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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. JB

    That the evangelical and GOP base can so easily say Gingrich's character flaws are no big deal...that he's asked forgiveness..or however else they excuse his behavior is the height of hypocrisy when it was Gingrich and his base that tried to crucify Clinton and continue hold him to accountable for his mistakes. Also, for Gingrich to say he's asked for forgiveness...it seems he forgot the ask the one person he should have...his ex-wife, who says he still hasn't apologized.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  2. keeth

    So when a Dem screws up, he's damned for life by "Values Voters." But when Gingrich trashes marriage way more than any gay person could, evangelical christians (little e, little c) forgive him because they hate Obama so much? Think about that. Immoral behavior and hypocrisy are ignored in favor of intense hatred for another man. Or, to put another way, selective forgiveness in favor of hatred. That doesn't seem very Christian to me.

    "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." ~Mohandas Gandhi

    January 20, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  3. justsayNo

    I beleive in God, I beleive in Jesus... I don't bleive in these evangelicals.... I think if He were here today He'ld be making a whip right about now for money hungry pulicans.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • Know What

      justsayNo,

      Well, you type better than Jesus, but that's not saying much else for you...

      January 20, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  4. JBS

    He cheated on and left his first two wives while they each were sick. How can anyone think he suddenly can provide moral leadership?

    January 20, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • If horses had Gods ...

      Human morals are important to us as individuals but the economy knows no morals, policy with foriegn countries requires different morals. A moral President is not what we need .. we need a strong President knowledgeable in global matters for the good of our entire country, not the feel good morals of certain groups.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  5. polycarp pio

    People,people,people such hatred of Christians on this site, and not just slight hatred but utter disgusting hatred and sterotyping of all"evangelicals" you hypocrites you rage over the " hatred" of these nasty christian evangelicals while you spew your utter hatred of all Christians most of whom are social so called christians. Keep pouring it on you only make my faith and determination to be holy and pure stronger. PP

    January 20, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  6. james

    These are not true followers of Christ clapping – those are pseudo Christians that are republicans and espouse Christian views in public and act like heathens in private and out of public view.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  7. trey

    Obama 2012
    seriously, do you all want anyone of these horrible republicans in the white house destroying america??

    January 20, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  8. Bryan in IN

    The right wing is full of mind boggling hypocrisy. If this were a Democrat, all we'd hear is bloviations about family values. I don't care who anyone screws until they start legislating their do as I say not as I do crapola. Gingrich is loathesome in so many ways, but this is the perfect example of what a hypocrite he is.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  9. mother of four

    Please. Do NOT compare this man to King David.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  10. rsjacksonus

    If Newt was a Democrat and the debate was on CNN, then all hell would break loose because of a question like that. I have my doubts about Newt but its not about his personal life. Every human will do some stupid and sinful deeds in their life. I examine the candidates on the issues at hand. The use of a candidate's personal life in the first question shows that the opposition is scared of that candidate. Attack on the issues and let the personal life issues come afterwards.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Knucklehead

      If he was a Democrat you would be all over him. Hypocrite.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • Larry L

      Conservatives spent 91 million dollars of the tax payer's money to prosecute Bill Clinton for a BJ from an not-so-attractive woman. You thought that was a great idea. I don't believe Hillary had cancer or MS during that time.

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

      All hell is breaking lose...what else would the Dems do? Tough questions are asked of all candidates...of all parties...the GOT needs to stop feeling so picked on...it's just an inferiority complex.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • rsjacksonus

      Actually, if he was a Democrat I wouldn't be all over him. You assume I'm a republican. Idiot.

      Anyway, I have difficulties in understanding how Newt could bring real political change to DC. He's an insider. Romney is a flip-flopper and comes across to me as a used car salesman. Paul is a naive old man. Perry is an idiot. Santorum...well who knows b/c he'll disappear soon. So before you claim I'm a Republican, ask me. Idiot.

      I probably represent a huge block of voters in this country. Dissatisfied with BOTH parties.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  11. sherman

    when 'they" say that he had too many ideas...or some ideas that were unworkable. this is what people that have ideas do. its brilliant, nrilliant, brilliant, nuts, brilliant...etc. so I do like this guy. we need to do things completely differently going forward.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  12. Obama 2012

    Gingrich is such a hypocrite. He is the biggest welfare advocate of any candidate. When he was representing my area of Marietta, GA, we received more federal money than any district in the entire country except federal districts like D.C. Mainly he just scares people into believing we are gonna die if we don't spent billions more dollars on attack spending (defense). So Marietta and Lockheed Martin prospered. And on a personal level, what kind of person presents divorce papers to his wife on her death bead dying of cancer so he can go marry a fling?

    January 20, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Knucklehead

      A man of ideas, that's who....like, the idea of getting away from all that messiness of dealing with a dying person.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • Lew

      Really? Deathbed? She didnt have cancer, she had MS. And she looks alive to me. cmon with the sob story. That woman is a freak. No wonder he isnt woth her anymore.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  13. xebert

    Gingirch is no christian

    January 20, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  14. timothy

    Anybody who would vote for a thrice married, $300,000 fine for ethics violations, ousted from the U.S. House by his own party, John Bolton fan, is NOT going to worry about menage trois. Same state as Strom Thurmond-statutory rapist, and Mark Sandford -Argentine Gaucho.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  15. Diana in MO

    Amen!

    January 20, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  16. Michael

    Is there a delay before comments post or am I being censored for speaking the truth?

    January 20, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Bruce

      Depends what you consider Truth. If it's some sort of God-truth, save it for your own private musings. If is the Truth that Newt is a HYPOCRITE, then speak freely. All the while when he's cheating on his wife, the guy is out leading the campaign on Family Values. He led the charge to impeach Clinton over his infidelity. The moderator, and fellow Republican candidates, missed the opportunity to hold Gingrich accountable to his issue as a candidate: hypocrisy.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Michael

      @Bruce Glad you made yourself censor of the internet to tell people what they should and shouldn't say, because you fear the wrath of God due to the fact that you're a sinner and don't desire peace with God, but rather to continue in your sin, casting off all restraint.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  17. justsayNo

    This election will b a refurendom on obama care and old people. After this elcetion I won't be surprised to see euthenaisa become law and children be given the authority to decide what happens to thier parents.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  18. rick52

    Never underestimate the willingness of a Christian to engage in situational ethics.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  19. danny

    If Gingrich wins then evangelicals LOSE ALL CREDIBILITY (NOT THAT THEY HAVE MUCH ANYWAY)

    January 20, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  20. TAK

    Christian (and by extension, republican) hypocrisy knows no bounds.

    This is a man that made his career trying to impeach President Clinton for the same offense he now claims is irrelevant in a presidential campaign.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:28 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.