Could Donald Trump Legally Serve Two More Terms as President?

Among Donald Trump’s musings about potentially running in 2024 is whether he could serve two more terms, which would give him a full 12 years as president from 2016 to 2032.

This raises questions about whether the Constitution’s term limits allow Trump to be elected twice more. While no law explicitly bars someone from being elected president twice, non-consecutive terms, serving more than 10 years, and defying the expectation Washington set by leaving after two terms could all contribute to Trump facing opposition should he attempt to return for a second non-consecutive term.

The 22nd Amendment’s Term Limit Rules

The relevant term limit rules stem from the 22nd Amendment enacted in 1947 [1]:

  • It restricts presidents to two elected four-year terms.
  • It prohibits serving more than 10 years total if assuming the role unelected due to succession.
  • It does not directly prohibit non-consecutive terms totaling more than eight years.

So on first glance, the Constitution allows for the possibility Trump proposes by running again in 2024 and 2028.

History of Presidents Serving Non-Consecutive Terms

While rare, presidents serving two non-consecutive terms has precedent:

  • Grover Cleveland won two non-consecutive terms in 1884 and 1892 separated by Benjamin Harrison’s 1888 victory over Cleveland.
  • Cleveland remains the only president to serve two separate administrations.

However, this occurred before formal term limits were introduced with the 22nd Amendment in 1947.

Washington’s Precedent Resisting Dynastic Rule

Scholars argue George Washington’s voluntary decision to step down after two terms set an enduring expectation [2]:

  • Washington declined a third term in 1796 to avoid any appearance of monarchy or lifelong rule.
  • His departure marked a pivotal transition of power emulated by successors until FDR.
  • This norm of relinquishing power persists, arguing against repeated attempts to return to office.

Trump serving 16 years could make Washington’s prototypical self-restraint seem obsolete.

Past Efforts Have Faced Resistance

While legal, past efforts at third non-consecutive terms by ex-presidents faced backlash [3]:

  • Theodore Roosevelt sought to retake office in 1912 after leaving in 1909 but lost and died soon after.
  • Grover Cleveland was discouraged from running again in 1896 by his own party after losing re-election in 1888.

These failed attempts illustrate how serving more than 8 years fell out of favor long before term limits codified limits.

Scenarios Where Trump Would Face Resistance

Trump’s insatuation with reclaiming power already provokes criticism. But several factors would likely increase resistance:

  • Openly stating he intends to serve three or four terms total rather than just running again once.
  • Refusing to commit to stepping down after another 4 year term if elected in 2024.
  • Attempting to repeal or defy the 22nd Amendment’s term limits.
  • Taking actions as president perceived as consolidating power and pushing toward authoritarian rule.

Any of these would alarm critics and strengthen efforts to thwart Trump’s ambitions.

Arguments Against Serving Longer Than Two Terms

extended stays in office tend to erode democratic principles [4]:

  • Risks emerging cults of personality and popular passions overriding reason.
  • Term limits help ensure regular circulation of new talent and thinking.
  • Power retained beyond perceived utility by a leader risks dangerous consolidation of authority.
  • Subversion of expectations sets dangerous precedent for future opportunistic presidents.

While not binding, these principles underlie resistance to presidents serving indefinitely.

Counter-Arguments Supporting Trump Serving Longer

However, arguments exist supporting Trump remaining in politics indefinitely:

  • The constitution does not forbid seeking reelection repeatedly if voters continuously consent.
  • Term limits arbitrarily restrict voter choice and the open marketplace of ideas.
  • Incumbency advantages benefit effective presidents unfairly excluded from additional terms.
  • Unconventional times may call for experienced leaders unencumbered by restrictions suited for normal eras.
  • Americans romanticize Washington too reflexively; his restraint was admirable but not mandatory.

These rationales stress respecting the verdicts of voters as sovereign over any conventions restricting choice.

Can He Legally Run and Serve Two More Terms?

The 22nd Amendment clearly does not prohibit two more campaigns and terms for Trump. Key considerations include:

  • The political challenges likely grow after an extended absence from leadership.
  • Actively campaigning as incumbent has proven advantages Trump would lack out of office.
  • Trump may decide fulfilling his ambitions requires dismantling norms around term limits and projected service length.
  • But concrete efforts to defy expectations around voluntary limits risks provoking institutional resistance.

The presidency grants broad powers, but Trump’s ambitions test how far public opinion and rival institutions can constrain attempts at prolonged rule.


Legally, nothing prevents Donald Trump from seeking and serving two more four-year terms as president. But customs geared toward smooth succession of power likely means provocative attempts at such an extended stretch risk backlash. Norms around term limits evolved as crucial to liberty under rule of law.

While the 22nd Amendment sought to codify Washington’s restraint, the persistence of its guiding principles in politics and culture pose known obstacles to Trump’s apparent hunger to regain and retain power indefinitely. How Americans reconcile constitutional text with deeper values around collective self-governance figures heavily in determining the boundaries of Trump’s future ambitions.






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