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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. Mark Taylor

    My how the worm has turned. When this guy was running the House and leading the attack on Clinton, Republicans wanted blood for exactly the same crimes committed by Gingrich. Unbelievable.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • Marth

      YES! See Marth.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • jtarver

      Gingrich was aquitted by IRS of any wrong doing, while Blill Clinton was convicted of Obstruction of Justice and Perjury upon leaving office.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • Mark Taylor

      There is a huge difference between breaking the law and unethical behavior – there are business courses all about this and you should look into one. However, I wasn't referring to Newton's ethical violations, I was referring to diddlin' another woman out of wedlock.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • jtarver

      mark-There is no degree of seperation between Clinton's didling and law breaking. Newt married his high school math teacher and is screwed up in relationships.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Sharp

      Next to Newt, Clinton is a paragon of virtue.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • jtarver

      sharp-Clinton is Disbarred for Perjury and a convicted Felon.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • Sharp

      Newt is far, far worse.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  2. NorthropP61

    Wife number 3, the person the Christian right wants to be First Lady, was The Other Woman. Now this jewelry-loving (how many hundreds of thousand$ of overdue debt was that again?) Stepford Wife with an edge, who seems to hold Newt's jewels in a firm grip, wants to replace a wife and mother who actually has "family values". Class.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  3. Barry G.

    Leaders like Newt and Mitt certainly support what Jesus said.

    Jesus said all who came before me were thieves and robbers, but I am the good shepherd, and I lay down my life for the sheep.

    Off-shore bank accounts, failure to keep vows, ethical violations, Wall St. CEO fleecing the American people....

    What Jesus said in the first century is stil true today.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Barry G.

      And add to this list, senators and representatives who have amassed incredible wealth through their offices, and you have a corrupt nation.

      Surely this is what it was like in the early fifth century C.E., before the Roman Empire fell.

      "Babylon the Great has fallen!"

      January 20, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • Sharp

      "Your pride of might will be your shame."

      January 20, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  4. horatio johnson

    I can't believe the right wing christian base is giving gingrich a pass on the issue. That lets me know thier christian values are pretty flexable

    January 20, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Mark Taylor

      Christian values, i.e., the teachings of Jesus are not flexible. It is people are flexible and apparently very gullible too. Unenlightened people believe what they want to believe. Newt is as phony as they come and sadly many people who claim to follow what is really a beautiful set of teachings are hypocrites who do them more damage than good.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • Sharp

      But the good Lord in his wisdom & love forgives us all. IF WE TRULY REPENT. Lots of Christians come up a bit short on that one. Christ's forgiveness is conditional, not a free pass.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
  5. SomeChristianGuy

    I think any religous speaker/leader/representative that is speaking publicly about politics should have their tax exemption status revoked since it is clearly a contradiction to the seperation of church and state.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Sharp

      Lots of rich churches are way over the line into politics. There is a very good reason for church/state separation. Check out the history of England about Shakespeare's time. If that doesn't work for you how about the Muslim Despotism/Theocracys of today, starting with Iran. Have to agree with you.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  6. jtarver

    How is an open marriage different from a Mormon marriage? We don't even recognize Mormon marraige here in California.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • mother of four

      Because the Mormon church no longer allows men to be married to more than one woman?

      January 20, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • badlobbyist

      non-Mormon from Utah here....Mormons no longer practice polygamy. Been about 100 years or so. Strange religion? Maybe. but hey Catholics beleive in transsubstantiation. Now that's weird.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • jtarver

      bad-The Mormon in Mexico most certainly do practice polygamy.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  7. Sharp

    Doesn't surprise me a bit. So, Newt has the morals of a stray dog. So What? All the Religious Righters are noted hypocrites & bigots. They go together like ham & eggs.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  8. Michelle

    I wouldn't even be friends with a man like that never mind vote for him. Divorce can ugly for everyone but to divorce the first wife when she has cancer and the second when she gets MS, shows he likes the easy way out of commitments. If he becomes president he will probably quit the minute the going gets tough and run to govern an island somewhere there is no suffering or pain and where there is no requirement for compassion. Besides which he is soooo ugly and thinks he is so hot when he is really just a greasy porky pig married to what he himself called a woman who doesn't care what he does so how can anyone allow him to represent the U.S.? Shame on you Newt, once a wh_re, always a wh_re.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  9. polycarp pio

    Newt can be forgiven for his adultery but is this the best America has to offer? The only thing I really like about Newt is that he would be a friend to Israel, I dont think he would be a forceful opponent to abortion or "gay" rights even though he is against those things, or so he says. I dont see much changing no matter who gets elected. PP

    January 20, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  10. John

    Last time I check asking for an open marriage after your wife finds out you've been cheating on her is the most Christian of values. He's got my vote.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • Marth

      wow.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • Conner

      It constantly amazes me how many people don't understand sarcasm....

