5 Things to Know About Presidential Terms and Inaugurations

How the President Is Sworn In

Donald Trump inauguration
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Donald Trump's tumultuous presidency has many American voters wondering when a new president could take office if the wealthy former businessman and reality television star becomes one of the few commanders-in-chief to lose re-election.

One-term presidents are rare. But if Trump loses, is removed from office or decides not to run for re-election, the next president would take office on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Trump was sworn in as the nation's 45th president on the steps of the U.S. Capitol at noon on Jan. 20, 2017, when the second term of President Barack Obama expired. Trump is serving in his first term, and like all U.S. presidents, he is eligible to run for re-election and serve another four years in the White House.

Why Trump Has History on His Side If He Runs for Office Again

Jimmy Carter, photo Getty Images
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It is true that Trump stunned the political establishment in 2016 by winning an election many experts believed was firmly in the hands of Democrat Hillary Clinton. But it is also true that Americans are fairly reluctant to elect consecutive presidents from the same political party. So history was on Trump's side. The last time voters elected a Democrat to the White House after a president from the same party had just served a full term was in 1856, before the Civil War. 

If Trump decides to seek re-election, he also will have history on his side in 2020. Only three presidents since World War II have sought re-election and lost. The most recent one-term president who lost his re-election bid was George H.W. Bush, a Republican who lost to Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992.

The New President Will Be Greeted by the Outgoing President

Obama greets Trump
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It's become a tradition for American presidents to provide their successors with support as power is handed over from one United States president and his administration to another. Recent presidents have hosted their eventual successors on the last day in office.

President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush hosted President-Elect Barack Obama and his wife, as well as Vice President-Elect Joe Biden, for coffee in the Blue Room of the White House before the noon inauguration in 2009. Obama did the same for Trump.

What It Means to Take the Oath of Office

Donald Trump inaugural ball
President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump dance at the Freedom Ball on January 20, 2017. Kevin Dietsch - Pool / Getty Images

Every president since George Washington has spoken the official oath of office, which states:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Presidents are required to take the oath under in Article II, Section I of the U.S. Constitution, which requires that “Before he enters on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation.”

Democrats and Republicans Alike Are Already Looking at a 2020 Challenge to Trump

Cory Booker
Democratic U.S. Sen. Cory Booker is said to be on the short list of potential challengers to Donald Trump in 2020.

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Cory Booker, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and many others are tossing their hats into the ring years before the 2020 election. In fact, Democrats began looking for a new presidential candidate the day after 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton lost the election. Potential third-party candidates are also in the offing, with Starbucks CEO heading the line.

But something unprecedented might happen on the way to 2020: a member of the president's own party might mount a challenge to Trump. Mike Pence, the sitting vice president, was reportedly "cultivating some of the party’s most prominent donors, courting conservative interest groups" and carefully enhancing his profiles as part of a "shadow campaign for 2020," The New York Times reported in the summer of 2017. Pence was said to be preparing a campaign in the event Trump declined to run again or was not able to run again.

What it Takes to Be President

Donald Trump
Real estate mogul, reality television star and onetime presidential aspirate Donald Trump. Getty Images

To become President of the United States, the Constitution says you must be a "natural born" citizen of the United States and be at least 35 years old, among other things. But there's much, much more to becoming the most powerful person in the free world. Most presidents are highly educated, wealthy, white, male, Christian, and married, not to mention a member of one of the two major political parties. Barack Obama was the first non-white president of the United States, and the world is still waiting to see the election of a female or non-Christian president.