Donald Trump Isn’t Alone: These Presidents Had the Most Unpresidential Personality Types
Donald Trump is an incredibly controversial president, and his personality seems just as divisive as his policies. In fact, many Trump opponents criticize the president’s temperament as “unpresidential.” The insult implies that there’s a standard of appropriate behavior in the Oval Office. Of course, there is. But throughout American history, voters have elected plenty of presidents who violated the unspoken rules of presidential behavior and speech.
Read on to discover other presidents who, like Donald Trump, drew criticism for their unpresidential temperaments and habits.
1. John Adams
- 2nd president of the United States
William Galston, a Brookings Institution senior fellow who spoke to the Christian Science Monitor, reports that the kind of unpresidential conduct we associate with Donald Trump is actually nothing new. Just look at John Adams, the second U.S. president. The Week reports that this combative commander-in-chief “quickly acquired a hefty reputation for articulate jabs and razor-sharp put-downs at the expense of his allies and (numerous) rivals alike.”
Additionally, the Miller Center reports that even Adams’s own cabinet opposed his policies most of the time. Thus, “His stubborn independence left him politically isolated and alone.” Nonetheless, Galston doesn’t consider Donald Trump a modern version of Adams. Galston posits that Adams “had the political substance to overcome his rudeness.” But the Brookings fellow wouldn’t say the same thing for Trump.
Next: This president chased his Secretary of Treasury with a pair of hot fireplace tongs.
2. James Monroe
- 5th president of the United States
Many U.S. presidents have had terrible tempers (just like Donald Trump). Mental Floss reports that James Monroe numbered among them, citing a particularly memorable argument between Monroe and William H. Crawford, the Secretary of the Treasury at the time. Monroe once flew into a temper tantrum so fierce that he chased Crawford out of the Oval Office by brandishing a pair of hot fireplace tongs.
Monroe got caught up in more than his fair share of petty disputes. In fact, Smithsonian Magazine reports that Monroe almost dueled Alexander Hamilton — of modern-day Hamilton fame — until a mutual friend settled their argument. The drawn-out dispute sounds quite unpresidential. But as Smithsonian Magazine explains, “both men were at times petty, tempestuous, and unsure of themselves: in other words, human.”
Next: This president never learned to compromise.
3. John Quincy Adams
- 6th president of the United States
The Miller Center at the University of Virginia reports that John Quincy Adams “became one of the nation’s preeminent secretaries of state but proved the wrong man for the presidency.” Working with people — and making compromises — has emerged as a key skill for the president. But it’s one that Adams didn’t have. The Miller Center refers to John Quincy Adams as “aloof, stubborn, and ferociously independent.” The 6th president failed to forge alliances in Washington, even with members of his own party. So he couldn’t turn his ideas into policy.
Perhaps worst of all, Adams should have seen the problem coming. His father, John Adams, “had also ignored the political side of the office and served only one term,” the Miller Center reports. “History repeated itself with his son: John Quincy Adams lost his reelection bid to Jackson in 1828.”
Next: This president taught his pet parrot to swear.
4. Andrew Jackson
- 7th president of the United States
Andrew Jackson numbers among the most controversial presidents in part because of his humble origins. He rose from “log cabin to White House,” unlike all the other presidents who had come before him. He made the East Coast establishment nervous with his promises to change politics. And he did make many changes in politics — including by departing from the norms of presidential behavior.
The Atlantic reports that “Washington insiders reviled Jackson. They saw him as intemperate, vulgar, and stupid. Opponents called him a jackass — the origin of the donkey symbol for the Democratic Party.” Thomas Jefferson referred to Jackson as “one of the most unfit men I know of” to serve as president of the United States. Perhaps most amusing of all? Jackson owned a pet parrot whom he taught to swear. The parrot reportedly swore enthusiastically even at Jackson’s funeral.
Next: This president couldn’t even get along with his own party.
5. John Tyler
- 10th president of the United States
Many successful presidents have managed to unify Americans instead of dividing or alienating them. But John Tyler had no such luck — or skill — during his time in the Oval Office. USA Today notes that historians usually rank Tyler among the worst U.S. presidents, thanks to his very unpresidential inability to work with his own party. “All the chief executives unmistakably identified as failures displayed a self-destructive tendency to violate the core promises of their campaigns.”
