Did Woodrow Wilson destroy the presidency?

The president would break this gridlock by serving as his party’s leader, thereby bridging the separation of powers between the executive and the legislature, and would preside over an executive branch composed of experts who would regulate the economy in the interest of the common man. In addition to presiding over this regulatory state, the president would serve as an educator and visionary who would lead the nation through his oratorical skills.

The president would no longer be indebted to a political party for his selection, for presidential nominees would be chosen through primaries and the nominee would then impose his will on his party, not the other way around. Wilson’s chief executive was free to be as big a man as he wanted to be, with his power no longer anchored in the Constitution or in his party, but rooted in his personal charisma; presidential effectiveness would hinge on his personal attributes, not on any formal grant of power.

More than a century later, we continue to live under Woodrow Wilson’s regime, as scholars judge Wilson’s successors by the standards he set. Wilson upended the Founding or Constitutional understanding of the role of the president and overturned the expectations of what a president could be expected to achieve. Unfortunately, the Wilsonian conception of the presidency, adopted wholeheartedly by Democrats and eventually by Republicans, produced a massive expectations gap—a long train of heightened expectations followed by dashed hopes. The impact of Wilson’s personal presidency, or personalized presidency, can be seen in the following examples from the era of “presidential government”: