I found this interesting:
. . . generally speaking, we can sort our presidents into four broad categories:
Agents of change
We can’t categorize George Washington, because he defined the job. Our first president was mostly a steward, seeking to define the presidency in terms of its restraint and remove from the hurly-burly of politics – most of all when he, the American Cincinnatus, relinquished power after two terms. But Washington most certainly was willing to set controversial precedents. You would have only needed to ask the whiskey rebels dangling from the end of a hangman’s rope.
Also, some presidents switched categories over the course of their term or terms. Woodrow Wilson, notably, was by turns a captive, a change agent and a figurehead. Richard Nixon also knew about changing lanes in an evolving presidency. And to be fair, each presidency includes some elements from each category.
But we’re talking about the overall verdict of history, even at the risk of imprecision by dealing in generalities.
Mind you that these are not rankings, and all presidential rankings end up being ideologically slanted. You may love an activist president like Woodrow Wilson and think him a progressive dreamboat. Or, “Silent Cal” Coolidge may be your kind of limited government guy. That’s up to you.
We’re only talking here about what kind of president Trump will be – not whether he will be a good one or a bad one. All the categories, save one, have produced successful administrations.
AGENTS OF CHANGE–> Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, James Polk, Abraham Lincoln, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan
Most presidents aspire to this category, especially since they tend to be the ones with the largest legacies. Trump certainly aspires to join these ranks, having very explicitly chosen political revolutionary Jackson as his role model.
The undisputed greatest of this category, Lincoln, is something of an anomaly since he sought to be a steward of the founders’ vision but threw himself into a remaking of the office – and the Republic – when the Civil War began.
Trump certainly seems to have the energy and love of battle to join these ranks. He also has consistent ideological crusades – clamping down on immigration and trade – that could propel him into the history books as one who remakes the office in a lasting way.
CAPTIVES–> John Adams, John Quincy Adams, John Tyler, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush and Barack Obama
Many of the captives are frustrated agents of change who, like Hoover or Obama, came to office looking to do big things and enact sweeping reforms but found themselves unequal to the moment.
A president can be held captive by events – an unforeseen war, a financial panic, etc. – by the political atmosphere – recalcitrant Congress, upheaval in the electorate, etc. – or simply by their own incompetent administration.
It’s not always a bad thing when presidents fail to achieve their lofty aims, either.
If Trump tries to reinvent Washington and fails, it could turn out in several different ways. But captivity is certainly one of them. Essentially, Congress, the courts and, to some degree, his own administration, would simply tie him down and smother his ambitions.
STEWARDS–> James Madison, Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore, Rutherford Hayes, James Garfield, Chester Arthur, Benjamin Harrison, William Taft, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton
Historians tend to be more dismissive of this category since they tend to see themselves more as custodians of the office and the public trust rather than forces of upheaval. But in many cases, it’s hard to argue with the results.
Such presidencies are usually only possible during periods of relative peace and prosperity, like the one we are in now.
But we needn’t spend too much time on this category since Trump has set astonishingly lofty goals for himself. As would befit a master self-promoter, Trump is swinging for the fences. It seems unlikely that he would suddenly change to Coolidgian restraint.
FIGUREHEADS–> Zachary Taylor, Ulysses Grant, William McKinley and Warren Harding
You don’t necessarily have to be good at being president to have a good presidency and several of Trump’s forebears point the way.
These men are cousins to both the captives and the stewards in the sense that they are not agents of change. What makes them different is they aren’t really trying – or able – to bring change. Ohioans Grant, McKinley and Harding all ended up being, by varying degrees, front-men for their more ambitious or savvy associates.
One hallmark of these administrations tends to be considerable corruption since the boss may not be watching too closely. A president who wants to act like the ceremonial leader of the administrative state should choose his associates wisely.
As Grant and Harding could both attest, the stench of scandal will follow a president even in times of peace and prosperity.