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Nelson: Why Political Junkies Root for Newt

Age: Gingrich will be 69 and a Social Security qualifier on Election Day 2012. That would make him only the fifth-oldest Republican nominee of the past nine, but its third youngest first-time nominee behind both Bushes. He would be younger than John McCain, 72 in 2008; Bob Dole, 73 in 1996; and Ronald Reagan, 69 in 1980 and 73 in 1984.

Education: With his Tulane Ph.D., Gingrich would be the third presidential nominee to have an academic doctorate, joining Johns Hopkins Ph.D. Wilson, the Democrats’ 1912 and 1916 nominee, and 1972 Democratic nominee George S. McGovern, a history Ph.D. from Northwestern University.

Erudition: While successful Democratic nominees John F. Kennedy in 1960 and Barack Obama in 2008 had two books in print at the time of their nominations, Gingrich is fast closing on 20 titles, including three co-authored with his present wife, Callista. Only the combined totals of Woodrow Wilson, a full-time academic, and the prolific Theodore Roosevelt come close to that pre-presidential literary output.

Generally speaking, it is the post-presidential years that appear to be the most productive as former presidents Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter launched multiple books to justify their presidencies. The fact that all three of those former presidents were commonly regarded as failures undoubtedly impelled them to defend themselves again and again in print.

Childhood Name: Gingrich is the child of a divorce and was christened Newton L. McPherson but was adopted by his mother’s second husband, much as Gerald Ford was originally christened Leslie King Jr. until his adoption by his stepfather. Bill Clinton was christened William Blyth until he took the surname of his mother’s second husband.

Sibling Issues: While Newt Gingrich may have been embarrassed by Candace Gingrich’s sexual preference and Bill Clinton may have been embarrassed by Roger Clinton’s substance addictions, they were both only a half sister and half brother. This was unlike the substance and financial difficulties visited on Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Carter and George W. Bush by their brothers Sam Johnson, Donald and Edward Nixon, the irrepressible Billy Carter and Neil Bush.

Marriage: While Ronald Reagan was the nation’s first divorced president, Gingrich could become the first twice-divorced president, a dubious distinction but a distinction nonetheless. This may explain Gingrich’s favorable attention from thrice-married Donald Trump.

Children: With two daughters and no sons, Gingrich would join the company of Lyndon Johnson, Nixon, George W. Bush and Obama. Having no presidential sons appears to be the post-World War II norm, with Harry Truman and Clinton joining the other four presidents who had no sons. Among the past 12 presidents, only Eisenhower, Kennedy, Ford, Carter, Reagan and the elder Bush sired sons. Ike was the only one not to have sired a daughter.

Other aficionados of political trivia may add even more to this list like zodiac signs and name lengths, but as a historian of American political life, I know that Gingrich will be pleased that he has provided us with so many intriguing glimpses into the American past.

Garrison Nelson is a professor of political science at the University of Vermont and co-editor of the seven volume “Committees of the U.S. Congress, 1789-2010.”

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