News & Politics

Historians: Trump Was Only the Fourth-Worst President of All Time

Photograph by Evy Mages

Today, C-SPAN released its Presidential Historians Survey of Presidential Leadership, which asks historians and professional presidential observers to rate commanders-in-chief on a scale of one to 10, focusing on 10 key leadership areas, like moral authority, vision, economic management, and more. At the top is Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. At the very bottom is James Buchanan. Just above that bumbler is Andrew Johnson (first President to be impeached), then Franklin Pierce, then the most recent Oval Office occupant, the twice-impeached Donald Trump at number 41. Trump came in lower than James Garfield, who was President for 200 days, and William Henry Harrison, who lasted only 31.

The survey started in 2000, and takes place when there’s a transition in leadership; this year’s report is only the fourth of its kind. The ranking comes from 142 participating historians and observers across the country. It’s notable, too, that over the years some rankings have changed. Barack Obama this year broke the top ten after ranking 12 in 2017. George W. Bush came in at number 36 after he left office, but has since moved up to number 29.

“We understand that it takes time once a president has left office to get a full assessment of the presidency but we do conduct the survey soon after an administration so that we have a benchmark—so that we have a window into what the historians are thinking soon after an administration ends and then as we continue to conduct these surveys we can see what change happens,” survey project coordinator Rachel Katz said on C-SPAN Wednesday morning, adding: “We also understand there’s a high interest in presidential history and this is a way to start a conversation, get people talking about it—get them thinking about what makes a good president.”

Trump’s highest scores were in public persuasion and economic management—ranking number 32 and number 34, respectively. But he ranked last in moral authority and administrative skills and close to last on international relations, crisis leadership, pursuing equal justice for all, and relations with Congress.

Rosa is a senior editor at Bitch Magazine. She’s written for Washingtonian and Smithsonian magazine.