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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. sdfghj

    We all know that politicians are liars and Newt is a politician. I'd bet that his ex is telling the truth.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • Minnie

      Which of Newts marriages was he protecting when he signed The Defense of Marriage Act? Shouldn't the man who ushered in this manure be subjected to marriage questions when running for the presidency of all people – including gay Americans? That he deflected the question proves to me that he is not a man.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • Lydia

      His 6 year adulterous affair while passing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, The Defense of Marriage Act and trying to impeach Clinton is not in question. Whether or not he asked for an open marriage from his wife is the sticking point. He did have a 6 year adulterous affair while telling gay people that their relationships were as good as dirt and passing judgement on a colleague for doing the exact same thing he was doing except he was doing it on a grander scale. Clinton and Gingrich got laid and to save face with evangelicals, they passed discriminatory measures against gay Americans. Gay Americans had to pay for their indiscretions. I guess it made these small, small men feel a bit larger.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
  2. 16halo

    The idea that the media has been bashing evangelicals is beyond ridicolous, they can't seem to understand that a majority of Americans, people of diffierent faiths including Chrisitians, do not accept or buy into thier extreme views. They have a right to thier views, but they do not have a right to inflict those views onto everyone else, just like all of the other socially narrow minded etreme groups in the US. They are becoming a fringe group protected by the 1st Amendent, as such they should.The Universe will move with or without you and the force of that movement are the people who will no longer stay silent and be marginalized, and oppresesed becuase of who they are, whether it be becuase of their culture or nature. If they truly believe in a higher power then they know that they cannot forsee, foretell or interpet that power. We live in a democratic society not a theocracy. All Religions, dieties, and the study of can be a tool or resource to look to for guidance and understang no different than other studies like sociology, philosopy, etc.. I am not surprised that Evangelicals do not see thier own hyprocrisy because they are blinded by thier belief in thier own self worth while at the same time denying the self worth of others created by supposedly GOD. How ridiculous!

    January 20, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • Clara

      It is disingenuous for Romney to say that he will not turn back any advances made by gay Americans when his is running with the party that has done more to harm gay Americans. Thank goodness for two lone Republican Senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe for recognizing the human worth of gay soldiers and their families and crossing the isle to extend protections to these brave individuals who served for so long with duct tape on their fully red-blooded American mouths. Evangelicals do not have a monopoly on love and the pursuit of happiness but they sure have a stranglehold on the necks of gay Americans that they have yet to cease to let go.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
  3. Kevin

    Any man stupid enough to get married not just once, but three times, shows total lack of judgement and doesn't deserve to be elected dog catcher.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  4. uisignorant

    Evangelicals supporting Gingrich is a joke. Just keep drawing near to those lying lips.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • Faith-Isn't-A-Preacher

      An Oligarch based upon religion. If sees opportunity of power and influence through the appeasement of Gingrich.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • Jesus C.

      The Evangelicals have been swallowing lies hook, line, and sinker, ever since they were told that I rose from the dead.

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

    Tim Gheitner received almost ZERO PRESS regarding his CHEATING on his taxes yet Romney gets BLASTED saying he will release his tax returns in APRIL> The hypocrisy of the MEDIA is hilarious.

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

      Ayn Rand was a bullshltting liar who didn't give a crap about morals or other people at all.
      If you follow Rand you suck.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
  6. naggingmoose

    I'm likening this Christian values thing more and more! Do as you want as I am a Christain. I don't remember this value as I was growing up in the church???

    January 20, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
  7. kab

    Gingrich is such a hypocrit!! He wanted President Clinton impeached based on moral issues–while at the same time, he was having a 6 year affair. He divorced his first wife after having an affair and divorced his second wife after having an affair!!! Do we really want his mistress to be our First Lady???? What does it say about his morals and ethics and his wife's morals and ethics? We do not want Gingrich and his wife to be our First Family!!!!

    January 20, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
  8. Milt

    An thus the far right so-called social conservatives are making hypocrites of themselves. How Gingrich is even a candidate for President of the United States is beyond me? The guy is a loose cannon that has no chance to win a general election. Thanks again Social Conservatives

    January 20, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • Becky

      Evangelicals don't care if he screwed the pooch as long as he keeps repeating the words "family values" over and over and over again, then inserts one man, one woman after every sentence.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  9. Faith-Isn't-A-Preacher

    Everyone should not forget: "The American Form of Government"
    Do a web search on it. You will have what is happening today clearly explained.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
  10. Texas

    The GOP Pool = A Mormon, a Serial Cheater and and a Christian Crazy....What an outfit!

