5 Things to Know About Presidential Terms and Inaugurations

How the President Is Sworn In

Donald Trump inauguration
Win McNamee / Getty Images

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 by Running 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. 

President Donald Trump notified the Federal Election Commission of his intention to run for a second term on January 20, 2017—the same day he was inaugurated to his first term—and publicly announced his intention to run on June 18, 2019. In doing so, he has history on his side, since only three presidents have run for reelection and lost. The most recent one-term president who lost his re-election bid was Republican George H.W. Bush, who lost to Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992.

The New President Will Be Greeted by the Outgoing President

Obama greets Trump
Alex Wong / Getty Images

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.”

Candidates Line Up to Challenge to Trump in 2020

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

Drew Angered/Getty Images

The day after Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election, several well-known and not so well-known Democrats and a few Republicans began planning to challenge Donald Trump in 2020. At one point, a record 29 major candidates—highlighted by Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Tulsi Gabbard, and Amy Klobuchar —had tossed their hats into the ring. Top Republican challengers included Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Senators Tom Cotton, and Ben Sasse, and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld.

However, by the time the Iowa caucuses kicked off the primary season on February 3, 2020, the field had decreased to 11 major candidates. Results of the Super Tuesday primaries on March 3 left only Biden, Sanders, and dark-horse Tulsi Gabbard in the race. Gabbard withdrew after March 17 primaries, endorsing Biden at the time. Bernie Sanders withdrew on April 8, 2020, leaving Joe Biden as the presumptive nominee. Biden then collected the endorsements of Former President Obama, Sanders, and Warren. By June 5, 2020, Joe Biden had officially won the 1,991 total convention delegates needed to ensure his nomination.

Largely unopposed, President Trump had won a majority of pledged delegates by March 17, 2020, having already confirmed that Vice President Mike Pence would again be his running mate.

Like virtually everything else in America, the 2020 presidential campaign has been complicated by the deadly COVID-19 coronavirus health pandemic. After the six March 10, 2020 primaries, Democratic candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders canceled all further in-person campaign events. President Trump did not hold another campaign rally until June 13, 2020, in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The 2020 Democratic National Convention, originally scheduled for July 13 to 16 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was delayed until August 17 to 20 due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2020 Republican National Convention on August 24 to 27 was originally scheduled to be held in Charlotte, North Carolina. However, due to disagreements with the state over COVID-19 social distancing rules, the highly attended speeches and celebration phase of the convention was moved to Jacksonville, Florida, despite spiking COVID-19 infection rates in the state.

The presidential election will— COVID-19 not—be held on Tuesday, November 3, 2020. However, the states continue to struggle with the logistics of redesigning polling places and voting procedures to ensure social distancing and sanitation for the safety of voters and poll workers. Several states are also considering adopting or expanding vote-by-mail options accused by President Trump of encouraging wide-spread fraudulent voting.

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.

Updated by Robert Longley 

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Murse, Tom. "5 Things to Know About Presidential Terms and Inaugurations." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/us-president-inauguration-day-3368132. Murse, Tom. (2021, February 16). 5 Things to Know About Presidential Terms and Inaugurations. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/us-president-inauguration-day-3368132 Murse, Tom. "5 Things to Know About Presidential Terms and Inaugurations." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/us-president-inauguration-day-3368132 (accessed June 3, 2023).