The conventional wisdom of 2016 focused on the unconventionality of President-elect Donald Trump. But do not mistake lack of convention for lack of comparison. An interesting group of presidents share some traits — of course not all traits — with Mr. Trump.
JAMES K. POLK
The 11th president could be considered one of the hardest-nosed negotiators in the White House. As a candidate, his campaign and slogan promised he’d gain territory from both Mexico and the United Kingdom. As president, Polk did it by annexing Texas, going to war with Mexico and threatening war with the U.K. One other similarity: Polk is considered the first “dark horse,” surprise president.
Taking office in 1865, Johnson faced sharp questions over unity and nationality following the Civil War. While he pushed back against forcing strict loyalty oaths in the South, he did make a then-unheard of move to demand loyalty in his cabinet: He fired his Secretary of War. That decision — and his failure to heal national and political divides — led directly to a failed impeachment attempt, which Johnson narrowly survived.
Arthur had never held elected office when he became vice president in 1881, and president just months later following the assassination of James Garfield. The nation was tense: facing a new surge of immigration and the actual Wild West. Arthur was seen with doubt and fear by many Americans who looked at his long years in a political machine as precisely the problem in government. But in office, Arthur turned on his political crony friends, defied expectation and signed sweeping reforms into law. *Disclosure many may know: I am a devoted Arthur fan. – Lisa
Of course, the original modern media president had a natural ability and conscious strategy to sculpt headlines of his day. And like Mr. Trump, Reagan was a screen star. But the Gipper shared another trait with president-elect: he extensively delegated. The Reagan White House was known for the authority the president placed in top staffers, an approach that historians still debate.