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January 20th, 2012
01:13 PM ET

Why Gingrich 'open marriage' allegation may not scare off evangelicals

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) -
The ex-wife of a Republican politician alleges her then-husband asked if they could have an open marriage, so evangelical “values voters” rethink their support for him, right?

Not so fast, say some evangelical leaders and experts.

Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s second ex-wife, Marianne, made the “open marriage” allegation in an interview that aired Thursday night on ABC News.

But because of political circumstances and the way Gingrich parried a question about the accusation during Thursday’s CNN debate, the episode may cause relatively little fallout among evangelical voters, who are expected to make up about 60% of the vote in Saturday’s South Carolina primary.

Some say the drama may even help Gingrich among such voters.

“To a degree, it will give [evangelical voters] pause, but there’s a much more insatiable appetite to defeat President Obama,” said David Brody, chief political correspondent at CBN News at the Christian Broadcasting Network.

“Gingrich has never claimed to be a patron saint,” Brody said. “People have known for years about Gingrich’s marriage issues. In a way, his well-known history of troubled marriage works for him here.”

CNN moderator John King opened Thursday’s debate in Charleston, South Carolina, by asking Gingrich about whether he would like to respond to the allegation.

“No,” Gingrich responded to mounting applause, “but I will.”

"To take an ex-wife and make it, two days before the primary, a significant question in a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine," Gingrich went on, calling the allegation “false” and provoking a standing ovation from the debate audience.

It’s a safe bet that evangelical Republicans were among those clapping.

“The press is so unpopular with Republican voters that his answer helps him in the short term - it was a tactically brilliant answer,” said Richard Land, the public policy chief for the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest evangelical denomination.

“Whether it will work strategically is another question,” Land said.

The Christian Broadcasting Network’s Brody said that Gingrich’s response to the “open marriage” question “took a weakness and turned it into a strength.”

“Evangelicals have been bashed by the media for decades, so this is a common bond he’s able to play up with them,” he said. “He was able to develop a kinship with evangelicals over this last night.”

Brody said that Gingrich has spent lots of time on the campaign trail discussing stances that matter to evangelicals, like opposition to abortion and confronting radical Islam.

Land said the allegation from Gingrich’s ex-wife may hurt the candidate in the long run because it reminds voters that he was seeing his current wife, Callista, while married to his second wife.

Gingrich has admitted to his affair with Callista, whom he married in 2000.

“This reminds people that Callista is the other woman,” Land said, “and that the other woman could become the first lady.”

Gingrich’s evangelical backers have not shied away from discussing his past marital problems. In a conference call with evangelicals last week, Gingrich spoke extensively about his failed marriages.

“We're all quite aware that there was a season in Speaker Gingrich’s life in which his lifestyle was unacceptable,” Jim Garlow, a prominent evangelical pastor who was on last week’s call, said in an e-mail message. “He does not defend it. Nor would any evangelical. Nor do I.”

“He is as flawed as King David in the Old Testament,” wrote Garlow, who helped lead the campaign to ban gay marriage in California in 2008. “However, that did not keep God from restoring King David and using him after his moral failures, for the benefit of the entire nation.”

Still, even before this week’s allegation from his ex-wife, Gingrich’s personal baggage had given many evangelicals pause.

“Forgiveness is not the issue here, trust is the issue,” Land said. “Redemption is something that’s in our code as evangelicals, but trusting someone with the presidency is something entirely different.”

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Newt Gingrich • Politics

soundoff (1,224 Responses)
  1. hamsta

    @facelessdrone thats funny,i think the same thing of obama.

    January 20, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • D

      Don't beat yourself up over it...there are droves like you keeping both evangelicals and GOPers milking this country for all it is worth. Funny/sad part is that you'll be convinced it was the "other guys" the whole time.

      January 20, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
  2. BDM

    The issue isn't about marital affairs and open marriages, these are all issues between Newt and his ex-wife(s). The issue is hypocrisy; Newt was part of the Republican hooligans that pursued President Clinton during his exposed extra-marital trist. He and his gang went as far as impeaching him because the former President tried to hide his personal issues from public judgment (and he had that right). Newt tried to use the legal authority of Congress to morally judge the President, but now he cries about receiving the same treatment. The issue is about his integrity as one who comdemned others for his same fault; that is the defninition of hypocrisy.

