Is Newt Gingrich too fat to be president?

By Razib Khan | December 7, 2011 11:17 pm

More Kris Kringle than Mr. President

Newt Gingrich is high in the polls right now. I’m moderately skeptical of the persistence of this surge, though I’m biased since I’m rooting for Mitt Romney (and Ron Paul, though he has no chance) in the Republican field. But in any case, I keep seeing Newt’s face in news reports, and something is off. That’s because we haven’t had a fat president in a long time. About 90 years. In fact, as the American population has gotten heavier, the heads of state have gotten thinner (on average). This came to the fore when people were mulling Chris Christie’s potential run.

Of course in politics the sample size is small enough that trends are trends until they’re not. As you can see from presidential portraits we hadn’t had any black presidents until recently. Newt would be the first twice-divorced president. And the second with a Ph.D.

Image credit: Gage Skidmore

MORE ABOUT: Newt Gingrich, Politics
  • http://www.isteve.blogspot Steve Sailer

    Also, Newt is 68, which is pretty old.

  • Sid

    With a billion dollars, Obama destroyed Gaddafi. He’s going to have similar artillery this time, in terms of campaign money.

    For me, it’s not a matter of whether Gingrich will be able to withstand blows against him against Obama, but whether he can withstand attacks long enough to get the nomination.

  • Razib Khan

    in other news, just realized that the next president is likely to have a strange first name. barack, willard/mitt, or newt.

  • Justin Giancola

    nah dude, his name will be ron. :)

  • Juan

    @Razib: Would you support Mitt over Obama, or is he only your specific choice for the Republican field? Just curious.

  • Karl Zimmerman


    I know he doesn’t have a chance in hell, but I would have thought that Gary Johnson would be more up your alley, considering he has the views of Ron Paul without the crazy goldbug stuff.

  • Darkseid

    it looks like his head weighs at least 50 lbs.

  • omar

    He also seems too obviously arrogant to be president. There are reports that Barack has said some extremely arrogant things in private, but in public he sticks to the required persona very very consistently. Newt seems ever ready to tell people he is smarter than they are.. all the PR geniuses say that makes a successful candidacy unlikely. Of course, the PR geniuses may be wrong.
    Given that he wants to make Bolton his secretary of state, I am really hoping he does not win. I am not sure presidents get to do much in terms of domestic policy, but they do seem to be able to start wars whenever they want and a Newt-Bolton combo is likely to start bombing the day after inauguration.

  • Jon F

    I’m not entirely sure Gingrich’s physique would play that much into his electability, though I certainly wouldn’t discount the profound effect being TV-friendly has on campaign numbers, something Obama has always had in his favor.

    What I’m more sure of is that Paul is too old to be elected at 76. Reagan’s re-election was the only time the United States has elected a President over 70 and I think the more-recent-than-Taft data points of the failure of Bob Dole and John McCain’s bids are more relevant. Reagan also came with the caveats in 1980 of seeming rather strong and vigorous (something I can’t say about Paul, though I don’t doubt his intellectual fortitude is well above average for the present GOP field) and having been vetted heavily since 1976 when he ran for President (and was quite nearly nominated if not for some maneuvering by the Republican national party that showed entirely more foresight than I believe them to possess now), so even he comes with asterisks. I’m not sold on the idea that Gingrich’s age will be what would keep him out of office, though.

  • marcel

    Perhaps, esp. after Obama, the American electorate is thinking along Caesarian lines:

    Let me have men about me that are fat;
    Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o’ nights:
    Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
    He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.

    (Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”, Act I, Sc. 2)

  • toto

    Given that he wants to make Bolton his secretary of state, I am really hoping he does not win.


    Jon Huntsman is generally regarded as the saner candidate in the current Republican race. He doesn’t stand a chance now, but he might just be laying ground for a “real” candidacy in 2016.

    As a rest-of-the-world-er, I could live with that.

  • Tom Bri

    Will Republican primary voters accept a fat man? I think the answer is yes. Mitt is distrusted by conservative Republicans in a way that Newt is not. Newt is considered unreliable, liable to shoot off in odd directions for a time. But Mitt just isn’t considered a conservative at heart.
    Nationally, when the choice is a skinny Black man or a fat White man, well, who can predict. Given how abysmally Obama has performed, just about any Republican should be a shoe-in.

  • DK

    “and Ron Paul, though he has no chance”

    Just curious, why do you think Ron has no chance?

  • Chris W

    Hey, could be worse: :)

  • crf

    Without primaries being run yet, is too early to count out any serious candidate. The idea of Huntsman having no chance is just a newsy narrative, not a fact. If he goes on a reality-based attack, he might wound the nutters in this race. Also, I think there’s a good chance influential ex-office holders might prefer to endorse him.