Tyler, the publication explains, “used 10 unpopular vetoes to block implementation of his own party’s longstanding ledges. Most of his Cabinet resigned in protest, and eventually they all quit while the hostile Senate voted down four new Cabinet appointments — a record that stands to this day.”
Next: This president had a very unpresidential drinking habit.
6. James Buchanan
- 15th president of the United States
James Buchanan also numbers among the worst — and least presidential — presidents to have served throughout American history. The Constitution Center names Buchanan as the worst president of all thanks to “his apparent indifference to the onset of the Civil War.” He even referred to slavery as “happily, a matter of but little practical importance.”
But Buchanan’s disinterest in averting crisis isn’t the only thing that lands him on the list of the most unpresidential presidents. He became notorious for his love of drinking. Mental Floss notes that numerous anecdotes refer to Buchanan’s drinking — and his ability to consume vast amounts of whiskey and wine. He could reportedly drink two or three bottles of wine in a single sitting, and would also purchase 10-gallon casks of whiskey each Sunday. He even scolded the liquor merchant who supplied his inauguration for bringing champagne bottles that were far too small.
Next: This president was incredibly arrogant.
7. Andrew Johnson
- 17th president of the United States
An excess of arrogance is another quality that’s emerged as unpresidential, even if it’s shown up repeatedly in the Oval Office. Throughout the generations, Americans generally “don’t like arrogant candidates,” Slate explains. Evidently, nobody ever told Andrew Johnson. Historian Thomas Bailey wrote of Johnson, “a self-made man, he was distressingly proud of his maker.”
Johnson, who had apprenticed to a tailor, liked to remind audiences that Jesus, a carpenter, had also worked with his hands. Business Insider reports that Johnson showed up drunk to his inauguration as vice president — quite an auspicious start. About a month later, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and Johnson became president.
Next: This president thought too highly of himself.
8. Theodore Roosevelt
- 26th president of the United States
People on both sides of the aisle love Theodore Roosevelt. But New Republic reports that Roosevelt “spent much of his life behaving like a bully, drunk on his own self-regard.” The publication explains that similarly, “Roosevelt’s reputation for boyishness arose from many sources—his naïve charm, to be sure, but also his ceaseless action, his snap decisions, his adolescent bellicosity, his refusal to consider intellectual or ethical complexity, his confusion of physical with moral courage, and his exaggerated amour propre when confronted by actual or imagined insults.”
Slate notes that a 1904 edition of Collier’s dismissed concerns about Theodore Roosevelt’s temperament with the statement, “the personal obstreperousness which offends some individuals endowed with taste is a part of his popularity throughout the country.” Does that sound familiar? As Slate puts it, “Allowing for a change in verbiage, some pundits are plating up this precise analysis of Trump’s temperament today: His unpresidential temperament is his very appeal.”
Next: This president made poor choices when appointing his cabinet members.
9. Warren G. Harding
- 29th president of the United States
There are numerous reasons that you could call Warren G. Harding unpresidential. In fact, The Atlantic reports that “The 29th president’s extramarital affairs were perhaps the least of his disqualifications for the office he held.” His affairs did cause major scandals, not least because Harding fathered an illegitimate child with one of his mistresses. Historians consider Harding a womanizer. But that’s not the only reason that many experts consider him unpresidential.
Even Harding knew that he was in over his head in the Oval Office. He once referred to himself as “a man of limited talents.” Kevin Kruse, a historian at Princeton University, tells The Atlantic, “He felt woefully under-qualified for the job.” Kruse elaborated, “He was nervous about it, so he surrounded himself with old friends from his hometown, who themselves were unqualified for the jobs they held and many of them corrupt.” His cabinet was plagued by scandals, and even if Harding wasn’t directly implicated, he was still responsible for the men he chose to run the country.
Next: This president had affairs with countless women.
10. John F. Kennedy
- 35th president of the United States
Newsweek names John F. Kennedy as one of the presidents who did some very unpresidential things, including having serial affairs while he was in the White House. According to National Geographic, “Kennedy biographer Robert Dallek describes JFK as a ‘compulsive womanizer‘ whose insatiable urge for sexual conquests was fueled by a complex array of personal traumas.” Kennedy had affairs with scores of women, supposedly including Marilyn Monroe.
