Why some Republicans believe the 22nd Amendment makes a case for Donald Trump not running in 2024

Why some Republicans believe the 22nd Amendment makes a case for Donald Trump not running in 2024
Image via Gage Skidmore.

The last U.S. president to serve more than two terms was Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was elected to a fourth consecutive term in 1944 but died in office the following year. But thanks to the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — which was passed by Congress in 1947, submitted to state legislatures for ratification and ratified in 1951 — all of the presidents who followed FDR could only be elected to two terms.

Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Dwight D. Eisenhower and George W. Bush served two consecutive terms, while Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush were voted out of office and went down in history as one-term presidents. In 2020, Donald Trump was voted out of office as well. But if Trump were to run for president in 2024 and win, he would become a rare example of a two-term U.S. president serving non-consecutive terms.

The 22nd Amendment limits a president to two elected terms, but they don’t have to be consecutive terms — which means that if Trump won a second term in 2024, he would not be able to run in 2028. And some GOP strategists believe that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley or another Republican would be a better choice for 2024 because that person would be able to serve two consecutive terms.

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The history behind the 22nd Amendment and the United States’ presidential term limits is the focus of an article written by reporter Domenico Montanaro and published by National Public Radio’s website on September 6.

“As president, now-former President Donald Trump once teased that ‘president for life’ sounds pretty ‘great,’” Montanaro recalls. “Maybe we'll have to give that a shot someday,’ Trump told donors in 2018 about China's President Xi Jinping…. Whether Trump was serious or not, who knows? But if he does run in 2024, as he's been heavily suggesting he will, and wins reelection, he can only serve four more years in the White House. That's because of the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution.”

The 22nd Amendment, Montanaro notes, reads, “No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of President more than once.”

Lyndon B. Johnson was serving as vice president under President John F. Kennedy when JFK was assassinated on November 22, 1963 and was sworn in as president that day; after enjoying a landslide victory in 1964, LBJ was eligible to seek reelection in 1968 but decided against it. And LBJ could have run for president in 1972 if he had wanted to.

READ MORE: Donald Trump winning in 2024 would be a 'death knell for our democracy': Max Boot

“The (22nd) Amendment says nothing about non-consecutive terms, simply that no one can be elected ‘more than twice,’” Montanaro explains. “It allows for holding office a maximum of ten years, but only if someone assumed office without being elected and served as president for less than two years. Lyndon Johnson served less than two years — 14 months — after John F. Kennedy was assassinated before taking office after winning election himself in 1964…. The fact that Trump can only serve four more years is something that could become a political argument — publicly and privately — from Republicans building a case against backing the former president.”

Montanaro continues, “Why go with Trump, their argument might go, when he can only serve four more years and you could vote for someone else who could give you eight? What's more, electing Trump in 2024 would mean an ‘open" presidential election campaign four years later, putting conservatives at a disadvantage without an incumbent president able to run for reelection.”

Montanaro goes on to describe the history of the 22nd Amendment.

“The Framers of the Constitution hotly debated how — or whether — to set term limits on a president,” Montanaro explains. “Most Framers actually didn't want them, in part, because they wanted the country to have flexibility during an emergency. There were some 200 attempts, in one way or another, in the years following the Constitutional Convention, to pass legislation setting a limit on a president to no avail — until the mid-20th Century, following the 1945 death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who eschewed the tradition and was elected four times. The 22nd Amendment was finally ratified in 1951, making permanent something that had become a convention when George Washington decided not to serve more than two terms. But since the 1980s, there have been multiple efforts to repeal it, and presidents have wondered out loud what it would be like if they could run for a third term, confident they would win again.”

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