President Trump quietly crossed a milestone Monday: No matter what happens, his presidency will not be the shortest one in American history.
As of Feb. 20, Trump has served 32 days as President of the United States.
Yes, those 32 days saw the resignation of his national security adviser, the withdrawal of his labor secretary nominee, several defeats in federal court and numerous staff leaks. And yet, Trump has at least held on.
That means the improbable President has crossed the low bar set by William Henry Harrison, who died in 1841, 31 days after taking office. In another six months, Trump will also have outlasted James Garfield, who died after 200 days in office and became the country’s second-shortest-serving President.
On this hallmark occasion, perhaps Trump can take a moment of his 32nd day and appreciate Harrison for one unlikely legacy: Initiating the kind of campaigning that Trump rode into office.
Strange as it seems, Harrison showed some shades of Trump in his time, as the first presidential candidate to kick off what we now consider modern campaigning.
“It was the first really popular campaign,” Gail Collins, author of the “American Presidents” series biography of Harrison, said about his run in the 1840 race.
“There was so much drinking and so much fun and it had nothing to do with the person running for President,” she said.
Another historian, Richard S. Elliot, wrote that Harrison’s White House bid was “a landmark in the carnivalization of American politics.”
Trump, at 70, is the oldest man ever elected President. But Harrison, at 68, wasn’t far behind, and he was the oldest President of the 19th century. Democrats mocked the Whig candidate as a potentially senile “Granny” who would “sit the remainder of his days in his log cabin.”
To prove he was ready for the job, Harrison became the first presidential candidate to make a national spectacle of his campaign — running on image and insults more than sound policy proposals.
“He campaigned actively, he ran out, he gave very, very long speeches, just to prove that he was chipper and young enough for the job,” Collins said
“There’s something like that with that Trump rallies. Trump always brags about his rallies — but William Henry had to ride a horse to his.”
On the campaign trail, Harrison and his Whig party ran with the Democrats’ “log cabin” line, seizing it like Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment from last year. They even created their own “Log Cabin” newspapers to cover campaign events, spinning a web of fake news that the platform-focused Democrats couldn’t contain.
The Whig party pitched its war veteran candidate as the “log cabin and hard cider candidate” — a man of the people whose opponent, Martin Van Buren, was an out-of-touch elite overseeing a crumbling economy.
There was even name calling that might have made Trump proud: Martin Van Buren became “Martin Van Ruin” and “Little Van.”
Nevermind that Harrison himself was the wealthy son of plantation owners, a man of such privilege that he plunged himself into debt before entering the White House.
“The defining thing about his campaign is that it was entirely fictional,” Collins said.
The “log cabin” act prevailed, and Harrison defeated the Democrat. But all that bluster blew over soon: He died only 31 days into the job.
The legend of Harrison’s death is that he spoke for too long at his inauguration — he stills holds the record of the longest inaugural speech — and caught a cold that cut his presidency shorter than anyone else’s.
But more recent scholarship has suggested Harrison’s fatal ailments came from unsanitary water, which was contaminated by sewage around the White House.
“If he had drained the swamp,” Collins observed, “maybe he could have lived longer.”