Fact Check

Donald Trump Explains Why Lincoln Succeeded

This was indeed Donald Trump's answer to an interview question, for whatever that's worth.

Published May 8, 2018

Article 9 of 11 in Collection
A meme reproduces Donald Trump's explanation of why Abraham Lincoln succeeded as a president.

In March 2016, Donald Trump, who was then vying for the Republican nomination for president, sat for an interview with reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa at the soon-to-be-finished Trump International Hotel in Washington.

During the course of that interview, Trump fielded questions covering topics such as when and why he decided to run for president, how he viewed the job of U.S. president, and how he expected to appeal to voters. One of the questions the Republican hopeful fielded was why he thought fellow party member Abraham Lincoln had succeeded as a president:

Woodward: Before coming over, Bob and I have had lots of chats. And we were thinking about this, that you are running for the nomination in the Republican Party.

Trump: Right.

Woodward: Which is the party of Lincoln and the party of Nixon ... and so we have this party that you are running to be the nominee in, and it’s got two heritages. Lincoln and Nixon.

Trump: That’s true. That’s true.

Woodward: And why did Lincoln succeed? Thought about that at all?

Trump: Well, I think Lincoln succeeded for numerous reasons. He was a man who was of great intelligence, which most presidents would be. But he was a man of great intelligence, but he was also a man that did something that was a very vital thing to do at that time. Ten years before or 20 years before, what he was doing would never have even been thought possible. So he did something that was a very important thing to do, and especially at that time. And Nixon failed, I think to a certain extent, because of his personality. You know? It was just that personality. Very severe, very exclusive. In other words, people couldn’t come in. And people didn’t like him. I mean, people didn’t like him.

This response was eventually encapsulated in a mocking meme circulated via social media:

So, the short answer for this fact check is that yes, the meme accurately represents something Donald Trump said, in its proper context. His response was couched in typical rambling Trumpian style, jumping between a number of thoughts without fully explicating them.

Trump averred that Lincoln succeeded because "he was a man who was of great intelligence," but then Trump allowed that "most presidents would be [of great intelligence]," seemingly contradicting the notion that this was a distinguishing quality of Lincoln's. Trump also credited Lincoln with doing something "very vital" that would have been unthinkable ten or twenty years earlier, but he didn't offer any hint about what that vital action might have been. (Opposing the expansion of slavery? Appointing political rivals to his cabinet? Inviting black leaders to the White House?)

Trump's following comments about Richard Nixon are not similarly difficult to decipher: Nixon was known to be stiffly formal and deeply insecure (some would say to the point of possessing a persecution complex) with few close friends, and those aspects of his personality shaped his interactions with political opponents and the press, typically in negative ways.

Article 9 of 11 in Collection


Woodward, Bob and Robert Costa.   "Transcript: Donald Trump Interview with Bob Woodward and Robert Costa."     The Washington Post.   2 April 2016.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.