Finley: The case against second terms

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Trump loyalists, and there are a bunch of them if my email is any gauge, are incensed that I suggested in a recent column that their man should forgo a second term and concentrate instead on what he can get done in the time left on his first stint.

They dubbed me a hair on fire liberal who is pining for Hillary Clinton, and doesn't get that Donald Trump is "the most productive president in history," in the words of one reader.

President Donald Trump speaks during a rally at Airport High School in West Columbia, S.C., June 25, 2018, for Republican Gov. Henry McMaster.

First, I don't have any hair to burn; second, I don't believe the nation would be better off had Clinton prevailed; and third, my argument for a one-term Trump had nothing to do with his performance (though I think his self-destructive impulses on trade and immigration could soon ruin a fine economy).

I'd give the same advice to any president, or governor for that matter: Get what you can done in your first term and get out.

The second term curse is real and would perhaps be more real for Trump than any of his predecessors.

Successful second terms are almost non-existent. Look at recent history.

Richard Nixon was forced to resign after his re-election. Ronald Reagan ended up with the Iran-Contra scandal in his lap in his second term. George W. Bush become so crippled by the Iraq War that Congress ignored him for his final two years, all remnants of his 9/11 glory disintegrated. Barack Obama's ineptitude gave rise to ISIS.

In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder knocked off 90 percent of his dashboard priorities in his first term. Then in his second term: Flint. Jennifer Granholm checked out of Michigan two years before her last term was up. 

Second terms are fraught for a number of reasons. Inevitably, the trusted team that brought the executive to office and helped guide the agenda begins to break up, and replacements are less comfortable offering contrarian advice. By the final two years, the boss is surrounded by kids and strangers.

The legislative branch tends to be less malleable; if lawmakers haven't given the executive what he or she wants in the first term, they aren't likely to in the second. Scandals and missteps most often pop up during the second four years. 

Voters grow weary after eight years of the same leader, and reward his or her service by choosing someone from the other party to lead them next. That makes for a short-lived legacy.

Since Harry S. Truman, presidential approval ratings for second terms have on average been lower than their first term scores.

Eight years is too long to remain effective in such a taxing job. A Temple University study found the "optimal life span" for a private sector CEO is 4.8 years. After that, the mojo is gone. 

We'd be better off allowing presidents and governors a single, six-year term.

Not having to worry about a re-election bid would keep their focus on doing what's right for the country, rather than what best serves their political ambitions.

Trump may defy the odds and end up with a whiz-bang second term. But if this fall's mid-term elections go badly for Republicans, the president should consider what he realistically could accomplish shackled with a resistant Congress, still facing a hostile media and unable to top the 50 percent mark of public support.

Catch The Nolan Finley Show weekdays 7-9 a.m. on 910 AM Superstation.