As candidates begin to announce their bids for the White House in 2016, a new book takes a historical look back at presidents (not to name the greatest foreign negotiators or domestic policy pioneers) who rank the top partiers-in-chief in American history.
Sitting down with “Top Line” just a short stagger away from the White House in Grant’s Bar at Old Ebbitt Grill, Washington’s oldest saloon, the author of “Party Like a President: True Tales of Inebriation, Lechery and Mischief From the Oval Office” Brian Abrams explained his metric for determining which president's partying habits earned their legacy a spot on the list.
“If you look at all the presidents who drank regularly, or drank like a sport -– I don’t mean like wine with dinner -– I mean actually could sit down and plow away at whiskey or wine…that leaves us with about half of them,” he said. “Of that half, I would say that you look at body mass.”
Weighing in at about 250 pounds, Grover Cleveland takes the cake as the hard-swigging president with the highest body mass -– with Lyndon Johnson a close second at around 230 pounds.
The 22nd and 24th president of the United States earned a reputation for drinking during his early days as sheriff in Buffalo before becoming governor of New York. “Grover was known in Buffalo that he could just pound mug after mug of beer. He would take days off [at the bar],” Abrams said.
On the “lechery” aspect of Abram’s study, he said while Bill Clinton certainly places high -– recent revelations about one president’s extramarital affair may tip the scale in his favor as history’s biggest presidential lech.
“Warren G. Harding [came] up in news headlines in this last year when a lot of his personal papers were released, these love letters to one of his mistresses, Carrie Phillips,” Abrams said. He added that the letters “might have been the jaw dropping moment” for him while writing the book.
“They weren't so much creepy as they were cheesy,” he explained. “In one of the letters, [Harding] wrote: ‘My jerry is standing up beside me as I write this.’ And then he also named her anatomy Seashell, which I think is hacky. You can do better than Seashell,” Abrams added.
Also earning a top spot in his review is perhaps the most well-known playboy president, John F. Kennedy.
“He deserves some kind of award I think,” Abrams remarked. “He could make people see the stars, when in fact he's running around like diving into swimming pools with naked flight attendants while Jackie's at Neiman Marcus.”
Asked which president he would chose to spend one crazy night with after researching the book, one name immediately came to Abrams’ mind: President Gerald Ford.
“Ford just seems very lovable,” he said, explaining that while researching the president for the book, he was hard-pressed to find any retired member of the White House Press Corps who covered Ford that was willing to talk about the experience. “I eventually got one to talk to me, and he explained that a lot of them felt a certain loyalty to [Ford]… I found that so charming,” he recalled.
After Nixon resigned in disgrace over the Watergate scandal in August 1974, Abrams said that Ford wasn’t the only one to score a big promotion -- the reporters who were assigned to cover the vice president did too. “They're all of a sudden on Air Force One instead of Air Force Two,” he said. What’s more, Ford was fun to cover because he liked to have a good time.
Abrams cited one particular anecdote from the very beginning of the Ford administration. “The first week in the White House, there was a dinner function for the king of Jordan, and Ford just gets down on the dance floor to ‘Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,’” he said, referencing the 1973 tune by American folk rocker Jim Croce.
As for the current commander-in-chief, Abrams said Obama hits about average as far as historic presidential partiers go. “I would probably put Obama in the middle. He was no prude…he dappled in drugs in high school and in college. He still enjoys a drink every now and then now.”
For more of the interview with Abrams, including the biggest rager in White House history crashed by the American people, watch this episode of “Top Line.”
ABC’s Richard Coolidge, Jordyn Phelps, Gary Westphalen, Tom Thornton, Brian Haefeli and Pat Glass contributed to this episode.