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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. Mark

    I still find it somewhat hypocritical that "character" issues can be considered fair game when talking about Romney's business tactics, but not when addressing Gingrich's moral compass. While the whole subject may be stomach-churning to listen to, it is still viable for a presidential candidate to have to stand under scrutiny for his personal values. How a man treats his spouse is as good an indicator of his character as any. It would be one thing for Newt to argue that the allegations are false, but I think he's dead wrong in saying it has no place in the analysis of who he would be as a leader.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • Madge

      Darling, evangelicals do not live in reality. They live in a dream utopia where they are the only players. Reality would interfere with the supernatural and the metaphysical.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
  2. Smash2004

    It is amazing that the American Taliban has no problem with Newt's personal transgressions but they do want to dictate how the rest of us live. Their main objective is to look the other way in this election, ignoring their beliefs in order to get rid of the black man occupying the White House. So the message goes out to all the American Taliban, go vote for Newt and God bless!

    January 20, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • Cindy

      They think they are "Holier than Thou."

      January 20, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  3. mikel

    Whatever you think of the man, he was absolutely right about the mainstream media being a mouthpiece for the left wing and absolving Obama of any responsibility for the current state of America.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • alfranken

      BS - Obama would get the same question if he did the things Gingrich did only Obama would respond and wouldn't cry about the question

      January 20, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • Tina

      Let me let you in on a little conservative secret. – FOX NEWS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      January 20, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • Cindy

      But the right wing gives the media so much to talk about.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • BaileyWall

      I agree, If only we could have George W. back. The economy was really looking up there at the end of 2008 and then BAM, Obama was elected and it all turned around.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • Virginia

      and did you notice how the media treated Ron Paul durring the debate. Democrats are naive about the media.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • Virginia

      and did you notice how the media treated Ron Paul during the debate. Democrats are naive about the media.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
  4. Charlie in Maine

    Newt represents the absolute worst of America. I used to say that you couldn't be a worse Presdent than GW Bush if you tried. Newt is willing to try. Woe to us if we let him.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • mikel

      Well, Obama is worse so its a mute point....

      January 20, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  5. JT

    Just because he defended himself well last night doesn't mean that he is innocent of the allegations of an open marriage remark to his wife.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
  6. Paul

    Imagine a guy who is married to one woman and has two little princesses but paid the price for his former pastor's sermons NOT GOOD at all for our brothers evangelicals! I am a pentecostal. I believe in rendemption and forgiveness but when it comes to Obama and his family, there is something our brothers and sisters "evangelicals" are hiding. I can assure you that it has nothing to do with GOD but with their way of thinking about Obama! Cutting sermons in pieces and making them political tools to defeat a candidate or praying to God to bring rain on the day of the convention because you just hate the person, show how too many Prophets of Baal are out there. Now we have a pastor comparing Mr. Gingrich to King David from Old Testament to make point in the NEW Testament! He forgot the reason why Jesus came down! I don't support Obama because he picked Mrs. Clinton and gave her position where she can cover everything her husband is doing in Africa and Asia.(. supporting companies from Arkansas that are helping dictators and rapists to stay in power in Africa) (case of Congo where the rapist of little girls isis called president)) but I don't hate him. I just want him to be defeated by a person who can protect lives and little girls around the world.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
  7. floyd

    These supposed christians are the biggest hypocrites in the world, they can't stand that their is black president in office and they will support a immoral, racist, dirtbag.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • alfranken

      none of their so call morals apply to them but rather the rest of the population that don't line their coffers in their offering plates.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • JJ

      the reason they support him is because Christians forgive, just as Jesus does

      January 20, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Prince Tamino

      Bingo.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • Prince Tamino

      To be clear the "bingo" was for the original post

      January 20, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
  8. alfranken

    The moderator should have got back into his face and told him to get off the stage or answer the question. It was Gingrich who lead the impeachment campaign against President Clinton for the exact reasons that seem to be indicative to his character.
    the moderator probably would have been fired if he did that and Gingrich knew that. The moderator should have more leverage next time and force Gingrich to answer the question or discontinue with including him in the debate till he does.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  9. Jacs

    Well you couldn't call her The First LADY so I guess we'd have to call her the First Ho. Just think of the things she could teach our daughters–How to Sleep Your Way to the Top or maybe Smart Ho's Never Settle for Less Than Tiffany.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  10. achepotle

    ha...can you imagine having this Callista chick as First Lady...a woman who slept with another woman's husband in her own bed? Cheap and sleazy (well probably not cheap)...the French will love her..ooolala...

    January 20, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  11. Stoica

    Folks,
    Here is the bottom line. Cheater/adulterer/liar/narcissist > Mormon. If Mitt Romney was baptist the nomination would be wrapped up already. There is an underlying bigotry that evangelicals have against Mormons and that out-weights all corruption and lying and weaselliness.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  12. Paul Haalboom

    Newt is sounding very defensive...typical of a manipulative narcissist....

    January 20, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  13. The Bitter Politics of Pity

    Please pity Newt Gingrich. He has suffered so at the hands of the liberal media. Tell him that you love him and give him your vote.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • Romangod6

      I think he will do just fine without your pity.

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

      I'm not surprised that Republicans will embrace him. They gave us "I am not a crook" tricky Dick.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • Cindy

      She was given that 1/2 million dollar account at Tiffany's while the two sick wives must fend for themselves.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
  14. revolting peasant

    The hypocritical evangelicals will decry the collapse of family values while trying to impose their crazy religious values on the rest of the country. Meanwhile, they will vote Newt into office to set the example for their children for why it much more fun and rewarding to screw around then it is be loyal to your family.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • Romangod6

      One thing you may not understand about people of Newt's religion is that it is premised that we are all sinners and nobody is perfect. His faith teaches that even though we have sinned in the past, if they understand the errors of their ways and are TRULY sorry for what they did, they are forgiven.

      Newt did this BEFORE his conversion and he has asked for forgiveness. I judge Newt for who he HAS become not what he USED to be.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • Cindy

      Romangod6 – How did a twice divorced man get married in the Catholic church?

      January 20, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
    • 80shiling

      Romangod6: You are fooling no-one except yourself, unless that is you can say that all you hypocritical religious bigots forgave Bill Clinton..... Yeah, I thought not you weasel.

      January 21, 2012 at 12:15 am |
    • *facepalm*

      @Romangod – I've got some ocean front property in Wyoming. Interested?

      January 21, 2012 at 12:17 am |
  15. Samuel

    I am from South Carolina and this is the state where things are not normal. This the state where the Governor had a mistress in South America. And the state where a member shouted "Liar" during the State of the Nation.

    Should you expect more ? Newt is a joke and this stae has always been full of losers ! Southern Bapt. A bunch of clowns.
    And now they totally forget character....what a joke of a state. And this is why I did not retire there....

    January 20, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • Virginia

      I am from S.C. too and I am having a hard time believing that Gingrich even has a chance here. If he wins in S.C. I will be shocked. I would not even consider voting for him.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
  16. Cindy

    It's not enough the things he did, but he is asking us to make the First Lady a woman who knowingly and willingly jumped into the wifes bed everytime the wife went out of town. Not once or twice, but for 6 years. And Newt seems to have a thing for not likeing sick wives, leaving one with cancer and the 2nd one with MS.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • revolting peasant

      What is more offensive to the Bible thumpers - an adultress sleeping in the white house or a black woman?

      January 20, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  17. alfranken

    If I was moderator I would've shot back with this: "Mr. Speaker, it was you that lead the impeachment on President Clinton for the exact moral decay you are being accused of. This is something that didn't happened once but rather we deserve to measure to be indicative to your character. After all how many times have you been married verses President Clinton?" - "no let me finish you interrupted me - it was former first lady Nancy Reagan who you admire so much that said that President Clinton disrespected the 'Presidency' and that is exactly what the American people have the right to determine here. Are you you going to take your position in this country and abuse the office with egotistic and immoral acts?, just answer the question or get off the stage."

    I probably would get fired from CNN and that really is what Gingrich knew before hand which is why he's a coward.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • Romangod6

      Sorry, but Newt's issue with Clinton was that he LIED UNDER OATH. In this country it is a felony.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • Tina

      John King had that shell shocked look that gay Americans had when he screwed them with Don't Ask, Don't Tell and The Defense of Marriage Act. Once a bully, always a bully.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • Mark

      Well said. Too bad it wasn't said by the right person at the right time...

      January 20, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • JOE

      Funny how we know more about these guys than that clown obama

      January 20, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • Cindy

      Romangod6 – Go back and listen to those speeches Newt gave about Clinton on the House floor as Speaker.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
  18. Can stand HYPOCRITES

    All of you family value people out there that are still standing behind the Newtster are a bunch of hypocrites. Remember WWJD. He wouldn't have left two sick wives for a younger healthier one. I hope the current model doesn't get sick. Hypocrites will go to Hell. So will this county if the Republicans get their way.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • Romangod6

      Here is your homework assignment: Look up the term, FORGIVENESS. That is the premise of Christianity. Newt HAS asked for forgiveness. That junk happened in the PAST. That is NOT hypocritcal.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • JOE

      Bammer's taken us half way to hell already.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
  19. If I had a penny for every stupid Republican I'd be rich!

    Typical racist, bigoted, pigs...only in S.C. could behavior been seen as plus and of course every ill facing the country is both Obama's and the media fault. These people are funny to the point of being scary.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
  20. Seth Hill of Topanga, California

    As Jesus made clear in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, God loves repentant sinners more than moral people. Hmmm... Now I'm getting tempted to become one of them Christians! Sounds like a lot of fun!

    January 20, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • JP Cox

      But no one said the son should go back to running the house – the other son still held that responsibility over the son who repented. Love and responsibility are really different.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:48 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.