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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. Al

    Why would it? 80% of the pieces of garbage have had pre-marital s-ex - open marriage isn't far from that.

    January 20, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • HellBent

      A monogamous relationship isn't all that different from a non-monogamous relationship?

      Ooooookaaaaaayyyy

      January 20, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • Al

      I wrote nothing of the sort.

      But I doubt you could tell the difference anyway. Or for that matter, your wife from a hole in the ground.

      January 20, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  2. Donald Shimoda

    Like attracts like. Just be who you are calm and clear and bright. Automatically , as we shine who we are, asking ourselves every minute is this what I really want to do, doing it only when we answer yes, automatically that turns away those who have nothing to learn from who we are, and attracts those who do, and from whom we have to learn as well.

    January 20, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • Yoda

      Smart you are not, though thinking so you may be.

      January 20, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      You are free to say what you wish without qualification if it makes you happy.

      January 20, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
  3. Integrity

    If you can not trust someone to be honest with their spouse then how can you trust that person with the country. 6 year affair kept quite and hidden. Then condemns Clinton while he is doing it as well. What a hypocrite. Obviously there are trust and intergrity and ethic issues because it bleeds into his time as speaker in being oustered. What is he going to hide as President? How can evangelicals think that lying, deceiving are characteristics of a good Christian?

    January 20, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      There is no right and wrong. Life is an illusion. There is only happiness and unhappiness. Maybe.

      January 20, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • Vote GOP Save the Rich

      But newt asked god for forgiveness so it's all good.

      January 20, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • William Demuth

      The truth is of the many folks I know, I am unaware of ANY marriage that enjoyed fidelity.

      Strangely enough, it is just as often the woman.

      Lets face it, lobster every night, and in three years you will kill for a baloney sandwich

      January 20, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • Taters

      This is just another ploy, "slight of hand move" to keep the american public looking the other way. WHO CARES!
      Just another topic that has nothing to do with governing the United States of America!!!!!!!!

      January 20, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • the point

      "If you can not trust someone to be honest with their spouse then how can you trust that person with the country."

      Exactly.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  4. indyreader

    In other words, who they hate (Obama) and finding someone who professes same, is more important than finding someone who truly upholds their other values.
    I am not surprised, mind you.

    January 20, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
  5. beevee

    It is because the evangelicals are in the name only. What they actually do is not very different from that of Gingrich. That is why they are prepared to look the other way on this issue. if what Gingrich's second wife said is true about him I will not support him. We don't want a president in WH who is a free spirited swinger.

    January 20, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Dave

      My thoughts exactly!!!!

      January 20, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • signalfire

      The thing is, he was having an affair for the last 6 years of an 18 year marriage. THEN, he supposedly asked for an 'open' marriage, that Marianne just tolerate his seeing Callista. He was having an open marriage all that time in his mind, just forgot to tell Marianne about it. The man is a pig. I genuinely want him examined by a certified psychologist, I think between the narcissism, megalomania (he's compared himself to all sorts of historical figures), delusions of grandeur, pathological lying, etc, he's mentally ill and then some. Some things that didn't come out in the aired interview were that he goes into extreme episodes of depression and manic behavior, his own staff called him a sociopath (!) and the republicans who worked with him in Congress want nothing to do with him. This isn't about his morals in a marriage, this is about his fitness for public service of any kind. Do you really want this guy to have the launch codes at the ready? Really? I found myself actually respecting Santorum for once last night; he basically called Newt crazy, and he is. Someone needed to say it, the Emperor Lizard is insane.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  6. William Demuth

    If they knew his current wife had testicles, they would probably feel differently!

    January 20, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  7. Georgia L. Tischler

    To John King, .....HA!...Take that. Journalism???

    From a registered Democrat from New Jersey

    January 20, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  8. Thomas

    I don't care that he has been married three times.

    Newt just doesn't have the diplomatic skills , nor the composer to be President.

    If all three of his wife's spoke of him with high regard , I'd say ok , he's a just and compassionate man.

    January 20, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  9. ART

    To donald Shimoda, yea actually i'am not a fat deceitful liar,so I guess that makes me just a little better than him.

    January 20, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      Are you better than a lion? A swan? Your neighbors?

      January 20, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  10. jane

    It never ceases to amaze me that when a Republican (Ensign, Sanders, Gingrich, ad nauseum) cheats on his wife and family all is forgiven because 'he's come to Jesus'. However, when a Democrat (Edwards, Kennedy et al.) cheats on his wife and family it's the end of the world as we know it; gather the townspeople, "Kill the Beast!". What blatant,opportunistic stomach turning hypocracy. One other note: Gingrich did not go to his wife and ask permission to play around and request an 'open marriage' (which is, incidentally, defined as a MUTUAL agreement, Newtie boy) until he had been boinking Batchelorette No. 3 for five or six years.

    January 20, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • Dave

      Disagree. Who the heck has forgiven all the GOP you mentioned? Their mistakes still follow them.

      January 20, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Ol' Yeller

      That is just the tried and true hypocracy of the religious right (of which Newt doesn't even belong, he is just cowtowing to them for their vote). For example: the same evangalists who are now backing Newt will completely ignore the Bible's condemnation of adultery (in fact, it made the top ten on the stone list), because it just doesn't fit into their agenda. However, they take one quote from the Bible and twist it to where they can condemn Gay people and they all happily jump on board and start doing that. Why? Because they are twisting the word of God to fit their own agenda. They WANT to hate (not love and forgive, as Jesus taught).
      They are either ignorant or evil... that is the only conclusion one can come to.

