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Gingrich's Long Hiatus from Political Office Would Make Presidential History

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"President Gingrich" would own the largest gap on record between his last day serving in political office and Inauguration Day

newtgingrich11.jpgNewt Gingrich's surge in the polls over the last few weeks now has the political world speculating whether the former House Speaker could pull an even greater comeback than John McCain in 2008 and become the Republican nominee for president next year.

If Gingrich does secure the GOP nomination, and if he would then defeat Barack Obama next November, he would go down in the record books for a very little known stat - and perhaps prove the adage that time heals all (political) wounds in the process.

A Smart Politics review of presidential election history finds that if Newt Gingrich were to win the White House in 2012, his 13+ year hiatus from political office at the time of his inauguration would be the largest among all U.S. Presidents who previously held political office.

The time between Gingrich's departure from the U.S. House on January 3, 1999 and his hypothetical inauguration as president on January 20, 2012 would be 13 years and 17 days.

That would be over a year longer than the current longest break from political service by a victorious presidential candidate - a mark currently held by Abraham Lincoln in the Election of 1860.

Lincoln's last day as U.S. Representative from Illinois' 7th Congressional District was March 3, 1849 - some 12 years and 1 day before he was inaugurated as the 16th President of the United States on March 4, 1861.

Of course, the long break from political office for Gingrich may have been shrewd and necessary. Across the 22 Gallup polls conducted while the former Georgia Congressman was Speaker of the House, Gingrich had an average favorability rating of 30.1 percent.

But while there is ample precedent for the American electorate voting a nominee into the White House who is not currently holding a political post, it is very rare for a candidate to get elected president who has been out of office for more than a decade like Gingrich.

Excluding the three career military officers elected president who never previously held political office (Zachary Taylor in 1848, Ulysses S. Grant in 1868, and Dwight Eisenhower in 1952), only Lincoln, William Henry Harrison and Franklin Pierce had gaps of 10+ years from their last day in office to Inauguration Day.

After Lincoln, Harrison had the next longest hiatus at 11 years, 5 months, and 6 days, between the end of his Ambassadorship to Columbia in 1829 and his presidential inauguration in March 1841.

Pierce - who spent his intervening years practicing law and fighting in the Mexican-American War - recorded 11 years and 4 days between his last day as U.S. Senator from New Hampshire in 1842 and becoming president in March 1853.

The lion's share of successful presidential candidacies in the 20th and 21st Centuries have been launched by those currently serving in political office (or incumbents who, by definition, are in office). The exceptions are:

· William Taft, who had a gap of 8 months and 4 days after his tenure as Secretary of War and his presidential inauguration in 1909.

· Herbert Hoover, who left his long-held position as Secretary of Commerce to become the Republican nominee some 6 months and 11 days before his inauguration in 1929.

· Richard Nixon, who notched the fourth longest hiatus among the presidents at exactly eight years between the last day of his Vice-Presidency in 1961 and the first day of his presidency in 1969.

· Jimmy Carter, who had a scarce 1 year and 6 days out of office between serving as Governor of Georgia and president.

· Ronald Reagan, whose final term as Governor of California ended 6 years and 14 days before his inauguration in 1980.

Twice as many candidates were elected president while out of office in the late 18th and 19th Centuries including George Washington (1789), Andrew Jackson (1828), William H. Harrison (1840), James Polk (1844), Franklin Pierce (1852), James Buchanan (1856), Abraham Lincoln (1860), Benjamin Harrison (1888), Grover Cleveland (1892), and William McKinley (1896).

