You can’t campaign for the presidency and make it to the White House without getting compared to the people who came before you. Just ask Donald Trump. The 45th president routinely gets compared to several other presidents from various periods of American history. Some of the comparisons are favorable. Some some of them aren’t. But each one sheds some light on how Trump’s policies and politics run parallel to those of other iconic presidents. And they lend credence to the aphorism that history doesn’t repeat itself, but often rhymes.
Below, check out the presidents to whom Donald Trump gets compared the most.
1. John Adams
If you started at the beginning of American history to look for a president like Donald Trump, you wouldn’t have to go far. Quartz argues for a strong parallel between Donald Trump and John Adams, the second American president. The publication characterizes Adams as “a vain and touchy man, who deeply resented criticism in the press.” (Sound familiar?) Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts. The law criminalized criticism of the president, Congress, or the U.S. government. Quartz concludes that despite criticism indicating otherwise, Trump is far from the first president to restrict press freedoms.
New Republic draws some other parallels, too. The publication characterizes Adams as “an intellectual powerhouse.” But it also notes that “his fiery disposition caused him problems throughout his political career.” New Republic adds, “As president, Adams exhibited a Trump-like contempt for his cabinet, most of whom disagreed strongly with his policies. And like Trump, the only advisor Adams ever took seriously was a member of his own family: his wife, Abigail.”
The Chicago Tribune draws several parallels between Donald Trump and Theodore Roosevelt. “There’s an uncanny likeness between the two,” the publication reports. Both had “a mythical fascination with the military, a projection of boundless energy, [and] unique physical flair.” Roosevelt and Trump share a “throw-the-bastards-out reformist image.” Plus, both “transformed traditional relationships with the media.” Also crucial? Roosevelt had an infamous temper. And Roosevelt “pioneered the art of spin, twisted facts, and blasted enemies through explosive headlines.”
The Tribune notes that the comparison makes some people uncomfortable. Someone who falls into that camp? A Business Insider correspondent who notes that one of the biggest similarities between the Trump and Roosevelt should give us pause. “Neither man is (or was) capable of putting the needs of anyone or anything else — not even the needs of the presidency — before his own ego,” Linette Lopez writes. “This is the similarity we all need to be paying attention to, a fatal flaw that has the power to bring down not just one man but an entire government.”
John Tyler and Andrew Johnson
Donald Trump has famously feuded with his own party, sparking speculation about a long-lasting rift. As Vox reports, “we have very few examples of presidents who really broke away” from their parties. “The two comparisons that have surfaced are John Tyler and Andrew Johnson.” Each of those presidents governed without the support of a major political party. But we should remember some key distinctions.
Tyler and Johnson became “untethered” from their parties because of divisions within those parties. Both ended up on the ticket as running mates, not as president, “for their coalition-building potential, not because they ran against their parties in the first place. And both, unlike Trump, were professional politicians.” Further, Vox notes that even the similarities have some people worried. Historians point out that “the president’s formal powers are far too weak to sustain him, absent help from the other political branches — including members of his own party.”
Many people have compared Donald Trump to Andrew Jackson. Even Vice President Mike Pence boasted of Trump’s election, “There hasn’t been anything like this since Andrew Jackson.” But U.S. News characterizes the similarities between the two presidents as “cause for serious concern.” The publication explains:
Like Trump, Jackson was brash, abrasive, defensive and quick-tempered and both were described as vulgar and unfit to govern. Jackson was also thin-skinned and felt the world was against him and that the ruling elites looked down on him. Both expressed extreme loyalty to controversial advisers and elevated them to powerful positions in their administrations with disastrous effect. Both were called tyrants and bullies and like Trump, Jackson professed to always put American interests first and inveighed against “alien enemies.”
Even more concerning? U.S. News adds that “the most striking commonality between Donald Trump and Andrew Jackson is their use of race to divide the nation and unite their supporters and their seeming disdain for the rule of law.” Trump has made Muslims and Mexicans “scapegoats for our national security threats and manufacturing job losses.” And Jackson forcibly removed Native Americans from Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama to “recover” the land for white American settlement.
Trying to choose a president to compare to Donald Trump? Jimmy Carter doesn’t seem like an obvious choice. But Vox reports that, surprisingly enough, Carter can serve as an “illuminating parallel” to Trump in one important respect. Both entered office in similar moments in “political time.” Vox characterizes both Trump and Carter as representing “the last gasp of the incumbent era.” Both presidencies involved an outsider “trying to keep a fraying political coalition together,” as New Republic sums up the argument.
Vox characterizes the struggle to reconcile policy and politics as a key feature of such presidencies. But what Vox interprets as the next step in the traditional political cycle, New Republic hails as a potential sign of “a suspension of [this] kind of regime politics.” Plus, the publication reports that Vox’s analogy has two major limits. “First, the Republican Congress is likely to accomplish a lot more under Trump than the Democrats did under Carter. Second, it obscures the fact that the Democratic Party emerged from Reagan’s shadow long ago.”
People frequently make comparisons between Donald Trump and Richard Nixon. (They often compare Trump’s Russia scandal to Watergate.) But not everybody agrees about how salient those comparisons will really prove. USA Today notes that the two presidents do have several things in common. That includes their decisions to fire investigators. Both also had embattled White House spokesmen. And both ran campaigns that benefited from “dirty tricks.” Further, historians note that both presidents have presided over a series of questionable — perhaps illegal — acts.
However, New Republic notes that historians can’t agree on whether Trump can really be called a new Nixon. “While there’s widespread agreement that the Trump-Nixon parallel is imperfect, the experts differ on the value of making such parallels at all.” The presidents do share many traits. (Secrecy, paranoia, and conspiracy-theorizing, to name a few.) But the Trump-Nixon comparisons seem to some historians “designed to get a knee-jerk reaction,” not really to illuminate the complexity of presidential history.
Many people wouldn’t instinctively compare Donald Trump with Ronald Reagan. But Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, characterizes Trump as “far closer to Reagan’s brand of conservatism than the Republican congressional leadership is.” Olsen points to Trump’s choice to campaign on populist economics (reversing the North American Free Trade Agreement and Trans-Pacific Partnership and protecting entitlements) and populist cultural issues (immigration, guns, and political correctness). He says those choices parallels Reagan’s tactics. Reagan championed populist cultural issues and took an anti-establishment tone.
But not everyone approves of the comparison. Nicole Neily, a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum, also writing for NBC, reports that “Trump is no Reagan.” She explains that Trump’s relationship with the United Kingdom — and his choice to publicly insult Theresa May — provides a key example. “Statesmen like Ronald Reagan didn’t go out of their way to antagonize their enemies: They drew up plans behind closed doors to defeat them diplomatically, militarily and ideologically. And they certainly didn’t use the bully pulpit to humiliate their friends.”
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