In an interview with ABC’s “World News” anchor Diane Sawyer, President Obama said, “I’d rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president.”
Of the forty-three previous Presidents, twenty-nine served only one term.
Five Presidents (John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester A. Arthur, and Gerald Ford) succeeded from the Vice-Presidency but did not win elected terms of their own, while four others (Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, HarryTruman, and Lyndon Johnson) succeeded through death, and then went on to serve a single elected term of their own.
Five died during their first terms (William Harrison, Zachary Taylor, James Garfield, Warren Harding, and John Kennedy) and three more failed to complete their second (Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley, and Richard Nixon).
That leaves only twelve Presidents that would be comparable to Obama’s situation: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, James Polk, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Rutherford Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, William Howard Taft, Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush.
In 2009, a group of presidential historians and “professional observers of the presidency” ranked presidents in a number of categories for the C-SPAN Survey of Presidential Leadership. On our list of remaining twelve, the top three rankings were James K. Polk (#12), John Adams (#17), and George HW Bush (#18).
I suspect that, at best, Obama could be on par with George H.W. Bush—the contemporary holder of the title “Best Good One-Term President.” That is probably not what he had in mind, though it is better than being compared to Herbert Hoover or Jimmy Carter. (Judging solely on his first year, I would rank him near Benjamin Harrison (#30)).
Where do you think Obama will rank if he ends up being a single-termer?