100=great. We then averaged the ratings for each president and ranked them from highest average to lowest.”

At the top of the chart, there was little change from previous surveys – the latter of which also saw Trump, then in office, placed last.

Abraham Lincoln, who won the civil war and ended slavery, was ranked first, ahead of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who saw the US through the Great Depression and the second world war. Next came George Washington, the first president, who won independence from Britain, Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson and Harry Truman.

Barack Obama, the first Black president, to whom Biden was vice-president between 2009 and 2017, was seventh, up nine places.

Considering drops for Andrew Jackson (ninth in 2015 to 21st now) and Woodrow Wilson (10th to 15th), Rottinghaus and Vaughn noted the impact of campaigns for racial justice.

“Their reputations have consistently suffered in recent years as modern politics lead scholars to assess their early 19th and 20th century presidencies ever more harshly, especially their unacceptable treatment of marginalised people,” the authors wrote.

Jackson owned enslaved people and presided over the genocidal displacement of Native Americans. Wilson oversaw victory in the first world war and helped set up the League of Nations, but was an avowed racist who segregated the federal workforce.

Other major movers included Ulysses S Grant (17th, up from 26th in 2015), whose administration generated significant corruption but whose attempts to enforce post-civil war Reconstruction in southern states, including fighting the Ku Klux Klan, have helped fuel reconsideration.

Grant succeeded Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s successor and the first president to be impeached. Like Johnson, Lincoln’s predecessor, James Buchanan, who failed to stop the slide to civil war, also sits higher than Trump on Rottinghaus and Vaughn’s list.

Trump is a uniquely divisive figure, his legislative record slim, his refusal to accept defeat by Biden leading to a deadly attack on Congress, and his post-presidential career dogged by 91 criminal charges arising from actions in office or on the campaign trail.

In the presidential survey, Trump is also ranked behind “such lowlights as Franklin Pierce, Warren Harding and William Henry Harrison, who died a mere 31 days after taking office,” Rottinghaus and Vaughn wrote.

“Trump’s impact goes well beyond his own ranking and Biden’s. Every contemporary Democratic president has moved up in the ranks – Barack Obama  (No 7), Bill Clinton (No 12) and even Jimmy Carter (No 22).

“Yes, these presidents had great accomplishments such as expanding healthcare access and working to end conflict in the Middle East, and they have two Nobel prizes among them. But given their shortcomings and failures, their rise seems to be less about reassessments of their administrations than it is a bonus for being neither Trump nor a member of his party.

“Indeed, every modern Republican president has dropped … including the transformational Ronald Reagan (No 16) and George HW Bush (No 19), who led the nation’s last decisive military victory”, the Gulf war of 1991.

Accounting for Democratic climbs and Republican drops, the authors acknowledged that academics tend to lean left but also said, with a nod to Trump: “What these results suggest is not just an added emphasis on a president’s political affiliation, but also the emergence of a president’s fealty to political and institutional norms as a criterion for what makes a president ‘great’.

“… As for the Americans casting a ballot for the next president [in November], they are in the historically rare position of knowing how both candidates have performed in the job.”

Trump has not yet secured the Republican nomination but Biden trails in most polls, prey to public concern that at 81 he is too old for a second term, even though Trump is 77 and equally vulnerable to public gaffes – never mind his insurrectionist past.

Rottinghaus and Vaughn said: “Whether (voters) will consider each president’s commitment to the norms of presidential leadership, and come to rate them as differently as our experts, remains to be seen.”

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