So while the coronavirus pandemic was (and is) an extraordinary event, the economic crisis it produced actually falls somewhat in line with the situations faced by other one-term presidents. It’s true that many voters still had a positive opinion of Trump’s handling of the economy even amid this year’s massive layoffs, but public opinion data also suggested that voters were particularly worried about the pandemic. Furthemore, they generally thought Trump had done a poor job of handling it, making it difficult to untangle the public health crisis from the economic downturn it caused.
There’s also the question of how a president leads in a moment of crisis, which has been the downfall of many a one-term president. For example, to cite Hoover again, popular memory is especially unforgiving of his handling of the Great Depression. At the time, his name was attached to camps built by unemployed Americans as shelter when they lost their homes, and a “Hoover flag” referred to an empty pocket turned inside out. Of course, Hoover is an extreme example, but other one-term presidents have experienced a similar fate, earning reputations for being hapless and bumbling in the face of serious challenges. This has certainly been the case with Trump, who is thought to have mismanaged the pandemic and, by downplaying the severity of the disease, worsened the partisan divides on how to best combat it.
What’s hard, though, in analyzing one-term presidents is knowing just how much any of this is actually within their control.