Is Trump 'un-presidential'? Not compared to some past presidents. (+video)(Read article summary)
Could the bellicose real-estate magnate and businessman ascend to the highest office in the land? A handful of past presidents have spoken or acted beyond the pale.
Donald Trump has been called “un-presidential” by some pundits, even compared to former US presidents whom, at various moments in history, have used unseemly language or have engaged in inappropriate behavior.
Yet Mr. Trump has maintained a stranglehold on the polls over his Republican presidential rivals this summer despite his tendency to blurt out controversial comments about women, Mexicans, and just about anything else that crosses his political path.
After Thursday's Republican debate, Trump made a comment some viewed as misogynistic when he referred to FOX News debate moderator Megyn Kelly by saying, "You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her – wherever."
During the Republican debate, Ms. Kelly asked Trump about terms he has used to describe women including "fat pigs," "dogs," "slobs," and "disgusting animals."
"Only Rosie O'Donnell," Trump interrupted.
After the debate, commentator Glenn Beck said, “In the adult table, the big loser was Donald Trump. And while he continued to say things in a way that Americans will connect with, I think he showed himself as a bully. As very un-presidential.”
Some on Twitter agreed with Beck.
However, historically, being rude, off-color, and even vastly unpopular have failed to be roadblocks to the presidency.
Some historical examples of US presidents behaving in an un-presidential or undignified manner while in office include, but are not limited to, war hero Andrew Jackson teaching his parrot to swear and James Monroe chasing his secretary of state out of the Oval office with fireplace tongs.
The race between President John Quincy Adams and Mr. Jackson in 1828 was one of the ugliest ever, with partisan newspaper headlines making accusations against the candidates, ranging from murder and adultery to pimping.
In more recent history, former President Lyndon B. Johnson, stands out, according to a contemporary who explained "the Johnson treatment."
"It was an incredible blend of badgering, cajolery, reminders of past favors, promises of future favors, predictions of gloom if something doesn't happen. When that man started to work on you, all of a sudden, you just felt that you were standing under a waterfall and the stuff was pouring on you."
But others in government had differing views on the 36th president.
"He hasn't got the depth of mind nor the breadth of vision to carry great responsibility ... Johnson is superficial and opportunistic," said former President Dwight Eisenhower.
Former US Attorney General and Senator Robert F. Kennedy once said of Johnson, "He tells so many lies that he convinces himself after a while he's telling the truth. He just doesn't recognize truth or falsehood."
Johnson is also attributed with stunningly off-color quotes and, on those grounds, some may consider Trump to be a bit more presidential in a very traditional sense than his opponents.
While Trump’s bold and bellicose style is not new to the presidency, William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., says that for example, President John Adams was incredibly unpopular in his day, he had the political substance to overcome his rudeness.
“There’s a difference between unpopularity and arrogant ignorance,” Mr. Glaston says in an interview. “John Adams was a statesman and a scholar, and whatever Donald Trump is, he’s neither.”
But many Americans fed up with current Washington politics are responding to both Trump's message and his delivery. He routinely polls at or near the top of the GOP field. And as Trump said himself at Thursday's debate, “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. I’ve been challenged by so many people, and I don’t really have time for total political correctness, and to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time, either."
Jackson and William Henry Harrison were both war heroes, while Thomas Jefferson, Adams, and James Monroe were all scholars and proven statesmen with a wealth of education and political acumen, according to Glaston.
“Donald Trump is not electable,” says Galston. “Donald Trump represents the intersection of anger and celebrity."
Galston explains that “There are a lot of people who are angry and feel repressed by changes on government and society and Trump is saying what a lot of angry older people, mainly of the white and male persuasion, are quietly thinking, but don’t dare say. So he’s saying it out loud and getting away with it – sort of - and it makes them feel good.”
“Andrew Jackson wasn’t a warm and fuzzy guy. He overthrew the establishment and was arguably our first populist president, but he had a lot more in the bank [politically, than Trump],” Galston says. “But Donald Trump is so far over the line, I don’t even know where to begin.”
Galston concludes that in the final analysis, voters may not choose a president by his or her education, military service record, or the ability to deplane gracefully.
“The American people, above all, want a president who cares about them,” Galston concludes. “And if there’s anything manifest about Donald Trump it’s that he only cares about himself.”