The 10 worst second-term moments for presidents since Richard Nixon

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Photo - President Richard Nixon tells a White House news briefing on April 17, 1973, he will immediately suspended any member of the executive branch who may in the future be indicated by a federal grand jury considering the Watergate Case. (AP)
President Richard Nixon tells a White House news briefing on April 17, 1973, he will immediately suspended any member of the executive branch who may in the future be indicated by a federal grand jury considering the Watergate Case. (AP)
Politics,White House,Brian Hughes,Barack Obama,Bill Clinton,PennAve,George W. Bush,Ronald Reagan,Richard Nixon,Minusextra,Watergate,Monica Lewinsky

Call it the second-term curse.

For whatever reason, the final four years in office have not been kind to presidents lately.

Whether Republican or Democrat, repeated scandals now seem inevitable -- a lesson President Obama is all too familiar with at the moment.

Let's take a look at the 10 most politically damaging episodes for second-term presidents during the last 40 years.

10. The Internal Revenue Service targeting of conservative groups

(AP photos)

Obama dismisses the episode as a “phony scandal,” but it clearly has staying power, given all the attention it's still receiving from Republicans on Capitol Hill. The IRS was arguably the most detested department in the federal government, but by targeting the tax exempt-status of Tea Party-aligned groups, the Obama administration gave critics even more ammunition. The disappearance of e-mails from senior IRS officials has only added to the mystery -- and suspicion -- surrounding the controversy. And the scandal immediately undercut the president's second inaugural address, which was an extensive defense of government competence.

9. Pardongate

President Bill Clinton waited until his final day in office for one of his most controversial decisions, pardoning 140 people and issuing several commutations. Those receiving pardons included billionaire donor Marc Rich, his former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros, Whitewater figure Susan McDougal and ex-CIA Director John Deutch. Federal authorities later found no evidence of wrongdoing by Clinton, but the incident reeked of insider politics and seemed unbecoming for a departing commander in chief.

8. Edward Snowden leaks

Disclosures about National Security Agency surveillance techniques by the former government contractor did the seemingly impossible: unite progressives and civil libertarians against Obama. For months, the slow drip of leaks left the administration on the defensive -- and major U.S. allies were enraged by revelations about U.S. spying on major foreign leaders. Obama ultimately announced reforms to the NSA program, but government watchdogs said the president's changes did little to keep the government from monitoring average Americans.

7. The financial crash of 2008

President George W. Bush was already incredibly unpopular. Then the markets crashed and the housing bubble popped, cementing a battered legacy for a president who seemingly wanted to run out the clock on his final days in the White House. Bush engineered the bailout of the major banks and, years later, was still blamed by a majority of Americans for the dismal state of the economy.

6. Iran-Contra affair

The clandestine operation to supply arms to Iran by President Ronald Reagan's administration, in hopes of freeing American hostages held in Lebanon, became the most embarrassing event of the Republican's second term. The weapons were ultimately used for a secret war against the Nicaraguan government, multiple administration officials were forced out and Reagan had to apologize in a brutal national address. National Security Council staffer Oliver North became the public face of the scandal -- he engineered the plan to send money to the rebels in Nicaragua -- but it had a clear political effect on Reagan.

5. Hurricane Katrina

Bush's reaction to the devastation in New Orleans served as the cautionary tale for how presidents should not respond to natural disasters. Whether Bush was telling FEMA chief Michael Brown he was doing a “heckuva job,” flying over storm-battered New Orleans or being berated by rapper Kanye West, Katrina was seen as the beginning of the end for the president's second term.

4. The botched rollout of

The terrible launch of Obama's signature domestic initiative damaged the president's political brand unlike any other controversy during a rough 2013. In the beginning of open enrollment, turned away the overwhelming majority of people looking to sign up for Obamacare. The online marketplace became synonymous with government ineptitude, and the president still hasn't fully restored public confidence in his signature health law.

3. Iraq War

Though launched in his first term, this conflict became the biggest drag on Bush’s final four years in office. The president could never live down his “Mission Accomplished” moment, and his national security team was unable to convince the public that the loss of American blood and treasure was worth it. Bush’s loss was Obama’s gain, paving the path for his surprising ascent to the White House.

2. Monica Lewinsky

Yes, Clinton saw his approval ratings increase after being impeached by House Republicans. But his affair with a White House intern was a dramatic fall from grace for a president in seemingly good standing with the American public. For many people, the Lewinsky episode is the defining moment of the Clinton presidency. And Hillary Clinton, the likely 2016 presidential candidate, is still answering for her husband's indiscretions.

1. Watergate

This one is obvious. Richard Nixon was forced to resign after details slowly emerged about the bugging of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in 1972 -- for a re-election bid that Nixon would win comfortably. Watergate is the scandal of all scandals -- just think how many lesser controversies have the “gate” attached to them. Also, the phrases "It's not the crime, it's the cover-up" and "What did the president know and when did he know it?" originated with Watergate. It's still almost impossible to believe this actually happened.

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Brian Hughes

White House Correspondent
The Washington Examiner

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