  • ackbark

    There was a persistent story that Reagan had an earlier first marriage in the 1930s but the studio broke it up for some reason.

    Don’t recall if it was ever proven or dis-proven.

    Also, Newt really doesn’t seem like he’s 68.

    And he’s not really fat. He’s manfully suppressing his incredible fart power until he gets off stage. It’s called leadership.

  • Meng Bomin

    @Tom Bri
    The only reason that the conservative electorate would trust Newt more than Romney (I am not discounting the rationale for distrusting Romney here) is that they haven’t spent much time looking at Newt. I suspect that his polling popularity will look very similar to that of Perry and Cain before him. He may have a much different affect than those two, but he shares the characteristic of being a comically inferior candidate.

    Ron Paul obviously isn’t going to be the nominee and, as Jon F points out, he’s 76 and his age shows if you’ve watched any of the debates. However, he represents an ideological minority that is underrepresented, so he has a group of firm supporters that aren’t likely to grow enough to take a nomination, much less the presidency. Gary Johnson is more of a metropolitan libertarian than Paul and it seems to me that metropolitan libertarians, while more vocal than other Paul supporters, are a smaller group, so I can’t see him taking off any time soon.

    Jon Huntsman doesn’t stand much of a chance because he’s necessarily chasing after the same demographic as Romney and since a significant part of the motivation for anti-Romney coalition that has so far backed Bachmann, Perry, Cain, and now Gingrich in quick succession is those with anti-Mormons sentiments, Huntsman is off-limits, so his only chance is if Romney implodes very early on.

    Gingrich’s polling numbers are showing some sign of decline from their brief commanding heights. I’m not sure if there is enough time for another anti-Romney candidate to displace him before Iowa, but a Santorum surge would be pretty entertaining to watch.

  • Razib Khan

    Given how abysmally Obama has performed, just about any Republican should be a shoe-in.

    please refrain from this sort of hyperbole. it makes political talk moronic (yes, the fundamentals definitely favor a republican, but “shoe-in” is crazy).

  • Razib Khan

    @Razib: Would you support Mitt over Obama, or is he only your specific choice for the Republican field? Just curious.

    currently i would. my main concern with romney is the crazy foreign policy shit he says to placate the jacksonian insanity in the modern republican party.

  • erica

    I don’t think Newt is too fat to be Prez, but he’s too sarcastic for American tastes. If ….and it’s a huge *if*…. he could stifle that sarcasm, he’d be better off.

    Newt is a huge big government guy. After all, in or out of power, he has always been one of the biggest power trippers of all so to think of him as advocating smaller government is fatuous. The tea partiers seem not to know much of his history. (Perhaps they have sugar plum fantasies of Newt tearing apart Barack in a debate.)

    People say it’s Newt’s performances in the debates that have elevated him, but I’ve watched all of them, and it’s clear that focus groups questioned after the debates say he “performed well,” but especially in the first few debates, they didn’t say they’d ever vote for him. What happened was that all the media sources began their leads with, “Newt performs well, ” and after they repeated this over and over, the polls began to turn. No surprise. The media always picks winners and losers.

    Call me a conspiracy theorist, but it’s my feeling that most of the MSM want Gingrich to win so that Obama can, in their opinion, flatten him in the general.

    Very few people who ever worked with Newt felt he had a leadership style they could stand. Actually, the same holds for Obama, with only his Chicago crew able to put up with him. The media, however, doesn’t play this up. After all, they can’t abide having the first President of color defeated after only one term. Their heads explode at the thought of what that might look like in a history text.

    Huntsman, for all his qualifications, comes off as snarky and weird and yes, arrogant. This impression seems to be the result of a combo of his facial expressions, in particular the activities of his eyes and eyebrows, his penchant for speaking of himself in the third person, his boring voice, his smarmy smile. For a fairly handsome guy, he’s about as physically unappealing as a guy can get. I suspect that most Americans could never envision themselves looking at and listening to this guy for four years. Today, Allahpundit called him the ” bizzarro candidate.” I thought that was great. I can see him in a Seinfeld episode.

    I”ll vote for Romney. He’s sane. Nevertheless, what I wouldn’t give to have Chris Christie pop in now and then to state his piece.

  • Clark

    Erica I think it’s much more that a large segment of the base wants a certain style and doesn’t honestly care about content that much so long as it matches the style they want. Newt delivers that despite the ridiculously heavy baggage. That’s also why Huntsman doesn’t have a chance. He’s unarguably more conservative than either Newt or Romney but has inexplicably taken a democratic style and a tendency to attack the base rather than attract them.

