- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2016

Donald Trump shuns booze, while Hillary Clinton has been known to hoist a glass of beer on the campaign trail and even whack back a shot as part of her “Joe Six Pack” outreach.

Though there is no clear correlation between the drinking habits of the nation’s 45 presidents and their overall record of success in office, some colorful tales suggest that those who tried to toe the line on temperance often were more miserable than those that stumbled over it — not because they swore off the hooch or generally stayed away from it, but because the people around them did not.

“You certainly could argue that alcohol has caused more problems than it has done good,” said Mark Will-Weber, author of “Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt: The Complete History of Presidential Drinking.” “Once you get beyond Ronald Reagan and George Washington, it is hard to argue that alcohol was good for anyone.”

Many politicians would beg to disagree, at least when it comes to the campaign trail, where alcohol and stumping for votes have long been tied.

Mrs. Clinton has been fairly tame this year, chugging beer at a bar in Youngstown, Ohio, and at a brewery in Lacrosse, Wisconsin. But 2008 was a different story, when she and then-candidate Barack Obama fought the primary in a series of bar stops as they tried to woo blue-collar voters.

Mr. Obama kicked things off in Pennsylvania by downing a Yuengling — though he didn’t appear familiar with the local brew.

Mrs. Clinton countered days later with a stop at a bar in Indiana, where she threw back a shot of Crown Royal whisky and then drank a beer, all the while snacking on bar pizza, hoping to solidify her everywoman’s credentials. Mr. Obama later mocked her for pandering.

For his part, Mr. Trump has dabbled in the booze business — launching a short-lived line of vodka in 2006 — but swears off the stuff personally. He has said that his older brother Fred’s struggles with alcohol, which led to his death, convinced the billionaire businessman never to drink a drop.

“I look and I see what it does to people when they lose control,” Mr. Trump said at a campaign stop in December. “If you don’t drink and if you don’t take drugs, your children are going to have a tremendously enhanced chance of really being successful and having a good life and having a happy life.”

Alcohol was a staple of the campaign trail from the very beginning. Indeed, it was a near-requirement for getting elected in the colonial days, as Washington found out firsthand.

In his first political race, a 1755 bid for the Virginia House of Burgesses, he lost by a 271-to-40 vote margin after his opponent showered voters with booze when they showed up to the polls.

The man who would be the nation’s first president quickly learned from his mistake, getting his constituency well sloshed two years later and winning with 310 votes. He carefully recorded the day’s toll: 144 gallons of rum, punch, hard cider and beer.

“What he learned is if you didn’t do it, you aren’t going to win,” said Dennis Pogue, author of “Founding Spirits: George Washington and the Beginnings of the American Whiskey Industry.” “So the deeper meaning there is how deeply entrenched alcohol was in society at the time, and there was no stigma attached to providing alcohol beverages to potential voters at the polls. It was widespread, and pretty much everyone did it.”

Mr. Pogue described Washington, who opened a whiskey distillery in 1797 at Mount Vernon, as “what we today would call a social drinker” and said he “was well aware of the pros and cons of alcohol consumption.”

Franklin Pierce, the nation’s 14th president, ignored those sensible limits, earning a reputation as the king of presidential boozers after he died from cirrhosis of the liver.

Pierce is often considered among the nation’s worst presidents — putting him alongside the likes of Warren G. Harding, who, during Prohibition, kept the booze flowing at poker games at the White House and carried a bottle of whiskey around in his golf bag on the links in Chevy Chase, where, by the time he reached the back nine, he would regularly spray his balls across the course, Mr. Will-Weber said.

Richard Nixon, meanwhile, was known as a lightweight — so much so that his aides worried that some of the drinking traditions in China could go south quickly during his trips there.

Historian Robert Dallek has said Mr. Nixon displayed his limited tolerance — and insecurity — during a trip to China in which he summoned Henry Kissinger to his room in the early morning hours to get his “reassurance that this trip to China is going to be seen as a great historical success” after getting “sloshed” on Mai Tais.

He also nearly set the White House ablaze after learning that a Chinese liquor was so strong it could be set on fire with a match. He accidentally lit a tablecloth trying to recreate what Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai had shown him during a visit.

President Bill Clinton, meanwhile, got a wake-up call in 1995 from the Secret Service after Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who was staying as a guest in the Blair House, was found drunk and barely clothed wandering around Pennsylvania Avenue trying to hail down a taxi so he could grab a pizza, according to Taylor Branch’s “The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History With the President.”

“When the Russians come, it is always really interesting,” Mr. Will-Weber said with a laugh. “You can imagine [Yeltsin] out there with his big belly and red face on Pennsylvania Avenue.”

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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