Other presidents have sought to return to the White House without success. Martin Van Buren, who lost his bid for re-election in 1840, unsuccessfully sought his party’s nomination in 1844 and then mounted a new campaign as a Free Soil candidate in 1848, but garnered only about 10 percent of the vote and won no states. Millard Fillmore, another 19th-century one-term president rejected by his own party, likewise tried the third-party route in staging a comeback campaign in 1856 as the nominee of the Know Nothings, winning 22 percent and just one state.
A couple of presidents who left office voluntarily after two terms nonetheless changed their minds and sought to come back four years later without success. Ulysses S. Grant allowed his supporters to promote him for the Republican nomination in 1880, only to see the bid fizzle at the convention, while Theodore Roosevelt bolted his party and ran as head of the new Progressive or Bull Moose Party in 1912, succeeding only in taking down his handpicked Republican successor, William Howard Taft, and turning the White House over to the Democrats.
Herbert Hoover, after being turned out in 1932, held out hope that the Republicans would anoint him as their nominee again in 1936 and 1940 only to be spurned. More recent defeated one-term presidents like Jimmy Carter and George Bush entertained no such fantasies, although Gerald R. Ford did briefly consider becoming a vice-presidential candidate four years after losing the White House.
Cleveland is the only defeated president who ever moved back into the White House. A fiscally conservative Democrat, he won his first term in 1884 despite being accused of fathering a child out of wedlock, making him the nation’s 22nd president. He became the only bachelor president to marry while in the White House when he wed Frances Folsom, who at 21 was 27 years younger than him.
Even though he won the popular vote four years later, he lost the Electoral College to Benjamin Harrison, a Republican, over his support for lowering tariffs on foreign goods. Known for “an inherited strain of stubbornness that gleamed in his clear blue eyes before he was five years old,” as Allan Nevins put it in his Pulitzer-winning biography, Cleveland refused to fade away and beat Harrison in 1892, fulfilling Frances’s prediction and becoming the 24th president.
One important difference between Cleveland and Mr. Trump is that Cleveland won the popular vote in all three presidential elections he ran in, while Mr. Trump lost the popular vote in both 2016 and 2020. “Grover had the advantage of popular support that Trump lacks,” said Matthew Algeo, the author of “The President Is a Sick Man” about secret surgery Cleveland had while in office.