      January 20, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  11. Sue

    The fact that the "evangelicals" are able to support a "man" (and I use that term loosely) like Newt Gingrich tells volumes about their morals, their integrity, and their lack of judgement. And all because they don't want a black man in the White House! What a sad commentary.

    January 20, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Sue

      I have GOT to meet you some day!

      The only woman I see on here who consistently NAILS it.

      These Jebus freaks would nominate Satan himself if they could make the "White House" white once again!

      January 20, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • Denise

      You are a lonely man William.

      January 20, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      There is no good and there is no evil, outside of what makes us happy and what makes us unhappy.

      January 20, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • Vote GOP Save the Rich

      Amen

      January 20, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Denise

      Lonely? Hardly.

      I have many recovering Christian ladies in my life.

      The hunt is always easiest when the prey are sheep.

      January 20, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • we are better than this

      Wow, that was pretty deep. It is one thing to vote against someone for their policies. But for their skin color is shameful, we are Americans. I thought this type of thinking died with men creating things equal and owning slaves. My God is not involved in the evil that men do.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
  12. Jody Stephens

    Mr. Gingrich was superlative in his drubbing of CNN's 'personality' J. King...Right out of that political ballpark and even around the bend! The CNN 'personality was a gnat, faced with a mental giant and his tail was so far between his legs that it probably tickled his chin. Well done and may I say it was well deserved by a news service that deals so much in personalities as opposed to objective journalism. Have a wonderful day folks. Jody.

    January 20, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • Ol' Yeller

      Or.... CNN's 'personality' J. King lay a superb trap into which he knew the lumbering, pathetic Ginrich would be dragged right into by his bloated ego; which worked perfectly. The trap being his throwing up a big fat slow pitch which the troll couldn't resist swinging full power at. The crowd goes wild. Gingrich shoots to the top of the polls. CNN has a top billed story the next day. Gingrich wins SC, keeping him alive in the race. The moronic GOP candidates go on throughout the Summer tearing each other to shreds and the victor is easily vanquished by President Obama as he high steps into the end zone untouched (at the same time the ignorant GOP candidate, whichever moron survives) realizes.... "Hey! We weren't even playing baseball!
      Damn that John KIng!

      January 20, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  13. FIELD1stSGT

    At least Ginrich is not a Muslim.

    January 20, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • Observer

      At most Gingrich is ... what?

      January 20, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • jaywing

      At least you are not an American.

      January 20, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • mike_t

      Perhaps he really is. That would explain the 3 wives.

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

      Who IS a Muslim? Are YOU a Muslim? I suspect you are a bigot. Get your facts straight before you start slinging arrows.

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

      Who are you implying is a Muslim? Santorum? Romney?

      January 20, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  14. ART

    Gingrinch is sooo sleeezy

    January 20, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      Are you better then him in some way?

      January 20, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  15. Geoff Scott

    ....uh, Newt is not Evangelical he converted to Catholicism

    January 20, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • TonyK

      ...uh. Protestants do not have the monopoly on evangelicals. There are many (too many) catholic evangelicals out there. Evangelical does not equal protestant.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • Marquise

      And? Catholics majored in hypocrisy! When he dumps that tramp of a wife he has he'll get an annulment.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  16. Donald Shimoda

    We see just one little fleck of the whole that is life, and that one fleck is fake. Everything balances, and no one suffers and no one dies without their consent. No one does what they don't want to do. There is no good and there is no evil, outside of what makes us happy and what makes us unhappy.

    January 20, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • Dandruff

      We see just one little fleck of the whole that is life, and that one fleck is flake. Everything balances, and no one suffers and no one dies without their consent. No one does what they don't want to do. There is no good and there is no evil, outside of what makes us happy and what makes us unhappy – Head & Shoulders.

      January 20, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      If shampoo products make you happy, I encourage you to lather up generously.

      January 20, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • Brad

      Well it has to be the no tears stuff. You know, as in

      "For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

      January 20, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  17. portland tony

    Given the weakness shown by the Republicans' running for the nomination, South Carolina conservatives have a lose-lose situation on their hands. I'ts either vote for a Mormon, which may be a little rough for most evangelicals, or vote for an admitted adulterer who is a convert to Catholicism which no Christian would admit to especially in the south.

    January 20, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      There are many other choices.

      January 20, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  18. Lee

    Come on people. He said he asked God for forgiveness. That wipes the slate clean!!!! Right??? Besides, its not like he commited adulty while being president like Clinton did. Sure he was committing adultry at the same time Clinton was but that is apples and oranges.

    January 20, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      No one can stop us from doing what we want to do.

      January 20, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • GH

      That is the difference between Gingrich and Clinton- Clinton embarrassed the entire country in front of the world – apples & oranges agreed.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  19. hamsta

    slick willy made it ok.

    January 20, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  20. Doc Vestibule

    All Jimmy Swaggart had to do when he got caught with h00kers and blow was get teary eyed, wipe the sweat from his brow and say that Jesus has forgiven him – so you should too.
    And evangelicals all over the US sent him their kids' college funds.

    January 20, 2012 at 2:18 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.