During the current presidency of the United States (2017-present), we have seen the previous president publicly criticize and make personal attacks on the current president. In my lifetime, this is unusual. The norm going back at least to Carter, was for previous presidents to sort of retire from public life and refrain from making political comments concerning their successor. For example, I can never remember Gerald Ford criticizing Jimmy Carter after he got elected. It is true that sometimes Bill Clinton made mild criticisms of administration policies. For example, in 2007 he criticized the war in Iraq, saying "The point is, that there is no military victory here...", but that did not really constitute a personal attack on Bush.

What is the history of presidents making personal attacks on their successor? Is that something that used to happen historically, and if so, what were the circumstances?

  • 7
    It might be noted that Obama is hardly the only former President to have criticized Trump. A bit of searching shows that all of the living ones have, to some extent.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 17:08
  • 6
    What is the history of a successor making vitriolic personal attacks on his predecessor, like the whole birther smear, accusing of treason, and unsubstantiated claims of spying? Does someone not have the right to fight back these days? Yes, it's sad it's come to this, but the blame lies with the one man who virtually everyone agrees (even his supporters) can be a jerk, for lack of a better term.
    – dandavis
    Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 18:54
  • Heck I'd be surprised if George Washington didn't have a few choice words about King George III from time to time.
    – ouflak
    Commented Aug 21, 2020 at 11:54
  • @ouflak I am specifically asking about historical instances of presidents making personal attacks on the successor, that includes the 18th and 19th centuries. Commented Aug 21, 2020 at 16:12
  • 1
    It's unclear what the OP considers a personal attack. The question needs to quote a representative excerpt of the personal attack in question.
    – agc
    Commented Aug 22, 2020 at 4:20

2 Answers 2


Public criticism from an ex-president is certainly rare, particularly in the last few decades, but there are many examples of it, even of personal attacks. Here are a few examples:

FactCheck.org quotes Pulitzer Prize winning presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin:

In fact, former presidents have been downright insulting at times. “President Theodore Roosevelt called his successor President William Howard Taft a fathead, a puzzle-wit with the brain of a guinea pig,” Goodwin said.

“President Herbert Hoover claimed the despotism of President Franklin Roosevelt was poisoning America. Hoover worked for the last 20 years of his life on a massive indictment of FDR’s handling of World War II. He was so obsessive about this that his heirs decided not to have it published and put it into storage,”

In more recent times, Jimmy Carter “criticized President Bill Clinton’s morals after the Monica Lewinsky scandal and criticized President Ronald Reagan for a perceived failure to accept his responsibilities as president,” Goodwin said.

Carter also called George W. Bush’s administration the “worst in history” in terms of “adverse impact on the nation around the world.”

Snopes has a number of other examples:

George H.W. Bush

“He has the nerve to blame Republicans for his own failures and the shortcomings of the Democratic Congress,” — Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“I have tried to stay out of all the Washington mess,” Bush said Saturday at the end of a keynote address to the Safari Club International’s 27th annual hunters’ convention. “But I must confess I have been deeply concerned by what appears to be a lack of respect for the office I was so very proud to hold.” — The Associated Press

Jimmy Carter

Former President Jimmy Carter, responding to criticism from President Reagan, said tonight that while his Administration made mistakes, “we did not spend four years blaming our mistakes on our predecessors” …

“My offer still stands,” Mr. Carter said at a Democratic National Committee fund-raising dinner. “When he is ready to accept those responsibilities, I’ll be there to help him.” — The New York Times

‘There is always the temptation for an incumbent politician to blame all his mistakes on his predecessor. Most are willing to withstand the temptation. Mr. Reagan, apparently, is not,’ Carter said. ...

But to try to forego blame and say all these problems are my predecessor’s fault is patently irresponsible and ill-advised,” — United Press International

Gerald Ford

“The Carter economic policies have been a catastrophe. They’ve been disasters. We handed them the economy on a silver platter,” Ford said, arguing that the rate of inflation was less than 5 percent when he left office and that unemployment was going down. “The president blew it.” — The Associated Press

Reuters adds another example:

Dwight D. Eisenhower

After Kennedy’s victory in the election, he reportedly stated with sarcasm, "We have a new genius in our midst who is incapable of making any mistakes and therefore deserving of no criticism whatsoever” Eisenhower the President quoted on the Eisenhower National Historic Site website

  • Did you happen to come across examples of a President attacking their predecessor personally when looking into this?
    – Bobson
    Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 15:47

This article lists all previous cases when a former President of the USA criticizes his successor. Of course as with all modern "fact checks", it is full of half-truth. In none of these cases the criticism was as public or as personal as in the case of Obama's criticism of Trump. But formally yes, Obama is not the first former President of the USA who criticized his successor.

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    I am not asking about criticizing the policies of the successor. I am asking about making personal attacks on their successor or insulting their successor. For example, describing their successor as "lazy," "incapable" or "dangerous". My question specifically asks about "personal attacks". Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 9:03
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    From the article I link to, it follows that there have been no such examples. That is because the article lists all examples when a former President criticized his successor and none of these was a personal insult.
    – markvs
    Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 9:08
  • 1
    @Tyler Durden: Do you suppose that mght have been because, however much they might have disagreed with their successors' policies, they DIDN'T regard them as "lazy," "incapable" or "dangerous"?
    – jamesqf
    Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 17:07
  • I don't understand why you would cite a source that you then claim is unreliable.
    – Jontia
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 17:13

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