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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. dale

    Bring back Caine Field will be even

    January 20, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • chuck

      The only "common bond" he holds with evangelicals is the ability to create your own B.S. hypocrisy and wade through it with ease.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Dennis

      If Gingrich is their man, they can now dispense with all of the holier than thou crap.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • Carol Ann

      If adultery doesn't bother them, then I guess the $300,00.00 ethical violation fine dispensed by the Republican House of Representatives doesn't bother them either.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  2. Thurman R. Willis Jr.

    This man, Mr Speaker, is a liar, he cannot be trusted to run this country. He's not changed a bit!

    January 20, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  3. Reggie from LA

    That little episode between King and Gingrich probably will help Gingrich. He had a lotta buddies after his little tirade. That sure was clumsy of John King to start out like that. Appears to have been contrived to me.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • chuck

      An eighth grader with knowledge of gay history and Gingrich's hand in wholesale stomping on the rights of gay Americans could have wiped the floor with Gingrich. King didn't bring his B.S. waders and was completely caught off guard by the 20 year old allegations of liberal bias.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  4. Pourpaix

    Heeeeee-heeee-heeeeeeeeee! Heeeeee-heeee-heeeeeeeeee!
    So, the GOP wants us to vote for them on a conservative Christian platform? Do what's right! Do the moral and ethcial thing! Then they find a candidate with far less morals and ethics in his personal life than Obama!
    Heeeeee-heeee-heeeeeeeeee! Heeeeee-heeee-heeeeeeeeee!

    January 20, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  5. Michael

    What's an evangelical? The Bible doesn't know of any such thing. There is a follower of Christ, a Christian as others call them, who has been born of God. The rest are imposters.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  6. klarg

    Newt's immoral behavior will not bother the hallelujah-hypocrites

    January 20, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  7. lebowski1776

    If he'd lie and cheat on his wife multiple times, what do you think he'd do to the American people? Public Office absolutely puts your character up for investigation. This isn't a private company, it's the office of President. Where was all this 'concern' when Republicans were lambasting Obama and spreading unprecedented amounts of lies about him?

    January 20, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • Jim

      To: lebowski1776: Republicans spreading lies about Obama? Really Lebow? Really? Lies? Get your nose out of Maher's ass and after you've blown your nose and washed your face,...change news channels that you are watching. Go get a library card and start reading historical text, not liberal (printed in Texas) revisionist fish wrappers. Get as educated on American and American Presidential history as Newt is,...and then call him up and apologize. You are amazingly uneducated.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • *

      Yes JIm. Lies.
      You are the one that needs to change the channel.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • The King

      "your amazingly uneducated". How do your arrive at this conclusion? Lebowski1776 said nothing untrue. "Kenyan Marxist", "Communist", "death panels", "government takeover of healthcare", etc.. All GOP PAC lies aimed at Obama. Let me guess, you sent glenn beck money to attend his on line "university" so you think you're smart. You are wrong.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  8. corntrader19

    I think Newt will be the next one out of the race. He won't be missed.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
  9. Ted Taylor

    Why ask those questions. Does it have anything to do with education, economy, war etc. If not why ask those questions. As a voter I need to know the background and all the dirty laundry of every newscaster to see what they are hiding.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • reality

      The religious right doesn't support morality, they support christianity.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • fred

      Moral fiber of POTUS candidate does matter. Or suppose you want president with no backbone, maybe.

      You do get a vote – don't waste on liar.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • MalloryWin

      You don't get to run on a family values platform while being a serial adulterer.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  10. Michael

    Heret ic Jim Garlow, have you never read...

    1 Kings 15:5 Because David did that which was right in the eyes of the LORD, and turned not aside from any thing that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hitt ite.

    Is this a description of Gingrich? No, I didn't think so.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  11. The King

    This guy is a sniveling, privileged, self absorbed coward. He's as spoiled little boy who needs taken to the wood shed. Paging President Obama!

    January 20, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  12. Living Life

    Newt...I wish you could get elected and beat Obama...but...not sure you are "pretty" like Romney. I hope you can do it..you are more in tune with what the "truth" in politics are than any of the candidates and youre tough enough and not concerned about calling Obama out....I can only pray Americans pull their head out and vote for you!!

    January 20, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • Working Joe

      Wow you are one of the stupidest humans to inhabit this land of the stupid.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • Fiona

      Romney isn't "pretty," he's too much like an early 1960's sit-com version of a Dad to be called pretty. But Gingrotch looks like my mother-in-law, if she went on a diet (fat chance that). It actually pains me to look at him. How he managed to woo three wives I do not understand.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • fred

      Living Life and such people are living with head in ass. There is why they need to pull head out to vote. No news.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • Fiona

      Working Joe, do a Google on the word "stupidest.". It may enlighten you. Then again, maybe it won't.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • Jose Gonzalez

      Yes!! Vote 4 "Pedro" GingRich!! I Love how the question backfired on John King Cnn jajajajaja!!!

