“Speaking in terms of this survey, it would be surprising if Trump was meaningfully rehabilitated,” Mr. Levy said. “If the opening paragraph of any discussion starts about being impeached twice, and the second sentence is about the coronavirus, and the third is about partisanship — that’s going to be very hard to overcome.”
Sean Wilentz, a professor of American history at Princeton University, said that Mr. Trump was the worst president in history, hands down.
“He’s in a whole other category in terms of the damage he’s done to the Republic,” said Mr. Wilentz, citing the radicalization of the Republican Party, the inept response to the pandemic and what he called “the brazen, almost psychedelic mendacity of the man.”
The presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose most recent book, “Leadership: In Turbulent Times,” looks at how four presidents confronted tough moments in history, said that it normally takes a generation to evaluate a leader. But to the extent that a president’s legacy is determined by his ability to rise to a crisis, Mr. Trump will be remembered for his failures: how poorly he handled Covid-19 and how disgracefully he behaved after the election.
“History will look with grave disfavor on President Trump for the crisis he created,” she said.
For his part, Mr. Rauchway said he believed that Mr. Trump would “crash the bottom five” on the presidential rankings, but that the bottom spot itself was uncertain. “I think he has some stiff competition” in Andrew Johnson, whom Mr. Rauchway personally regards as the worst president of all.
“If I had to predict where historiography would go, I think people would have to recognize that Trumpism — nativism and white supremacy — has deep roots in American history,” Mr. Rauchway said. “But Trump himself put it to new and malignant purpose.”