    January 20, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • c. shaw

      Clinton's impeachment was actually about lying under oath. Remember Clinton's lame "definition of 'is'" cop-out?

      January 20, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Fluid Dynamics

      In the GOP world, the oath to the US for "is" is more important than the oath to God and "I do"
      For "small government" people, they sure are interested in my bedroom activities. Also, quick to point fingers at others for doing the exact same thing. Reminds me of the playground bully who always cries "He hit me first!"

      January 20, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • Ronnie12345

      oh and no one does that shaw everyone else is pure of heart.

      January 20, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • SBE

      Finally, someone who understands the bottom line here. Newt has no integrity! BDM only scratched the surface of this man's flawed character. We are in real trouble if he makes it to the White House.

      January 20, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • Bush's Food Stamp Economy

      @c. shaw: And what was he lying about under oath, dummy? Something that his philandering, hypocritical Republican persecutors had no business asking him about. And Newt, of all people, was leading the charge! It was one of the most revolting and sleazy episodes in our nation's recent history and Newt Gingrich was largely responsible for it.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Mindie from India

      @ Lewd Swingrich
      and yet you Demonize the only actual Family Values man in your own President. Why are ALL you GOPers such hypocrites?

      January 20, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • jtarver

      Bill Clinton is Disbarred and convicted of Perjury, no hypocracy in opposing him at all.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
  3. Patrick

    You cannot simultaneously be a Republican and be a Christian.

    January 20, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • Fluid Dynamics

      Sure you can, didn't you know Jesus only covered 70% of his healing miracles? The rest had to be paid out of pocket! He also collected co-pay for all the people he saw, then sent home saying "Take an asprin, come back tomorrow if it still hurts"

      January 20, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      How do you define a Christian and how do you what others can or cannot do?

      January 20, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      *know

      January 20, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • c. shaw

      Can a person be a Democrat and a Christian?

      January 20, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • Ronnie12345

      good question shaw why don't you google it.

      January 20, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • mark

      If Jesus was a Republican when it came time to multiply the fish and bread to feed the masses he would have said, "I have mine, go get your own."

      January 20, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • jtarver

      Yet until 1949 one was required to be a registered Democrat to be a Ku Klux Klan member and worship Ba'al.

      January 21, 2012 at 1:22 am |
    • Bendelep

      I don't understand this statement. Are you being sarcastic?

      January 21, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  4. David Crosby

    Amazing how evangelicals can be so blind to the behavior of their leaders...they truly are a cancer in our country..I for one do not want to live in a theocracy with these nuts running it...

    January 20, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      Then you don't have to.

      January 20, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • Mindie from India

      Don't worry David. None of this even matters because Obama will win his 2nd Term. At best, all this shows is who will NOT be POTUS in 2016 – none of these GOP contenders are electable.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  5. Seamus

    Denial is a river in Egypt for the social conservatives, why stop at Newt?

    January 20, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • Fluid Dynamics

      Next in the GOP playbook, tell us how bad President Obama is for being a serial monogomist! GOP the party of poligamy!

      January 20, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  6. Fluid Dynamics

    It seems that the GOP wants their best hypocrite as their nominee.
    I'll see your offshore accounts and "not much money" speaking fees and raise you impeaching the President for having an affair, while having an affair!

    January 20, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  7. Donald Shimoda

    A cloud doesn't know why it moves in just such a direction and such a speed, it feels an impulsion....this it the place to go now. But the sky knows the reason and the patterns behind all clouds, and you will know too, when you lift yourself high enough to see beyond horizons.

    January 20, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  8. Facelessdrone2005

    The evangelicals aren't rejecting this hypocrite because nobody is more of a hypocrite than evangelicals themselves. Their 11th commandment is "do as I say, not as I do." Gingrich fits right in.

    January 20, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • c. shaw

      I see you're afraid to live up to standards.

      January 20, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Ronnie12345

      so off shaw

      January 20, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • salvy

      Shaw = boob

      January 20, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  9. Ambrose Smith

    If Obama has cheated on 2 wives the GOP would be shouting in the streets about how unethical he was.

    January 20, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      What does this tell you?

      January 20, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • Ronnie12345

      If your a white republican its ok

      January 20, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      Then it is ok.

      January 20, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
  10. timz

    Come on, Newt . . . parade your daughters out here again so they can tell us how you didn't abandon ship, you just slipped and fell into the lifeboat.

    Seriously, would you take a cruise on any ship of which Newt was the captain?

