In recent times, the custom of US Presidents has been to retire after 8 years in office and not criticize or interfere with their successor. This has been the case with both Bushes and Clinton. Obama has broken with this tradition by taking up residence in Washington, DC and organizing an attack on his successor, although he not spoken out personally against the new President.

Is this a new phenomenon, or is the tradition of not opposing the presidential successor recent? Have there been other Presidents who have organized opposition to their successor?

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    I don't think staying in DC is part of the non-interference. You can non-interfere and live in DC. Commented Feb 12, 2017 at 5:18
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    Yeah, well he does not appear to be staying in Washington for the scenery. Commented Feb 12, 2017 at 5:33
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    his claimed reason is that he is staying in DC while his daughter finishes high school. Whether you believe him or not is up to you, but given the tech of the day I don't think he would need to be physically in DC to be active. Commented Feb 12, 2017 at 5:34
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    This presidential custom makes for an interesting general question, but the Paul Sperry OpEd link, (much like the latest National Enquirer headline: "Obama's Secret Plot to Impeach Trump!"), does not appear to be well founded, and therefore distracts from the question.
    – agc
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 5:28
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    Tyler, I really admire a lot of your posts, but are you seriously using a NYP opinion piece as evidence that Obama is organizing an attack on Trump?
    – rougon
    Commented Nov 5, 2017 at 2:36

1 Answer 1


It really depends on the former President.

Though many former Presidents don't usually interfere with their successors publicly, it depends on the former President and many have briefly commented on their successors' actions once in a while.

So, though it's a custom, what defines "interfering" is quite broad and though most Presidents may not explicitly comment their successors' policies but they may indirectly mention them.

Also, you mentioned that Obama has taken up residence in D.C., but that doesn't really mean that he is interfering with Trump. Even if he didn't live in D.C., he can basically comment by posting on social media, etc.

While most former presidents depart Washington when they take their final flight aboard Air Force One, the Obamas are opting to stay in the District as daughter Sasha, 15, finishes up at Sidwell Friends School.

Source: http://edition.cnn.com/2017/02/03/politics/where-to-spot-the-obamas-in-dc/

CNN published an article in 2013 that lists some examples of Presidents criticising their successors.

Bush, however, in his limited public appearances has stayed mute about his successor, maintaining a custom among former presidents that dates back decades. While not all presidents have adhered to the practice, it has created a mostly amicable brotherhood of former presidents.

[ ... ]

Democratic President Jimmy Carter, who served one term in office, has a history of biting criticism of those who followed him in the White House. In 2007, Carter delivered a blistering critique of the Bush administration, telling the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette "as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history."

Carter hasn't directed his criticism only at Republicans, though. In a February 2013 speech, he faulted the Obama administration for its dealings with North Korea and Iran.

(emphasis mine)

And also an article by The Washington Times:

While some former presidents eventually came to criticize their successors — Theodore Roosevelt broke with William Howard Taft, whom he worked to get elected in 1908 and then ran against four years later — they have generally sought to stay quiet.

Even Roosevelt told Taft after returning from a vacation overseas that while some progressives were disappointed with the new administration’s direction, “I will make no speeches or say anything for two months. But I will keep my mind open . . . as I keep my mouth shut.”

“I don’t think it’s very common at all for an ex-president to be commenting on the performance of his successor,” presidential historian Robert Dallek said. “This current incumbent is so out of sync with what the normal behavior of a president is that it calls for ex-presidents to respond.”

(emphasis mine)

  • Roosevelt does not count because he had not served eight years so he could run again. I am asking specifically about presidents who are "retired" in the sense that they are ineligible for office. Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 5:20
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    @TylerDurden Yes, he had. Roosevelt was president from 1901-1909. But he could still run again at the time. There was no limit on how long someone could be president before a constitutional amendment was passed to limit it to two terms in response to FDR's successful fourth term bid (having already won three times, of course). Before then the two term thing was just a tradition (and Teddy thought it was necessary for the balance of powers). Commented Nov 5, 2017 at 2:39
  • Note that the quote about G.W. Bush not criticizing his successor applies to Obama. Both Bushes have been critical of Trump, e.g. the elder describing him as a "blowhard" google.com/url?url=http://www.cnn.com/2017/11/04/politics/… and G.W. quoted as saying "This guy doesn't know what it means to be president" cbsnews.com/news/…
    – jamesqf
    Commented Nov 5, 2017 at 19:33

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