      January 20, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • MalloryWin

      @fiona - i know how he got those three wives. money/power.

      he's a standard issue politician who doesn't even make an attempt to show compassion to those less fortunate than himself (of which there are many, who he happens to be trying to court their vote). he has been on every side of every issue, it just depends on which way the wind is blowing and the political climate. he lead a charge to impeach someone for THE VERY THING he himself was doing at the time. he is a standard issue hypocrite, standard issue corporate politician.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
  13. sickofmorons

    Evangelicals, aka Christian Extremists, are the most hypocritical bunch of self-absorbed people to ever exist. If this had been Obama facing these accusations (albeit most are factual) the GOP would be all over how horrible of a person he is with no regard for family values yet because it's some rich, fat, white guy who throws the name 'God' around as if he is God's new best friend the cons are willing to overlook his blatant disregard for so many Christian values not to mention how many of the Ten Commandments he's broken. Shameful. Disgraceful and yes, no different than the terrorists they claim to hate.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • Living Life

      You are the reason Obama will turn us into Chinese speaking Americans.....ugh....

      January 20, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • fred

      Check again which candidate speaks Chinese. Surprised?

      January 20, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • Mortalc01l

      The truth is spoken.... These appallingly self-righteous, so-called Christians will pervert their own Bible, lie to themselves, support a Man in Gingrich that is a proven adulterer, a monstrous liar who was convicted of ethics charges; A Man who has cheated on at LEAST two of his Wives, yet has the audacity... the sickening hypocrisy to espouse "family values"????

      What family would HAVE a Man like Gingrich??? Oh, yes... the Evangelical "family"... the same people who deny Gays their equality under the law; the same evangelicals that would rather debase their supposed "morals", JUST to get Obama out of the White House..... What a perverted, sickening, fawning bunch of sc@mbags the evangelicals are...

      January 20, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
  14. Fiona

    Most marital issues do not belong in the public sphere, even when the candidate is a serial adulterer like Newt. Having relations with an underling at the workplace (Clinton), attempting to demand favors from someone in exchange for employment or advancement (Cain, allegedly) is newsworthy in that it shows serious lack of judgment. Being a self-centered and insensitive jerk (Newt) is. Private matter. Furthermore, bad mouthing one's ex-spouse is tacky, especially when you have children. Given that Marianne Gingrotch was herself once the "other woman, " she is the one who comes out looking the worst here.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • Fiona

      ...is a private matter.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  15. David

    This proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that right-wing evangelicals are hypocrites. So much for the "family values" baloney.
    They're okay with forgiving Newt while at the same time bashing Obama with the false accusations of being a Muslim,
    the birther stuff, and that he's a Socialist, none of which is true. Newt's philandering IS true and a matter of record.

    There is no low to which the Tea Party Repubs will not stoop, and their hypcorisy knows no bounds.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  16. Gagalicious!

    All Newt need is an endorsement by Lady Gaga's tramp a$$ and he's in like flynn!

    January 20, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  17. Mary

    Evangelicals are full of it! They claim they stand for Christian values, marriage and beliefs and yet they cheer the infidelities of Newt Gingrich. Newt created the mess he finds himself in and yet, censures the reporter/CNN for asking a legitimate question. Who the hell is Newt to demand the media back down when he was kicked out of Congress for ethics violations, who spews the racist codewords to so-called evangelicals and leaves his wives when they need him most? What kind of woman sleeps with other women's husbands and calls herself a devout Catholic? Excuse me? Newt lost his moral compass decades ago and now suddenly, wants to convince the American public he's now a man of faith and a father figure? We must be idiots to put somone like this in the White House.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • Mortalc01l

      Absolutely! You hit the nail squarely on the head... Evangelicals should be ASHAMED to even contemplate supporting this serial adulterer, proven liar, nakedly greedy, pig at the trough.

      So called Christians will sell their soul, go against their own Bible, stoop to the basest of behaviors, all in the name of getting a Black Man out of the White house.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
  18. dabble

    So, not only is Gingrich a major hypocrite (anyone remember DOMA?), but so are all the evangelical supporters. What a bunch of (scary) loons.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  19. Richard Beard

    The Pharisees Showed up in full force yesterdays at the Republican Debate to cheer on their candidate of choice. Newt a Pharisee from Washington didn't let them down he really put on a show. Newt
    A professional speaker really showed them how to gain the upper hand. Puling a dead rabbit out of the hat and blaming it on the CNN moderator John King for the mishap. CNN stated that, " It is a safe bet that evangelical Republicans were among those clapping." Boy I sure hope not. Clinton is a saint compared to this guy and they still talk about how bad he was for this country.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
  20. Katie

    Those self-righteous Christians do like their sinners. The more sins the more to forgive. People who avoid the actual sins don't value Jesus as much as those who have sinned and were saved do.

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

      "Self-righteous" and "Christian" are two opposite terms. The self-righteous are not Christian. Be sure not to smear the name of Christ by saying such false things.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • Fallacy Spotting 101

      Post by Michael is an instance of the No True Scotsman fallacy.

      http://www.iep.utm.edu/fallacy/

      January 20, 2012 at 7:02 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.