U.S. President Barack Obama (R) meets with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, U.S.,...
(C) Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Scholars’ rankings offer good news for Obama, bad news for Trump

In honor of Presidents’ Day, the New York Times published the results of an interesting survey today. Members of the American Political Science Association’s Presidents and Executive Politics section – 170 scholars, in total – ranked each of the presidents from best to worst. (There are, to be sure, more than one set of rankings, and they always make for fun conversation pieces.)

Here, for example, is the new top 10 list:

1. Lincoln
2. Washington
3. F.D. Roosevelt
4. T. Roosevelt
5. Jefferson
6. Truman
7. Eisenhower
8. Obama
9. Reagan
10. L.B. Johnson

And here’s the list of the bottom 10:

35. Taylor
36. Hoover
37. Tyler
38. Fillmore
39. Harding
40. A. Johnson
41. Pierce
42. W.H. Harrison
43. Buchanan
44. Trump

OK, a few things:

1. When the scholars are broken down by party affiliation, Trump ranks #44 among Democratic scholars, #43 among independents, and #40 among Republican scholars. In other words, according to scholars of every stripe, our current president is off to a truly abysmal start and is well on his way to historical ignominy.

2. I consider Trump’s election and presidency a profound failure of the American political system, which will haunt us for a generation, and even I’m not sure I’d put him at #44 just yet. Buchanan’s ineptitude led to the Civil War, for goodness’ sake.

3. As a rule, excluding William Henry Harrison from rankings like these seems like the fair thing to do. The guy only served a month in office before dying.

4. For those who are accustomed to thinking of Trump as the nation’s 45th president, it’s worth noting that his is the nation’s 45th presidency, but 44 men have held the office: Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms.

5. I recently made the case that the rehabilitation of George W. Bush’s reputation was a problem, and this survey reinforces my concerns: he’s ranked #30, which strikes me as outrageously high given the scope and scale of his failures. He’s easily bottom-10 material.

6. It’s always of interest to me to see the difference between how the public at large and scholars perceive JFK. Polls show most Americans still look at him as a 20th-century giant, but scholars aren’t nearly as impressed: in this survey, Kennedy was ranked #16, which isn’t bad, but isn’t the stuff of Mt. Rushmore, either.

7. Grant made a big leap in this survey, from #28 in 2014, to #21 now. I have a hunch he can thank Ron Chernow.

8. Clinton was a top-10 president when this survey was done five years ago. Now he’s #13. Again, that’s not a bad ranking, but the drop suggests his reputation has faltered of late.

As for Trump, I’ll look forward to his enraged tweets targeting the American Political Science Association, which now seem inevitable.

Barack Obama, Donald Trump, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan

Scholars' rankings offer good news for Obama, bad news for Trump