- Donald Trump continues to be the face of the Republican Party and its most influential figure.
- The historians rate Trump as the worst president on "moral authority" and "administrative skills."
- Abraham Lincoln has been ranked at the top of the list in each of the four surveys.
- The lowest ranking president is James Buchanan, who helped precipitate the Civil War.
Donald Trump is ranked near the bottom of all U.S. presidents by a group of historians, getting the lowest grades for leadership of any commander in chief who has served in the White House in the past 150 years.
The ratings of presidents on 10 leadership qualities, the fourth in a series conducted by C-SPAN, includes assessments by 142 historians and professional observers of the presidency.
The findings underscore the duality of Trump's standing, unprecedented among his fellow presidents. After his upset victory in 2016 and his defeat in 2020, historians hold him in the lowest regard of any president since soon after the Civil War. But he continues to be the face of the Republican Party and its most influential figure, and he is viewed as a potential contender for the GOP's presidential nomination in 2024.
Among other modern presidents, Barack Obama has risen to No. 10, compared with No. 12 in the last C-SPAN historians' survey, in 2017. Ronald Reagan is ranked at No. 9; Bill Clinton at No. 19; George H.W. Bush at No. 21, and George W. Bush at No. 29.
Richard Nixon, the only president forced to resign the office amid scandal, is rated No. 31.
Ranking Donald Trump
Trump is the only president ever to be impeached twice by the House of Representatives, first for demanding political favors from Ukraine in exchange for military aid, then for inciting the mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 in an attempt to stop the Electoral College results from being certified by Congress.
The Senate voted to acquit him in both impeachment trials.
In the past, Trump has described himself as "a big history fan," but he also has routinely ridiculed and discounted criticism from historians and other "elites" as unwarranted and unfair. Experts "can't see the forest for the trees," he complained in a 2016 interview.
The historians rate Trump as the worst president in history on two of 10 qualities, "moral authority" and "administrative skills." His strongest standing is on "public persuasion," on which he was ranked No. 32.
Since 2000, C-SPAN has taken the survey each time there has been a change in White House administrations. The public affairs network, known for its gavel-to-gavel coverage of the House and Senate, said that in this year's survey, it significantly increased the number of historians participating and their diversity in race, gender, age and philosophy.
Lincoln steady at the top, Buchanan ranked lowest
Abraham Lincoln has been ranked at the top of the list in each of the four surveys. George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt have also been steadily among the top five. Dwight Eisenhower was ranked fifth this year and in 2017.
The lowest ranking president is James Buchanan, Lincoln's predecessor, whose divisive tenure helped precipitate the Civil War.
Presidential historian Richard Norton Smith, an adviser to the survey, called the stability at the top and bottom of the list notable.
"By contrast, the living presidents seem much more likely to fluctuate," he said. "It's almost as if there was a boomerang effect where historians go overboard a bit when presidents leave office and they are at the nadir of their partisan reputation, and then they graduate to a less political status."
The category that has seen the greatest change in assessments over the past two decades is the one focused on the pursuit of equal justice, a subject of increasing scrutiny by historians and others. On that measure, the standings of Ulysses S. Grant and Calvin Coolidge have most improved, while those of Woodrow Wilson, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and Nixon have most declined.
"Despite the fact that we've become more aware of the historical implications of racial injustice in this country and we're continuing to grapple with those issues, we still have slaveholding presidents at or near the top of the list," said Edna Greene Medford, a Howard University historian and adviser to the survey. "So even though we may be a bit more enlightened about race today, we are still discounting its significance when evaluating these presidents."