With over half of all voters already disapproving of his presidency, Donald Trump is undoubtedly one of America’s most divisive leaders. Indeed – especially with Trump’s policies meeting criticism on a daily basis – it seems that a full term may not be on the cards. And certainly history suggests that his days in the White House could be numbered.
From his various conflicts of interest to his – many would say – unconstitutional Muslim travel ban, Donald Trump is making just as many enemies as friends. And, with a recent press gag only adding fuel to the fire, many are questioning if the former reality star is fit to be president at all.
In fact, councilors in Richmond, California, recently voted to impeach the incumbent leader, showing just how precarious Trump’s position really is. Naturally, this criticism begs one important question – will Trump even finish his first term?
By all means, Trump wouldn’t be the only president haunted by the specter of impeachment. In 1868, Andrew Johnson, who had taken the office following Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, became the first president to face trial before the Senate. The reason? He had fired Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, behind the Senate’s back. Though he was acquitted by one vote, Johnson’s political career was effectively over.
Over a century later, Richard Nixon was confronted with the possibility of legal action in 1974 for his involvement in the Watergate scandal. The 37th president resigned before he could be tried, however, making him the first U.S. head of state to voluntarily give up his post.
Besides Johnson and Nixon, U.S. history is full of leaders who did not serve a complete term. After only one month as the commander-in-chief, ninth president William Henry Harrison died from pneumonia in 1841. He had in fact first fallen sick shortly after his own inauguration, during which he had delivered a lengthy speech on a bitterly cold day. As a result, he became both the shortest serving president so far and the first to die in office.
Harrison’s successor John Tyler fared little better. Mockingly dubbed the “Accidental President,” Tyler abandoned his bid for re-election in 1844, following a stunted first term. His withdrawal allowed James Polk to sweep the vote and stroll into office.
Like Tyler before him, though, Trump may not seek a second term should he complete his first. Assuming the American public wants him back, that is. For example, Gerald Ford – who stepped in after Nixon’s 1974 resignation – was so unpopular that he lost his 1976 re-election to Democrat Jimmy Carter, meaning that he never served a full term.
And it isn’t just voters who can turn on an incumbent president, either. In 1852 the Whig Party declined to nominate their commander-in-chief of two years, Millard Fillmore, for re-election. Fillmore had alienated many across the political spectrum thanks to his support of 1850’s much-maligned Fugitive Slave Act.
Nothing is certain in politics, though, and not even the most popular president can escape death. Thanks to his efforts during the Depression and World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt is often considered America’s greatest head of state. Unfortunately, though, he died of a brain hemorrhage in 1945 during his fourth term. And given the two-term limit currently in place, that record is unlikely to be beaten anytime soon.
Long diagnosed with heart disease, 29th president Warren G. Harding governed for two years before succumbing to a 1923 cardiac arrest. While he was popular at the time of his death, a series of corruption scandals that would later emerge soon cast his presidency in a different light.
Perhaps one of the strangest cases of executive mortality in U.S. history, though, was that of the 12th president, Zachary Taylor, who died suddenly in 1851 after just one year in power. Although the cause of death has been repeatedly questioned – including the suggestion that he might have been assassinated by pro-slavery agents from the South – the generally accepted verdict is that he suffered acute gastroenteritis after eating cherries and milk.
Unlike the previously described presidents, Chester A. Arthur actually reached the end of his term before passing away. Just one year after replacing James Garfield as head of state, Arthur was diagnosed with Bright’s disease in 1882. He succumbed to the illness in 1886 – two years after leaving office.
But not every presidential death has been due to natural causes. A total of four presidents have been assassinated over the course of U.S. history, beginning with Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Following his victory in the American Civil War, Lincoln was fatally shot by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre.
A quarter of a century later, James Garfield became the second president to die by someone else’s hand. Unlike Lincoln, however, Garfield’s death wasn’t a political assassination. In fact, he was shot by lawyer Charles Julius Guiteau in 1881 as revenge for refusing to give him an ambassadorial role in France.
Two decades on, William McKinley was shot dead by assassin Leon Czolgosz in 1901, just one year after winning a second term, thanks in part to the Spanish-American war. An embittered anarchist, Czolgosz was seemingly inspired by the assassination of King Umberto of Italy in 1900.
The last and perhaps most well-remembered president to be assassinated, John F. Kennedy, was slain while visiting Dallas in 1963. While communist sympathizer Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the killing, he himself was murdered before he could be tried, prompting decades of conspiracy theories and speculation.
Trump himself, meanwhile, is no stranger to assassination attempts. During a 2016 campaign rally in Las Vegas, British national Michael Sandford stole a police officer’s gun with the intention of killing the then Presidential nominee. Certainly it shows how far Trump’s enemies will go to cut his ambitions short.
But while his detractors agree that assassination would be an unthinkable event, most are divided on how Trump’s first term will pan out. Some – like filmmaker Michael Moore – have argued that impeachment is inevitable. Meanwhile, others have speculated that the Republican Party wouldn’t start legal action for fear of losing voters.
For many, in fact, the question of Trump’s downfall isn’t a case of “if” but of “when.” And although the future isn’t decided, the past has taught us that holding onto power can be tough. Needless to say, the whole world is watching the incumbent president very closely, and one false move could spell the end of his career.