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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. Robert

    I am an elitist. I live in a city on a coast. I did not get anyone pregnant before I married my first, current, and only wife of 9 years, and I have not had an affair, even if I may have had a temptation or two to resist, which I always have. I am a Democrat. I read newspapers and I have a passport, which I have used (not just to get drunk in Mexico). Thus, I am an elitist. I would be a real-American, non-elitist, family-values man if I lived in "Real America," got half the trailer park pregnant before getting married several times, had affairs, told crude jokes except on Sunday, got stone drunk every Saturday night, and so on. Then, to be a true non-elitist real American family-values man, I would have to go to a speical church service and declare my sins at a service that would feel like a rock concert, be cheered on by everyone else, raise my hands in joy, then spend the rest of my life announcing how superior I am to everyone else, especially the elitists. But I don't get to do that. I'm a once-married man who's never gotten anyone pregnant who wasn't my wife, never had an affair, I live in a city, I live in a blue state, and I like moccachino better than black coffee. Shame on me, I should get my values from real Americans like Newt.

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

    I watched Newt's response to the question proposed by John King. I think the allegations are true and why should he get a pass. He had no problem taking former President Clinton to task for his infidelity, so please give a break with your whining and just prepare to answer the allegations has best you can. Your fellow Republican Herman Cain had to answer for his past deeds. Why are you special? No free passes.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
  3. Kimo

    It will certainly help him with his base, that is, people who respond positively to pompous windbags.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
  4. Gmen

    Did we Forget that it was Newt that led the charge against President Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky affair,

    January 20, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • Mark

      we do not

      January 20, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • mandarax

      Yes, the republicans and the fundies will have forgotten that. Remember how they forgot that the Bush admin swore that Iraq had WMDs? Remember how they forgot that we were warned that the Bush tax cuts during wartime would flush our economy down the toilet? Unfortunately, yes they will have forgotten.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  5. Mark

    a cheater or a mormon? evangelicals will certainly go for the cheater. this mess only helps obama in the end. romney might actually have the ability to beat obama. newt is a cartoon character. oh and the best guy dropped out a week ago. huntsman.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  6. revolting peasant

    Ain't hypocracy a beautiful thing?

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

    Just more evidence that Republican voters are clinically insane, and will go against all reason and contradict themselves in order to follow the crowd.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  8. revolting peasant

    I'm guessing that most evangelicals secretly envy Newt and wish their holier-than-thou morality did not get in the way of their secret desires.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • Mark

      i tend to agree. and since he's a fat white dude from the south, they're like get'er done.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • John

      Hear, hear! Open marriages for everyone in the GOP!

      January 20, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  9. ron

    Can anyone out there imagine the hateful wrath that would come from evangelicals if Obama (or another "liberal") confessed to even ONE indiscretion, much less several? It wouldn't matter how much the "liberal" asked for forgiveness. The vitriol would never cease. Yet a serial offender like Gingrich can win the "forgiveness" of the evangelicals. When it's a conservative, forgiveness becomes the dominating theological concept. Nothing more hypocritical than this. Period.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  10. Snow

    Well I think its a blast to be an evangelical christian.. and Newt is perfect candidate to represent their high morality..

    – You can lie, cheat and deceive all you want.. but ask "God" for forgiveness and no one can ever bring that up ever again.
    – You can start the divorce proceedings with your wife who caught you cheating and within 2 days give speech on great American, christian family values and no one should bring that up.
    – You can blast a fellow politician in office for having an affair on a day and go to your own mistress the same evening, and no one should talk about that!
    – You can go on global policy talks to the Mediterranean and chill on a luxury yacht during those talks, come back and show what a great patriotic duty you performed.. and no one should talk about that!
    – You can promise in front of god to live with a person forever, and break that not once, or twice, but three times and no one should bring that up!

    I think Newt exactly represents them. I am not sure I want him at the helm of my country though.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • JP Cox

      You are mixing forgiveness and position of responsibility. Paul gives the guidance for a person in a position of responsibility, and Gingrich misses MOST those qualities. Christians (professed) are not placing Gingrich on a pedestal asking americans to vote for him....I think that is part of the problem – no one is up to snuff for the true "Christian" vote.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
  11. E

    Evangelicals like to vote for people like themselves... Those that preach morality while NOT practicing it.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  12. dave

    Romney...at least 10+
    Biden....oh yeah....a big fat zero

    January 20, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  13. JP Cox

    I believe his response was grandstanding to an issue that is both real and valid. Out of all the so-call conservatives he has the most problematic marriage life. The bible calls into question a persons ability to manage anything outside the house if you can't manage your house first. If he cheats on his wife, who is supposed to be more important than the public, what would make someone say he wouldn't cheat and lie to the american people. THIS IS A FAIR question.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  14. Nero

    I cannot believe anyone would vote for this piece of trash. He was having an affair while he was condemning clinton for having an affair and trying to have him impeached. This guy is so untrustworthy that I have to question the intelligence, or lack there of, of anyone who would vote for him. He's a liar, a cheat and a hypocrite. Are those the three most important qualities in a president for Republicans? Because that is what he is best at!!!

    January 20, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
  15. Mike

    Of course that would get a bump out of the religious. They love death,let the poor die, cheating unless its a democrat doing it. They love executions, child molestations look at the catholic church. Yep if its 180 degrees from what they preach than they love it.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  16. SafeJourney

    The question John King asked speaks to Newts moral and ethical character or LACK there of. Newt is also corrupt. Do not let Newt anywhere near the White House

    January 20, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  17. A Man

    We dont care now because hes republican so he could like being tied up with leather and a ball gag but its ok as long as he opposes Obama. I swear voters would make a deal with the devil to get obeezy out of office.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
  18. Sandy

    Why should we question our support? Has her claim been substantiated with any legitimate proof? And just for the record, anyone who condones Bill Clinton as an acceptable president has NO right to condemn any other politician's marital issues.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • SafeJourney

      This question John King asked speaks to Newts moral and ethical character or LACK there of. Do not let Newt anywhere near the White House

      January 20, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • Bonester

      Don't question your support. Your support has nothing to do with Newton Leroy and everything to do with your dislike for President Obama. What you you should be questioning is your own warped values.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • CHUCK

      Newt Gingrich is going to get a lot of votes, right Sandy. Afterall he has voters not willing to believe what was already known for some time. The guy by his own admission he is cheater and adulter, I guess these are qualities we want in our president, right Sandy. You are a idiot.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  19. Role Model

    Wait til Callista starts to sag arond the edges

    January 20, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
  20. TJeff1776

    Not new for men to run around. Nor new for some wives to ignor it. BUT to run to and fro pointing the accusing finger at the same time is a bit unusual. And here ONLY three weeks ago do we witness Newt and daughters lying about his ex-wife's divorce papers. The court clerk hid the papers for fear of theft, BUT they survived to clearly demonstrate the lies of a so-called "repentant man"- and his daughters obviously come by their status RIGHTLY.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:25 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.