Additionally, even after he married Jacqueline Bouvier, he “continued to pursue extramarital relationships—despite the risk of scandal that might have crippled his Presidency,” according to National Geographic. Slate notes that “Character flaws in a president can end in tragedy. JFK didn’t live long enough for his infidelities to compromise him, but a variety of his chroniclers have argued that they ultimately would have.”
Next: This president claimed that he slept with more women than Kennedy.
11. Lyndon B. Johnson
- 36th president of the United States
Lyndon B. Johnson developed a reputation for his rude and overbearing personality. He conducted business from the toilet, with the door open. The Atlantic reports of details that have recently come to light, “Urinating in a sink, inviting people into his bathroom, showing off his abdominal scar, exposing his private parts: after a while nothing surprises a biographer of Lyndon Baines Johnson.” Johnson’s feelings of emptiness reportedly drove him to eat, drink, and smoke to excess. They also led him to become a “competitive womanizer.”
As The Atlantic puts it, “When people mentioned Kennedy’s many affairs, Johnson would bang the table and declare that he had more women by accident than Kennedy ever had on purpose.” Additionally, Johnson’s unpresidential character flaws certainly had an effect on his presidency. As Slate explains, “LBJ might not have clung to a self-defeating strategy in Vietnam were he not so concerned about what East Coast elites would say about him.”
Next: This man was one of our most disagreeable presidents.
12. Richard Nixon
- 37th president of the United States
McClatchy’s D.C. bureau reports that Richard Nixon conducted himself with dignity in public. But when tapes of conversations between Nixon and his aides surfaced, Americans “were aghast at the frequency at which the 37th president cursed.” On the tapes, he swore and spoke critically of black Americans and Jews in a decidedly unpresidential manner.
The Atlantic reports that Nixon probably goes down in history as the most disagreeable president. (At least before Donald Trump came along.) The publication adds that “Decision makers who, like Nixon, are dispositionally low on agreeableness might hold certain advantages when it comes to balancing competing interests or bargaining with adversaries.” The Atlantic explains, “In international affairs, Nixon was tough, pragmatic, and coolly rational.” But “In domestic politics, Nixon was widely recognized to be cunning, callous, cynical, and Machiavellian.”
Next: This president found himself mired in a very unpresidential scandal.
13. Bill Clinton
- 42nd president of the United States
Newsweek reports that Bill Clinton could be called “unpresidential ‘in the sense that he conducted this clandestine affair with a White House intern,’ said Iwan Morgan, a professor of U.S. history at University College London, who teaches a course on the presidency.” Just like previous presidents who took mistresses and had affairs, Clinton found himself mired in a very unpresidential scandal.
Biographer John D. Gartner, speaking to Time, characterized Clinton as “hypomanic.” Gartner explained, “Hypomanic people have tremendous energy.” He adds, “With this syndrome, you also have immense confidence, and it makes you someone who is very ambitious, hard-working, and creative. There are a lot of positives. At the same time, there are those vulnerabilities. Impulsiveness—not just in the area of sex, but also in eating, and in terms of his temper.”
Next: Here’s why Donald Trump gets called unpresidential.
14. Donald Trump
- 45th president of the United States
Finally, Donald Trump has become the most recent president whose behavior, speech, and personality has earned the label of “unpresidential.” The Atlantic characterized Donald Trump’s personality as “extreme by any standard, and particularly rare for a presidential candidate,” and especially for a president. Trump has been unflatteringly compared to several past presidents. And he’s been repeatedly criticized as narcissistic and unpresidential.
A sampling of headlines? CNN reports “Donald Trump’s unpresidential presidency keeps hitting new lows.” Politico explains that “70 percent say Trump acts unpresidential.” The New York Times published a letter on “Donald Trump’s Unpresidential Sojourn at the White House.” And The Atlantic compiled “A Time Capsule of the Unpresidential Things Trump Says.”
Next: Here’s why accusations of unpresidential behavior don’t bother Donald Trump.
Why Donald Trump doesn’t care about being presidential
Donald Trump has repeatedly been criticized for failing to act presidential. But he doesn’t seem to buy into the idea that a president needs to act presidential. In fact, as McClatchy D.C. explains, Trump characterized being presidential as “much easier than being the way I am — it takes much less energy.”
Additionally, Trump doesn’t seem to have any interest in appearing more presidential. In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Trump said that Americans would get “so bored” with a presidential Trump that instead of drawing crowds of thousands “I’ll have about 150 people, and they’ll say, but, boy, he really looks presidential.”
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