  • ziel

    Not to intentionally risk banishment for interrupting these festivities with something completely OT, but the article to the right in your pinboard, “AFP: Ugandan works on space project from mother’s backyard” reads like it might have been hacked by C. Van Carter.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    I remember reading this entertaining article back when some Republican bigwigs were trying to get Chris Christie into the race. It asked why he was so loved by the right wing, despite being about as moderate on social issues as Mitt Romney. The conclusion was essentially Republican base voters don’t really care what a potential candidate says, so long as he’s a dick to Democrats while saying it.

  • Tom Bri

    Razib, you are right, of course. There are any number of ways I could have tempered that remark. I voted for Ron Paul, many years ago but wouldn’t now, and it seems very unlikely a majority of Americans would choose him, as one example. The Republican party has its unelectable nuts and fruits.

  • joe republican

    Newt is smart, yes. He debates well, yes. But unfortunately he is really fat and really sort of homely. The American general public will simply not elect someone this physically unattractive to represent them. We should nominate someone else who can win the general election.

  • erica

    Clark said,

    “Erica I think it’s much more that a large segment of the base wants a certain style and doesn’t honestly care about content that much so long as it matches the style they want.”

    I do agree in that I think the base believes that Newt has the cajones to go after Obama in a way that Romney won’t. Still, most have either forgotten or don’t know Gingrich’s m.o.

    Ironically, if the stars ever aligned so that Gingrich did win the nomination and the Presidency itself, we’d be in the same pickle we’re in today–gridlock. I myself would enjoy a real knock down, drag out between Newt when he’s in his conservative mood and Obama. I’d love to see rhetorical blows struck against the silly tenets of liberalism, something Newt, not Romney, can accomplish, but I know that with Newt, it’s just his Tuesday or Thursday flourish delivered to his class. On Monday and Friday, he’ll be saying something else…and he can’t manage anything, certainly not a bureaucracy.

    It just could be that this time around we really do need a “manager” as Romney’s friends and foes term him.

  • leviticus

    Newt is the GOP, or a good bit of the base,, in terms of physical appearance and other aspects. While there is more to the GOP then semi-obese, angry, middling and elderly white folks, who have partaken, or continute to partake, of Uncle Sam’s largess, they are the single largest voting block. The positions of the thing that like’s to call itself conservatism: starve the schools, load the grandkids with debt, ignore failing transportation infrastructure, but don’t touch Social Security, Medicare, Tel Aviv’s tribute, and militarism, are the positions beloved of many a Silent Generation member or aging boomer.

    For young GOPniks, those who haven’t gone liberal or don’t suffer from Bazarov’s malaise (as many of us do), Newt could be an older guy in your community. The obesity in this case making Newt very typical.

    Sigh, of course travelling overseas, outside of Western Europe, Mexico or the affluent Gulf, one realizes how fat middle-aged Americans are. Sigh, it wasn’t always so. I’m old enough to remember skinny being more typical of old people, even in the South. For younger folks to get a brief glimpse of what it was like before subsidized geriatic obesity was commonplace, may I recommend watching “Honeysuckle Rose”, a campy Willie Nelson movie from circa 1980. Pay close attention to the family reunion scene, look at the extras. You could not find that many thin extras in TX these days.

    Obesity aside, just as with Sarah Palin, Newt’s apparent domestic disfunction shows he’s just regular folks. That’s what we are: fat, bad at marriages, and with a growing number of illegitimate births.

  • rimon

    isn’t he also too short to be president? the taller guy usually wins (except against George W. Bush!)

    the republican candidates are interesting in how they force their base to deal with their biases: do you want a conventionally attractive telegenic tall guy- but he’s a Mormon, or do you want a WASPy regular joe who is not so tall and overweight with white hair.

  • dave chamberlin

    I think Newts undoing will have more to do with his swollen head rather than his swollen body. The man has a long history of rediculous grandiose statements as well as actions too pompous and self centered for even the very low qualifications of a US politician. He and his handlers may be able to keep him presidential long enough to win the Republican nomination, but I doubt it.

  • Brian Too

    It’s funny but my mental image of Newt is not one of obesity. That just doesn’t resonate for me. Maybe it’s because I don’t consider weight terribly important in a political candidate, just as I don’t consider their religion terribly important. Nor height, gender, hair colour, attractiveness, most of the externalities.

  • jason

    It’s not the size of his body, rather the size of his head, that makes him a bad choice for the nomination. His debate performance may have been better against the likes of Romney, but why would anyone vote for a Progressive like Newt when they can have the real thing with Obama? Newt can not beat Obama!


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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