Harding was basically a dumb guy who was a failure as president, but he was a great success as a world-class cheat. His wife, Florence, was way too good for him and probably could have been president herself. She was vastly more accomplished and intelligent than he was. Because she was too good for him, Harding decided to find other women who were more on his level of intellect.
Phillips, of course, was not the only mistress he had. There was the very young Nan Britton, who allegedly had a daughter from her alleged liaison with the president just prior to his presidency. She wrote a book about it called The President's Daughter, which I noted in the early days of this blog.
Many historians and researchers have doubt about Britton's claims, but they don't have any doubt at all ol' Warren was carrying on in the hay with Carrie.
The letters to Phillips are still fashionably pornographic after all these years:
The correspondence is intimate and frank — and perhaps the most sexually explicit ever by an American president. Even in the age of Anthony Weiner sexts and John Edwards revelations, it still has the power to astonish. In 106 letters, many written on official Senate stationery, Harding alternates between Victorian declarations of love and unabashedly carnal descriptions. (While Phillips’s notes and some drafts of her letters have been preserved, her actual replies were not.) The president often wrote in code, in case the letters were discovered, referring to his penis as Jerry and devising nicknames, like Mrs. Pouterson, for Phillips.
The affair lasted, off and on, for almost 15 years — through Harding’s term as Ohio’s lieutenant governor and his time as a U.S. senator. Shortly after Harding won his party’s nomination for president, Phillips threatened to release their correspondence and demanded money in exchange for her silence. Historians say that to keep her quiet, the Republican National Committee paid for Phillips and her husband to go on a lengthy trip to Japan and provided her with a gift somewhere between $20,000 and $25,000 (more than $297,000 today). Harding himself offered her a stipend of $5,000 a year as long as he was in public service.
There was also concern that she was even a spy.
In any case, Harding had as good a taste in picking mistresses as he did in picking cabinet members.