WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is preparing for a second four-year term after his re-election victory. But second terms have not always been kind to recent U.S. presidents.
In the wake of a rousing victory on election night, Obama vowed to learn from supporters and critics alike in his second term.
“And whether I earned your vote or not I have listened to you, I have learned from you and you have made me a better president," said Obama. "I return to the White House more determined and more inspired than ever about the work there is to do and the future that lies ahead.”
Republicans are already adapting to the reality of a second Obama term, including House Speaker John Boehner.
“Mr. President, this is your moment. We are ready to be led not as Democrats or Republicans but as Americans," said Boehner.
But if history is any guide, Obama may find his second term more challenging than his first, says former Reagan White House chief of staff Ken Duberstein.
“You know the history of second term presidents at least through World War II has been that inevitably they go off track in their fifth or sixth year," said Duberstein. "Every second term president somehow finds a scandal, finds a difficulty, a mistake, and it gets elevated.”
Richard Nixon won a landslide re-election victory in 1972 but was forced to resign because of the Watergate scandal less than two years later.
Ronald Reagan’s reputation suffered because of the Iran-Contra scandal and Bill Clinton was impeached over the Monica Lewinsky affair.
George W. Bush was harshly criticized for his handling of Hurricane Katrina and unanticipated problems in Iraq.
President Obama says he’s well aware of what some historians call the ‘second term curse.’
“I don’t presume that because I won an election that everybody suddenly agrees with me on everything," said Obama. "I’m more than familiar with all the literature about presidential overreach in second terms. We are very cautious about that.”
The president is wise to note the second term pitfalls of his predecessors, says University of California historian Matthew Dallek.
“So he’s very conscientious of it and he’s signaling that he wants to be pragmatic and he doesn’t want the ‘world’ [everything], he’s not asking for ‘pie in the sky’ things and that he’s going to work in areas where he thinks that he can work in," said Dallek.
It’s also important for the president to build political relationships, says former Reagan aide Duberstein.
“President Reagan during the Iran-Contra incident, people wanted to believe him," said Duberstein. "He had a reservoir of goodwill. President Obama to date doesn’t have those strong relationships. That is something that I think he fundamentally has to address in these initial months of a second term.”
And so even as President Obama looks ahead to an ambitious second-term agenda, analysts expect he will be mindful of some of the mistakes of his predecessors.