Several Former Presidents Were Surprisingly Similar to President Trump

February 24th 2017

Mike Rothschild

Donald Trump is unique among American presidents in a number of critical ways. He's the first president who had no experience in either public service or the military. He's the wealthiest president ever, the least politically experienced, and also the oldest ever elected.

Donald Trump at CPAC 2011

But Trump does share some personality traits and history with other presidents, and as his administration begins to unfold, presidential scholars are starting to point these traits out. So while Trump might have little in common with most presidents, he's got a lot in common with a few.

Andrew Jackson


Trump has already embraced his similarities with America's seventh president. Both came into office as celebrity outsiders, pledging to fight against wealthy elites and for workers. They were loathed by the political establishment of their time, with no less than Thomas Jefferson saying of Jackson, "I feel very much alarmed at the prospect of seeing General Jackson president."

“It’s a conscious move for Trump to embrace Jackson," Rice University history professor Douglas Brinkley, told the Associated Press. "In American political lore, Jackson represents the forgotten rural America while Trump won by bringing out that rural vote and the blue collar vote.”

Both were known for their volatile tempers and faced contentious elections against entrenched Washington dynasties. Jackson believed a "corrupt bargain" kept him out of office in 1824 in favor of Founding Father John Adams' son, while Trump raged against a "rigged system" that he believed would surely propel Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the White House.

Andrew Jackson

However, Jackson was a decorated war veteran, and while his reputation has taken a deserved drubbing due to his genocidal policies toward Native Americans, he was also a skilled diplomat who successfully defused an early attempt at succession by South Carolina in the "Nullification Crisis." Jackson also continued crusading for the common man with his opposition to the Second Bank of the United States.

Chester A. Arthur

According to presidential biographer Alexis Coe, Trump has a great deal in common with the dandy, mutton-chopped "dude president" who took office in September 1881 after James Garfield's assassination.

Chester A. Arthur

As she writes in the New York Times, Arthur was a "deeply unpopular and untrustworthy New Yorker who, against all odds, achieved the presidency." It was feared that Arthur's administration would be corrupt and full of appointees with little acumen, much the same fears that Trump has dealt with.

Trump and Arthur have also each been linked with bans on immigration by a certain minority, as Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and Trump immediately attempted to ban immigration from seven majority Muslim countries.

According his White House biography, Arthur did attempt to reform the nation's civil service system (while still staffing the customs house at higher levels than necessary). While he's remembered as a mediocre caretaker, a former Secretary of War called him "wise in statesmanship and firm and effective in administration."

Herbert Hoover

Until Trump, Hoover was the only president who had never held any elected office or served in the military.

Like Trump, Hoover was extremely wealthy, having made millions as a mining engineer before World War One. Talking about his fortune, he once remarked, "if a man has not made a million dollars by the time he is forty, he is not worth much."

And like Trump, Hoover was famous for his business acumen, demonstrating adeptness at management, organization, and logistics that landed him the post of Secretary of Commerce.

Both entered office with large Republican majorities, with plans to reform the nation's regulatory system. Just as Trump has promised to slap high tariffs on imports from Mexico and China to assist domestic industry, Hoover was a proponent of such measures to get manufacturing going again and reduce income inequality.

Herbert Hoover

Like Trump, Hoover had the power to shift the stock market with a single quote. According to the Foundation for Economic Education, when Hoover announced his plans to sign the Smoot-Hawley Act, which raised taxes on thousands of import goods, the stock market swiftly tanked.

Unfortunately, Hoover's business ability didn't translate into the chief executive role. His advocacy for self-reliance over government assistance exacerbated the already burgeoning Great Depression, and he left office after one term with unemployment near 25%.

Ronald Reagan

If there's a modern equivalent to the celebrity president who enters office with equal parts scorn and terror, it's Ronald Reagan.

Reagan had been the governor of California, but like Trump, his national ambitions were written off as simplistic, foolish, and destructive to the Republican Party. Reagan pitched himself an outsider who intended to drastically cut taxes, increase military spending, and balance the budget — all promises Trump has made.

Both Reagan and Trump were inconsistent in party affiliations (Reagan having once campaigned for Democrat Harry Truman), were prone to embarrassing gaffes, and entered office at almost the same age — Reagan was 69, Trump is 70.


And like Trump's promise to surround himself with "the best people," Reagan once gave his leadership philosophy as "surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don't interfere."

Interestingly, in the 1980s, Trump made several attempts to get on President Reagan's calendar, and was rebuffed each time. At the same time, Trump blasted Reagan as a shallow smooth talker, and in 1987, spent nearly $100,000 on newspaper ads calling Reagan spineless and soft on the Soviet Union.