      January 20, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Pip

      sarcasm Marth sarcasm

      January 20, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  11. JR in Texas

    Religion should not have a place in national politics until churches pay federal taxes.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  12. HaHaHaHaHaHaHa!!!

    The thought of all these racist Christians' defeated, hate-filled faces when the black man wins again makes me laugh. Hopefully their venomous hate toxins stew inside them enough to make them all have heart attacks and die.........LOL!

    January 20, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  13. Charles

    Because proper Bible-following Christians believe in multiple wives and slaves (or "handmaidens"), of course.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • jtarver

      Israel had two wives and children with both their handmaidens, as well as concubines. Solomon had hundreds of wives and even more concubines. Christ, on the other hand, claimed any non-plutonic association with women is sin under the Law.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • Sharp

      I lost all respect for King David when I read how he had his loyal captain murdered in combat so he could take his wife. That surpasses even ol' Newt's iniquity.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • jtarver

      Only two people died for that Sin, while 70,000 died for David's big Sin. Solomon was Bathsheba's son after all.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  14. Bosco

    ABC say's they have "NO" record of Newt voluntering any name's to verify his claim about friend's knowing the truth about exwife's comment's about "open marriage'. Newt is not being forthright I believe.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  15. Anonymous Coward

    A man who is false to his first oath will be false to his second. - MZB

    January 20, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • ToastyWarm79

      And likely his third! Can't wait for the tell-all book Calista could pen when he ditches her in favor of some co-ed who volunteers on his campaign.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  16. Marth

    This from the man who tried to eviscerate Bill Clinton for his transgressions. Evangelicals make me sick. Explain to me how they can NOT throw this guy away after this. Oh, wait. These are the same people who oppose abortion but promote murdering abortion doctors. Now I get it. Evangelicals, you do not control this country and your "ideals" are dangerous. Please stay home on election day in November. No thinking person is interested in you having a say in our government.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • Mark Taylor

      Exactly. Right on target. What a bunch of phonies.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
  17. Barry G.

    Off-shore bank accounts, ethical violations and a string of broken vows to one's wife, senators and representatives using their offices to become extremely rich, Wall St. bankers fleecing the American people....

    Is it any wonder we're in trouble?

    January 20, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • badlobbyist

      We're not in trouble. It's only the 99% who are in trouble. That's not so bad.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  18. Mark Geist

    Cheat on your wife and other ethical issues...no problem for evangelicals...belong to the Mormon Church...big problem for evangelicals...

    January 20, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • badlobbyist

      Aint that amazing? The Mormons have one little difference in how they view the Trinity, and that trumps the REAL freaking world.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • Sharp

      Mormons are good & honorable people. I find the Book of Mormon to be a bit strange; to me it is somewhat like the Macabees. I believe the polygamy was adopted due to many male casualties during their pilgrim days in Utah. The purpose was to preserve the women's seed if you will. No sin in that, similar is in the Old Testament.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
  19. horatio johnson

    while gingrich was trying to use is friends to vouch for his charater, I wish john king would have come back and asked him( so you are telling us your firend new you had an ongoing affair and kept it going for six years and kept it from your wife). You can always tell when a person is lying(when they tell you to ask thier friends). Please dont let this die. this is definitely a question about charater and double standards. When clinton was in office according to gingrich he wasn't fit to run the country.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • Knucklehead

      He should have also followed up with "Since you sought the impeachment of a sitting President for perjuring himself about an extramarital affair, while you were doing the exact same thing, and since you promote yourself as a supporter of the Christian right then this is a legitimate question."

      January 20, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Conner

      John King is a complete coward for not pushing this issue.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  20. ad

    The point is not whether your boss has marital affairs and whether it is of your business. The whole Repug propaganda machine is built on the so called Christian values, and the last I checked, "open marriage" does not fit. So newt, by the whole account of his sham party, should quit, else, this is the height of hypocrisy and a good reason of why sane people should keep evangelical tea-partiers away from the White House.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • Sharp

      The expert propaganda machine that sells, successfully, the current patchwork of nonsense that is the Republican party line is breath taking in it's evil.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:07 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.