So for the purposes of this question there is sort of a loose hierarchy of US political positions in terms of responsibility and power. Like this:

State legislator < House representative < Senator/Governor < Cabinet member < President

How often has a politician, after completing a term/losing an election, gone back to a lower level role?

The only one I'm familiar with is President Taft, who became the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court nine years after losing the presidency.

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    Some of those positions don't really seem junior to the others. As an example I don't know I would consider the chief justice of the supreme court junior to the president.
    – Joe W
    Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 3:14
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    By more important/powerful I would say you have them wrong as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court does have a lot of power even compared to the president and the same can be said for some of the other positions compared to the ones you say are more important to them.
    – Joe W
    Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 13:00
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    During the time of Taft the presidency really wasn't what it is today. Going to chief justice was most certainly not a step down, it was a lateral move or perhaps even a step up.
    – eps
    Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 14:46
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    It still is, in theory. It's Chief Justice of The United States these days, and -- as the head of one of the three branches of government -- is effectively a sibling position to that of President (who heads the executive) Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 16:58
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    @jpaugh the supreme court as a whole can, but not the chief justice alone
    – llama
    Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 0:06

2 Answers 2


From @user3344003's answer to the question, Can/do representatives move between the senate and the house in US congress?

It is uncommon, but not unknown for Senators to become Representatives. Claude Pepper was a Senator from Florida who was defeated and returned to Congress as a Representative. John Quincy Adams served as Senator, then President, then Representative. Henry Clay was a Senator, the speaker of the House, then Senator again. (This is not a complete list. There are some others I know of as well.)

From @Micah in a deleted answer,

Andrew Johnson was President from 1865 to 1869, and then served briefly as a Senator in 1875 before his death.

The following list includes those who, at one point, were US Senators; but ended their political careers as Representatives.

John Adair KY
Thomas Benton MO
Henry Blair NH
Charles Buckalew PA
Berkeley Bunker NV
John Condit NJ
John Crittenden KY
Franklin Davenport NJ
William Eaton CT
Magnus Johnson MN
William Kellogg LA
Alton Lennon NC
Lucius Lyon MI
Jonathan Mason MA
John McRae MS
Hugh Mitchell WA
Samuel Mitchill NY
Cameron Morrison NC
Jeremiah Morrow OH
James Nesmith OR
Thomas Norwood GA
Claude Pepper FL
Timothy Pickering MA
Charles Pinckney SC
Luke Poland VT
John Pope KY
Luke Pryor AL
Robert Rantoul Jr. MA
Philip Reed MD
John Robsion KY
James Schureman NJ
Theodore Sedgwick MA
Richard Stockton NJ
Charles Towne NY
James Wadsworth Jr. NY
Albert White IN
Washington Whitthorne TN
Morton Wilkinson MN
Garrett Withers KY
Robert Wright MD

  • Should have read this more carefully, I just wasted a lot of time writing a post about John Quincy Adams...
    – MJ713
    Commented Nov 13, 2020 at 1:49

Walter Mondale Vice-President 1977-1981. Ambassador to Japan 1993-1995. Note he also ran for Senate in 2002 (as a last minute replacement- edited to clarify, thank you @Fred Larson) but lost.

Rahm Emmanuel White House Chief of Staff 2009-2011, Mayor of Chicago (our third most populous city) 2011-2019

Honestly I don’t know if either of these count as going to a lower position, but there you go. If Mondale had won the Senate seat, it would seem to be more clear cut.

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    Certainly the VP outranks ambassadors. Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 17:35
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    Not sure how a staff position like CoS compares to an elected position like Mayor, although it's probably the case that WH CoS has much more power.
    – Barmar
    Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 17:53
  • Mondale's Senate run was in 2002. He was a last minute replacement for Senator Paul Wellstone, who was killed in a plane crash only 11 days before the election. Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 21:04
  • @Barmar One is the president’s right hand man, one is mayor of city more populous than some states. I honestly don’t know, but the OP asked so I gave the example.
    – Damila
    Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 21:30
  • The US order of precedence gives the WH COS as #19.15 (as a cabinet member), and mayors as #77 (in city), or #111 (anywhere else), or #112 if she's the mayor of DC. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_order_of_precedence Commented Nov 13, 2020 at 2:31

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