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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. Ms. VL CHapter

    Ditto: 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. The lady on CNN who lives in South Carolina who said "it didn't matter what Gingrich did" Shame on her...he is an adulterer, thief, liar, bigot and not worthy to serve as our President. CONGRESS is Republican making decision for the "GOP party-Tea party" not for the people.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
  2. cantilever

    Hey, evangelicals, I can run an even better campaign than Newt, so how about it?
    Signed, The Devil.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  3. Sunnylovetts

    RON PAUL 2012

    January 20, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  4. KODAK

    After voting for many years without a single missed ballot, I'm trying hard to cough up enough desire to vote one way or the other for the next President. I think I'd rather eat a dog terd.

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

      You give obama 4 more years and that might be all you're eating.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • HPinDC

      I agree 100% Kodak, I hate them all.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  5. Mkdinclarkston

    Newt is a bloated, pompous, self-important, pseudo – intellectual, morally corrupt idiot. Any citizens voting for this guy are just not paying attention. Seriously – wake up and don't vote in a vacuum.

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

      Compared to your boy obama Newt is an Angel.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
  6. socalgal

    IF it's true...at least he asked/told his wife. Could have done a Kennedy or Clinton.

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

      Ha ha, you think Newt made his polygamy demands before his wife found out and called him on it? Nice wishful thinking.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • Ed

      Did you see the picture of that ugly witch? She's bitter and spiteful and trying to get even.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • D

      Wow Ed, judgmental much?

      January 20, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  7. achepotle

    Forget Newt for a minute...can you imagine having as your First Lady a woman who would cheat with a women's husband in her own bed, when the wife was ill? What kind of person does that? It is like the Fall of Rome.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  8. Chuck

    This analysis by the CBN and others just shows the hyporocrisy of evangelicals. They will "judge" everybody else's lifestyle but when it is one-of-their-own, suddenly they are quite forgiving. I don't think this should really be a big deal either but for the "family values' people to look the other way is incredible to me.

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

      I don't believe they DID look the other way.....WHEN it happened. But digging up old stories and misgivings isn't applauded either. There comes a time when you move.

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

      What do you expect when we have a 65% divorce rate. It's more accepted these days.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
  9. Cody

    In as much as I don't agree with his mariential affiars he does have a point in what he is saying. They should not have opened a debate with this question and the cat got their tongue. Though I think mariential problems reflect who an individual is, this kind of question was irrational to ask at a difficult time during the US.

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

      The big winners in Newt's "victory" are liberals, because when conservatives join liberals in removing morals from the political sphere, so-called "values voters" will have no where to turn.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  10. Michael

    The CBN doesn't reflect Christian thought. They are not even Christian. They are a network of heret ics, teaching universal atonement and free will salvation as heret ics do. And to compare Gingrich to King David (who was a man after God's own heart) is complete and utter foolishness on the part of that heret ic pastor, Jim Garlow.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  11. deb

    OK. We impeach a dem president for unfaithfulness and now stand in line to support this man......shame, shame

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

      Yeah, but the girl Clinton got with was uglier, so you know it was an embarrassment to national pride.

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

      Clinton was doing Monica in the Oval office, Newt wasn't.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  12. socalgal

    OMG...if only you left-loonies would have vetted the man who loves himself like the Repubs are doing now. Easy to denigrate the opposition while not imposing the same standards on the worst prez in history.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • Reggie from LA

      Uhm, I thought that his co-campaigners were denigrating him. Aren't they like, RightWing loonies or something?

      January 20, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • HPinDC

      Second worst, Dubya still gets the big trophy.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • D

      what are you talking about? we applied the same standards to W, too (ie: the worst president in history)

      January 20, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • Ed

      That's right, your boy is black so he can do no wrong...

      January 20, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  13. JT

    Just because he put on a good show doesn't mean allegation of open marriage isn't true. Most of these guys are good liars especially Mit.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  14. ToastyWarm79

    More "Do as I say, not as I do" family values posturing from the right.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • Ed

      compared your boy turning us into a 3rd world dictatorship.....

      January 20, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  15. HPinDC

    Hey, if the guy's got the stones to tell his wife he wants an open marriage, he's probably got the guts to tell Ahmadinejad to su ck it. I can only imagine what would happen to me if I suggested that....

    January 20, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • Knucklehead

      Love your take on foreign policy. So cerebral. So thought out.

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

      If you have time, you'll love my domestic policy ideas.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • Joe

      You'll notice the marriage failed. Newt's on his third marriage. If that's any reflection on his diplomacy, he'd be another war-mongering President. I know conservatives dig that. But what about the taxes to pay for it?

      January 20, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • Ed

      "Knucklehead – Love your take on foreign policy. So cerebral. So thought out."

      Yeah, it's at a level liberals and muslims can understand.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  16. BALTHOR

    I say let Gingrich hump!

    January 20, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  17. bananaspy

    Evangelicals have skeletons in their closets too.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • Knucklehead

      Gingrich has a whole housing development full of skeletons...go ahead. Nominate him.

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

    I can't wait to see what Larry Flynt does with this....

    January 20, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  19. mike_t

    Doesn't bother them because they're all doing it. It ain't sinnin' 'til you get caught.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  20. JR in Texas

    Self-righteous evangelicals make a mockery of Christianity.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • Reggie from LA

      Well said, JR.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:42 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.