Greatest Gap Between Last Day of Service in Political Office and Presidential Inauguration*

Year
President
Last political office
Years
Months
Days
1860
Abraham Lincoln
US House (IL-07)
12
0
1
1840
William H. Harrison
Ambassador to Columbia
11
5
6
1852
Franklin Pierce
US Senator (NH)
11
0
4
1968
Richard Nixon
Vice President
8
0
0
1980
Ronald Reagan
Governor (CA)
6
0
14
1892
Grover Cleveland
President
4
0
0
1828
Andrew Jackson
US Senator (TN)
3
4
18
1844
James Polk
Governor (TN)
3
4
17
1888
Benjamin Harrison
US Senator (IN)
2
0
0
1789
George Washington
Constitutional Convention President
1
7
13
1896
William McKinley
Governor (OH)
1
1
19
1976
Jimmy Carter
Governor (GA)
1
0
6
1856
James Buchanan
Ambassador to UK
0
11
17
1908
William Taft
Secretary of War
0
8
4
1928
Herbert Hoover
Secretary of Commerce
0
6
11
* Excludes victorious major party nominees who never held political office: Zachary Taylor (1848), Ulysses Grant (1868), and Dwight Eisenhower (1952). Data compiled by Smart Politics.

But Gingrich would be in rare company by just winning the Republican nomination, even if he lost to Barack Obama in this hypothetical scenario.

Of the more than 50 failed major party presidential candidates in U.S. history, only two notched a larger gap than Gingrich between their last day in political office and their would-be presidential inauguration: Horace Greeley in 1872 (24 years, 1 day) and William Jennings Bryan in 1908 (14 years, 1 day).

Greeley served one term in the U.S. House from New York's 6th CD ending in March 1849 and, thanks to failed candidacies for the U.S. Senate in 1861 and the U.S. House in 1870, had a break from political office of what would have been 24 years and 1 day had he defeated Ulysses Grant in the Election of 1872 (he lost soundly and died later that November).

When William Jennings Bryan appeared on the ballot for the third time as the Democratic presidential nominee in 1908, he was on track to be 14 years and 1 day removed from his last day in office as U.S. Representative from Nebraska's 1st CD had he defeated William Howard Taft.

Excluding failed major party presidential nominees who never held political office (Winfield Scott in 1852, George McClellan in 1864, Winfield Hancock in 1880, and Wendell Willkie in 1940), a total of 19 failed nominees were not serving in a political post when they appeared on the ballot on Election Day.

Other out of office nominees who lost their presidential bid include Thomas Jefferson (1796), Henry Clay (1844), James Blaine (1884), Adlai Stevenson (1956), Walter Mondale (1984), and Bob Dole (1996), who retired from the U.S. Senate to concentrate full-time on his presidential campaign.

Greatest Gap Between Last Day of Service in Political Office and Would-Be Presidential Inauguration for Failed Major Party Nominees*

Year
Candidate
Last political office
Years
Months
Days
1872
Horace Greeley
US House (NY-06)
24
0
1
1908
William J. Bryan
US House (NE-01)
14
0
1
1808
Charles Pinckney
Minister to France
12
0
27
1804
Charles Pinckney
Minister to France
8
0
27
1836
W. Harrison
Ambassador to Columbia
7
5
6
1856
John Fremont
US Senator (CA)
6
0
1
1900
William J. Bryan
US House (NE-01)
6
0
1
1868
Horatio Seymour
Governor (NY)
4
2
4
1956
Adlai Stevenson
Governor (IL)
4
0
8
1984
Walter Mondale
Vice President
4
0
0
1924
John Davis
Ambassador to UK
3
11
23
1884
James Blaine
Secretary of State
3
2
13
1796
Jefferson
Secretary of State
3
2
4
1844
Henry Clay
US Senate (KY)
2
11
4
1896
William J. Bryan
US House (NE-01)
2
0
1
1860
John Bell
US Senate (TN)
2
0
0
1848
Lewis Cass
US Senate (MI)
0
9
4
1916
Charles Hughes
Supreme Court Justice
0
8
22
1996
Bob Dole
US Senate (KS)
0
7
9
* Excludes major party nominees who never held political office: Winfield Scott (1852), George McClellan (1864), Winfield Hancock (1880), and Wendell Willkie (1940). Data compiled by Smart Politics.

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Previous post: Heller vs. History: How Often Do Appointed US Senators Hold Their Seats?
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2 Comments


  • Thank God that the statistic doesn't mean much. Half that list is good and the other terrible. But Gingrich isn't going to be the nominee let alone President.

  • The political history of California includes a lot of progressive thought and innovation in governance, but it is still hampered by a crippling bureaucracy. It is like California takes two steps forward and then one step back.

  • Leave a comment


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