There’s a growing body of evidence that President Donald Trump, in the second year of his first term, spends a lot of time thinking about how long (or not) presidents are in office.
He recently joked about maybe giving the old lifetime term thing a try, drawing a comparison with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago. CNN’s Kevin Liptak obtained the audio.
“He’s now president for life. President for life. No, he’s great,” Trump said. “And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot someday.”
It’s a joke because it would violate the Constitution, but here it’s exhibit #1.
Exhibit #2 came Thursday during a Cabinet meeting at the White House.
“You’ll maybe come back, right?” Trump said (jokingly?) to his departing economic adviser, Gary Cohn. “We’ll be here another seven years, hopefully. And that’s a long time, but I have a feeling you’ll be back.”
Seven more years would indeed be a long time.
The closest thing to a President for life that Americans had, arguably, was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who ushered the country through the Great Depression and World War II.
And Trump, we should note in exhibit #3 and exhibit #4, has spent some time thinking about FDR, the only President to be elected more than twice.
Here is Trump in Davos this year during an interview with CNBC, comparing himself with other presidents on the issue of regulations:
“You can take their term – whether it’s eight years or 16 years in one instance – but you can take anybody you want, in one year, we’ve cut more regulations. And by the way, there’s going to be regulation, but they’re good, solid, sane regulations.”
(We’ll let his argument on regulations go without a fact check for the purposes of this article.)
There was a similar riff on regulation when he was speaking to Republicans during a retreat in West Virginia earlier this year.
“We’ve eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration has ever eliminated. And that means four years, eight years, or, in one instance, 16 years,” he said.
The funny thing about this talking point – and somebody on his staff should really let Trump know – is that FDR didn’t actually serve for 16 years.
Not even close.
FDR was first inaugurated at 51 years, 33 days old, on March 4, 1933.
He was elected four times, which should equal 16 years in office. But he died on April 12, 1945, at the age of 63. It wasn’t too far removed from his fourth inaugural address. He served as President for 12 years and 39 days.
Trump, you’re the oldest man to ever to take office, at 70. Ronald Reagan was 69 years old, and he served a full two terms.
Within two years of FDR’s death, Congress had passed the 22nd Amendment to the US Constitution, largely responding to Roosevelt’s death, which made it impossible for any person to be elected to the office more than twice. And, in a nod to Roosevelt’s cousin Teddy, the amendment makes it impossible for anyone who serves two years of a presidential term they weren’t elected to to be elected more than once.
The amendment was ratified in 1951. It was a big switch from the framers, some of whom suggested a lifetime presidency. But it’s where we are today. And eight years is a long time.