    January 20, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  11. Scott Lord

    Can you imagine Newt in power of what happens at The Fed?

    Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac... Speaker during teh start of subprime loans, involving The Fed... taking millions from The Fed stealing companies... and now, he wants to be in power to be able to force The Fed's hand... don't put this man in control of what he loves so dearly - taking Printed Money.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  12. JP Ouellette

    Why would any reasonably intelligent journalist start a political debate with such a stupid question about his personal life? I an a Democrat but that was one of the dumbest (from a respected journalist – not some muckraker) things I've ever heard. The moderator should be ashamed and, luckily, the politician zinged him in return (despite the fact that this politician is the major perpetrator of the current hate-hate, useless congress situation). Hopefully, this will remind journalist that there is a difference between journalism and muckraking.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  13. junior

    Newt is the Terminator. Knock him down, he gets up and keeps on comming. The debate was an Oscar winning performance; attack while defeinding a nearly impossible position to defend (does anyone need extra balls?). Yeah!!!, we have a fighter, a great debater and and ideas man. This will be fun.

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

      Newt is a retard who cannot be trusted with a dead dog.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  14. lee

    Jesus, God, and forgiveness work for me. If other things work for others, I certainly accept that.

    I think Gingrich did a real nice job of answering the question, and changing the rules of the game. The press has to be accountable also. Although I think it is refreshing to have someone like Gingrich in the race, I think Romney – like Obama – is more emotionally balanced; and has the type of temperment better suited to be President.

    Gingrich, however, brings new bold ideas to the table [whether you are Republican or Democrat – it doesn't matter], as have others in both parties. We should learn from them all – not just criticize those we disagree with.

    And then each person should vote with their brain and conscience – deep down.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  15. Jim

    Hypocrisy in the first degree. The man is utterly without morals yet is supported by those who claim morals are all that matter. Meanwhile, the man they hate has shown no such lack of virtue.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  16. dv57

    Whoever wrote this article to spin it this way is such an idiotic freaking moron. I can't believe what dumb freakin asses CNN has writing for this website. Tone deaf to the max. Stop twisting stuff to make people read such idiotic crap or go get a real freaking job that is productive for you and the rest of us. It must be humiliating thinking that you are the least bit helpful.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • Chris Ransdell

      What exactly is your rub with this article? It just asks if conventional wisdom about conservative voters using personal behavior as a measuring stick for politicians (Clinton) will hurt Gingrich in the same way.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  17. anonymous

    As a Christian, I find his lack of morality and ethics reprehensible. This is a man who didn't commit adultery once but twice and who knows who he has waiting in the wings now? While evangelicals might be able to overlook his adultery, how do they overlook his continued lying? He wasn't a lobbyist but a "historian" as he worked as a lobbyist? Give me a break. The man lacks ethics and has the morals of an alley tom cat.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • Sarah

      Evangelicals should find common ground with a man selling snake oil for a buck.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • Faith-Isn't-A-Preacher

      This video on the web makes it quite clear: "The American Form of Government"

      January 20, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
  18. Richard Cheese

    Funny. I just looked up 'hypocrisy' in the dictionary:
    noun, plural '-sies'
    1. a pretense of having a virtuous character, moral or religious beliefs or principles, etc., that one does not really possess.
    2. a Republican.

    It's even in the dictionary!

    January 20, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • uisignorant

      Richard Cheese in the dictionary is dick cheese or head cheese.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • caram

      Which dictionary would that be?

      January 20, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  19. Mindie from India

    So, these "Christians" would rather have a serial liar, cheater and fraud instead of a true Family Values Candidate in our own President Obama. Wonder why that is.....

    January 20, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • anonymous

      this Christian does not like any of the Republican candidates. I actually prefer Obama.

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

      Because they're Racists, as much as they are hypocrites! That's why.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  20. Al

    Newt Gingrich is a lying hypocrite POS who would use another candidates "moral failing" as a whip against them (and never stop). While he was torrmenting President Bill Clinton over his daliance with Monica Lewinski – he was doing the exact same thing with an intern in his office (and a wife at home)!!! He's worst then dog crap on your shoe – at least you can eventually get the crap off your shoe; we can't get rid of this creep! Newt, you quit politics before when your moral feeling were about to be exposed, take the hint... Get lost again!!!

    January 20, 2012 at 7:04 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.