    January 20, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      That is up to you.

      January 20, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • Facelessdrone2005

      "President Gingrich of the U.S." would be the equivalent of Captain Schettino of the Costa Concordia.

      January 20, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • Boat Drinks are on Me

      @timz...........well played, my friend. The comment of the year so far.

      January 20, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  11. Fluid Dynamics

    Bad media, bad reporters, doing what they are supposed to.... Reporting!

    January 20, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  12. c. shaw

    Newt's extramarital affairs would be a resume-enhancer if he were a Democrat.

    January 20, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • Patrick

      Yeah, because you see how we embraced John Edwards after he cheated on Elizbeth, right? Why can't you rethugnican'ts ever say anything that isn't a blatant bare-faced lie?

      January 20, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • c. shaw

      You guys embraced Clinton after he had 2 affairs. Remember "it's the economy, stupid?"

      January 20, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • Ronnie12345

      Ya that kind of character really helped out senator weiner shaw.

      January 20, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • Edwin

      Nobody, not even evangelicals, cares if a man cheats on his wife. Everybody expects it, sadly. Those that complain are really complaining about something else.

      Democrats came down hard on Edwards because he was sneaky about it. They forgave Clinton because he was powerful and a democrat. They despise Gingrich for it because, well, they despise Gingrich.

      Republicans hated Clinton for lying and cheating because he was destroying their power base. They support Gingrich because, well, they think he might have a chance against Obama.

      Virtually no voter ever cares about infidelity, even if they say they do.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • mark

      But he's not which just makes him a hypocrite.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  13. Fluid Dynamics

    Many modern "Christians" beleive Jesus died for their sins, so they might as well use them while they can!

    January 20, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • Ambrose Smith

      Ha ha! Good one. So true. May as well sin since they will be forgiven in the end! What a good deal!

      January 20, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • Patrick

      Sin bravely, that grace may abound!

      January 20, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  14. person

    whackity schmackity doo

    January 20, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  15. Martha

    Does it matter that he used to be an evangelical and now he's not?

    January 20, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      Does it matter that the butterfly was once a caterpillar? It is an illusion.

      January 20, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • Ironicus

      Does it matter that he is insane? Because he still is.

      January 20, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      That is up to you Ironicus.

      January 20, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  16. Lewd Swingrich

    "'He is as flawed as King David in the Old Testament,' wrote Garlow, who helped lead the campaign to ban gay marriage in California in 2008. 'However, that did not keep God from restoring King David and using him after his moral failures, for the benefit of the entire nation.'"

    This is exactly why the problem with religiously motivated voters.

    January 20, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      What are your flaws? Are you a more perfect being than those you describe?

      January 20, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  17. Donald Shimoda

    Reality is divinely indifferent.

    January 20, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • miller

      True enough, but didn't Richard Bach also say:

      "You teach best what you most need to learn." 😉

      January 20, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  18. Elmer Fudd Goes Psycho And Murders The Brady Bunch

    Why? It's simple. Evangelicals want ANYONE other that a Mormon, except of course a Muslim or a Hindu or a black or an atheist or an agnostic or a Buddhist or just about any other religion.

    January 20, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • Lewd Swingrich

      Newt can let his little newt go wherever it wants and do whatever it wants as long as he accepts Jesus as his savior he is forgiven.

      He could murder a baby and if he repented it'd be K with God cause Jesus did a suicide for our sins.

      That's why Newt would be the best president.

      January 20, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • Ronnie12345

      Lewd thats a stretch man.

      January 20, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  19. jimtanker

    It doesnt matter what politician gets elected. We'll still get F#@$$ in the @$$.

    January 20, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      We will if that is what we want.

      January 20, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • I'm The Best!

      It's the republicans who will blast you in the @$$ or the democrat who is already blasting your @$$ either way we still get our @$$ blasted and none of us win

      I was just going to mail them all asking if they wanted to buy my vote. It's what they do once they're in office anyways. I might as well get in on some of that cash

      January 20, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  20. Believer in Jesus as my Savior

    If he can't stay loyal to his wife I highly doubt he'll stay loyal with us the people.

    January 20, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Puzzled

      This is only interesting in that it may partially explain a modest and probably transient uptick in support for a candidate who may not win in a single primary. Let's give it a name: "The Pity Vote". Poor Newt is being picked on by the media. Let's help that poor man.

      January 20, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.