What will a Donald Trump post-presidency look like?
Despite losing re-election and suffering through his second impeachment, the 45th President remains determined to stay in the spotlight. So far his grip on the Republican Party remains strong and there’s already talk about a 2024 comeback bid.
Since recent one-termers like George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter quickly retired from political life, we don’t have any real first-hand experience of what Trump is trying to pull off. At the same time, Grover Cleveland’s 1892 revival is a bit too far in the past to make a valid comparison.
The closest historical example for Trump is actually another one-term millionaire businessman who was vilified by a large swath of the country: Herbert Hoover.
Hoover and Trump make for a fascinating duo. While their personalities are quite distinct from each other, there are several similarities between their career paths. Both of their candidacies were built on their respective success in business, as neither held any previous elective office.
Another commonality is that each man’s presidency was upended by a crisis of epic proportions. Less than a year into Hoover’s tenure, the stock market crash precipitated the Great Depression. This calamity hung over the Hoover Administration like a storm cloud and sank any hopes he had of re-election.
While Hoover’s curse was the Great Depression, the bane of Donald Trump’s presidency was the COVID-19 pandemic. Neither felt the crisis was their fault, yet both bore the brunt of the blame from the public. Furthermore, much like Trump is obsessed with Barack Obama and Joe Biden, Hoover was fixated with a rematch against Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The 31st President harbored the hope that he could avenge his 1932 loss by winning back the White House. In 1936, he delivered a blistering address to the Republican National Convention that excoriated the New Deal. The stemwinder earned him a rousing ovation but nothing more. Senator Arthur Vandenburg tried to tell Hoover that the party had moved on.
Instead of taking the hint, Hoover just made his ambitions more explicit four years later. He tried again to ignite a stampede for his nomination at the convention, only to earn a muted reception. Hoover ended up finishing tenth on the first ballot. Party leaders had repeatedly attempted to inform him that his time had passed, but it took this public embarrassment for Hoover to finally face reality.
Conversely, Trump odds of mounting a comeback are significantly stronger. Whereas Hoover had to convince a convention of delegates to place a risky bet on him, Trump’s path depends on ideological firebrands rather than party stalwarts.
Trump also starts off his post-presidency in a stronger position than Hoover’s. Political polling was sparse in the 1930s, so we don’t have early 1933 numbers for Hoover. Gallup did conduct a poll in October 1935, however, which had Hoover in third among 1936 Republican hopefuls with just 12%. By the 1940 contest, Gallup had him in the single digits. Trump, on the other hand, is already leading the first 2024 surveys; although he’ll soon have to deal with a fresh set of challengers.
Whether Trump ever sets foot in the Oval Office again, his legacy will influence politics for years to come, and it’s here that Hoover’s example is most instructive. For a generation after the Depression, Democrats ran against the GOP as the Party of Herbert Hoover. Since Hoover lived until 1964, and was never shy about seeking the limelight, he was a useful villain for the opposition.
Today we face a unique situation where both parties want to label Republicans as the Party of Donald Trump. We just don’t yet know which party stands to benefit from that designation.