A few readers think I was biased in last week’s column. I’ll forgo the argument that it was an Opinion column and, therefore, meant to be biased and will admit they have a point.
The claim is that in a column about the affair scandal swirling around former CIA Director David Petraeus, I mentioned other powerful men who had been known for affairs: Thomas Jefferson, FDR, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton. Readers claim I named all Democrats and no Republicans. Jefferson was a member of the Democratic-Republican Party, but I guess that doesn’t count.
I don’t always respond publicly to comments by a few readers. But it’s a holiday week, column ideas are in short supply and the sexual misdeeds of our presidents is a pretty interesting topic. So, here is a brief history of affairs by GOP presidents.
These scandals were mostly unknown to the public at the time. It has only been in recent history that the affairs of powerful men and women have been reported in the media.
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower had an affair with personal driver Kay Summersby while he was leading U.S. troops in World War II. The affair became public only after Summersby penned a biography in 1977, “Past Forgetting: My Love Affair with Dwight D. Eisenhower,” after Eisenhower’s 1969 death.
The affair was serious. In 1945, Eisenhower reportedly asked permission from Gen. George Marshall to divorce and marry Summersby. Marshall refused, more than likely paving the way for Eisenhower’s bid to be president.
More scandalous are the affairs of Republican President Warren G. Harding, who served from 1921 to 1923. He died in office, and the official cause was listed as a heart attack and stroke. But he also suffered from food poisoning, and some historians believe he was poisoned by his wife, who had grown tired of his affairs.
Harding, one of the most inept presidents in history, wasn’t good at keeping his affairs a secret. During his time as senator and president, he conducted an affair with Nan Britton, including clandestine meetings in the Oval Office. There have been reports that the first lady nearly caught the president and Britton in the act on more than one occasion. Britton had a child that she claimed was Harding’s, and historians believe that’s true.
Harding previously had a long-term affair with Carrie Fulton Phillips, his best friend’s wife. The two couples often vacationed together. It’s believed that when Harding was nominated for president by the Republican Party, Phillips threatened to go public with her story unless she was paid. She is believed to have received a payment between $20,000 and $50,000 from the GOP. Her family also was shipped off to Japan, and many historians believe she received monthly payments from the Republican Party until her death. If that’s the case, she may be the only mistress to have successfully extorted a political party.
Grover Cleveland, the only president to have served two nonconsecutive terms, was also embroiled in scandal. A woman he knew before his presidency claimed Cleveland was the father of her child. Paternity was never scientifically established, although Cleveland supported the child for years. His situation was used for political advantage with the mocking cries of “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?” Answered by, “He’s gone to the White House.”
A few readers mentioned Richard Nixon, but there are no reports that he had extramarital affairs, although he was impeached and driven from office for orchestrating a coverup. Amazingly, sex has never been brought up as a reason for the famous 18-minute gap in Nixon’s White House tapes.