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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. Cal

    If you guys are so concerned about a man's character alone why aren't you all voting for Ron Paul? He's had the same wife for over 50 years, hasn't cheated on her, and his ideas are consistent since he ever set foot in office over 30 years ago.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Daniel

      Ron is too late. He should have ran when he was younger. He is way to far out in space with his antiquated ideas. He does have some good points, but I think his time has past. I would have voted for him earlier.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • John

      Too bad his views of his fellow man are so widely known, and so incredibly radical.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  2. iteach`

    I find it interesting that back when Clinton was President, everyone wanted to impeach him because he got a bj from someone other than his wife. This guy is accused of having an open marriage and now its okay? The President of the United States is suppose to live up to moral code and ethics, I'm I right? or has a lot change since Clinton's Presidency?

    January 20, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  3. rec

    Republican weman will never embrace Newt. I don't beleive anything Newt says.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  4. Adam

    These folks would vote for the devil as long as it gets the black guy out of office.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • rec

      They will be if they vote for Newt!

      January 20, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Kim

      AMEN, Adam.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • Barack's 1st Vote

      You got that right! Unfortunately, republicans will never get enough of their party to rally around any one of these candidates to defeat "Our" President. And if you idiot republicans say Barack is not "Our" president, then you are just plain ole not an American!

      But I expect the hypocritical Republican Party to disagree! The sad thing is I used to be a republican. You see, it's sad that I am a Christian (or what I guess they call evangelical), but these hypocrites in the Republican Party are killing it!

      January 20, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
  5. Alvin Thompson

    Of course this will help him. Another reason to hate South Carolina.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  6. Daniel

    Evangelicals would rather have a rich white man as their leader, no matter if he cheated on his inflicted wives, lie to Congress, or even blatantly admits to these offenses, rather than even imagine to have a black man in the "White" house.

    The more attention we give these people the more they have influence. It is time for this country to wake up and become the progressive nation, this old time politics and bantering about whose "God" is right is the paradigm of the 19th century. These people are more of a detriment to our standing as a nation internally, and globally.

    If we don't move to adhere to separation of church and state we are doing nothing but what put the first colonist from England here in the first place. I am tired of this "founding father's were christian"; only 30% would even admit to any religious affiliation; most were visionaries and educated men that thought way ahead of their time, and werent concerned with any one sect of belief. Only the evangelical religious nuts cant see this....they need to get away from the trailor and venture out to meet real humans.....I am appalled to watch this on television and even recognize I am a citizen of this nation. It's getting really really old....

    January 20, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  7. BlackDynamiteNYC

    His support will definitely increase with the dumba–es demographic.....
    BD

    January 20, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  8. Dana

    If Cain does it, it's bad bad Cain. When Newt, he's cool. Is it the race then, or what? (No, I'm not a supporter of either)

    January 20, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  9. jon

    Shhhh...guess the leftstream media may realize their biased reporting actually helps the GOP

    January 20, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  10. Thinkformyself

    Hypocrisy

    January 20, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  11. rec

    The family values reteric is proving to be hollow reteric with the exeptance of Newt as the GOP standard bearer.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      Values are fictional and thus cannot be hollow or perceived.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  12. belinda

    What will it take for Republican women to develop some spine ??? They are supporting this ??? There is nothing Christian about selling out morally , for self gain . I think more of conservative women . They will not be dragged down by their husbands . Or will they ??? Do they really think their husbands, respect the opinion of women ? I don't think so .

    January 20, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Al

      Their husbands are almost always garbage. But they (the women) chose to marry them. Says more about them than their husbands I think.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Thinkformyself

      I agree about the GOP women. There were women standing and cheering over this issue last night. Would they be cheering if it was their husband who did this to them? I think NOT!

      January 20, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • Leopold

      The whole process has become very peculiar and part of it is that the media is divided on Romney. They like Romney because he is bright, moderate and progressive, but they are afraid he may defeat Obama so they go after him. But they would much rather see Romney than Newt so they go after Newt, but then again Romney might win so they bolster Newt. It has nothing to do with evangelicals. Let's decide already and be done with it.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  13. Obersturmbannführer

    Evangelicals are hypocrites – nothing new there. This fat sleazeball is not worthy to stand on the same platform as Ron Paul yet gets more time from the corrupt corporate media. This race is now between Ron Paul and the 3 stooges.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  14. Bill

    the reason evangelicals don't mind is because they have an open relation with Christ too

    January 20, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Habib Razavi

      Barak Obama hasn't been married three times and his wife is not accusing him of infidelity. Every single person in that audience is a hypocrite. All of sudden personal character is not an issue? Oh really? I guess BIll Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky was alright then. The funny part is that now it is alleged by Gingrich's second wife that whilst Gingrich was leading the impeachment procedures against Clinton he was have extra marital affairs and was asking for an "open marriage". The guy who came after him as the speaker of the house Bob Livingston also had extramarital affairs. All politicians are corrupt, Jesse Jackson the spiritual advisor to BIll Clinton during his scandal was having an extramarital affair. Elite media? I don't think so. Only dirty filthy politicians who will sell their sole for power. Newt Gingrich is unbelievable.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  15. Donald Shimoda

    Perspective. If you are reading this post you are forgetting that what is going on around you is not reality.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • Bill

      Oommmmmmmm

      January 20, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  16. jon

    Is it possible that all the Evangelicals could just GO AWAY??? I don't even know exactly what an Evangelical is, but I do know that I don't want them in our politics. I am sure that Evangelicals, like most religious people, are HYPOCRITES.
    They say one thing, but their lives are lived differently. What a crock they are.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      jon, you can make them go away if you wish.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Al

      Mormons very often aren't hypocrites.

      Devout Catholics usually aren't hypocrites.

      Free-thinking (keyword) non-Denominationals are almost never hypocrites on an individual basis.

      Your argument is invalid.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Hypocrite

      Unlike you, of course. You've never acted hypocritically.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  17. donna rochester

    I cannot believe anyone would support this slimy excuse for a human being. He is a narcissist who loves the sound of his own voice. He left two women while having affairs and while they were both ill. This is a pattern, not the mistakes of a young impetuous man. He has a short attention span, the new wife with her lizard face and helmut hair will not be the last. Once he has grown tired of her, he will move on. How can anyone imagine this man and this mannequin in the White House. What a disgusting thought! Character matters, it is relevant, no matter what he says.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      He is free to do whatever he chooses just as you are.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  18. Gina Germanelli

    I'm sure that putting Newt the serial-adulterer and the home-wrecking, marriage-vow-trashing former mistress in the WH would do a lot to improve the country's global standing. Much better to represent us than a solid, loving couple that lives the family values that Newt can only talk about.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Kim

      Excellent point, Gina and thank you!

      January 20, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • Ms Winston

      I couldn't have expressed this better myself! Just among the candidates, one has been married to the same lovely woman for 42 years and has been at her side when she suffered with the same illness that sent Newt running away from his second wife.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  19. John

    I guess Cheated on two wife make you a good Christan. I all thought It was the other way around. You know to be Faithful and loving to your wife. The man even was Force to resign from Congress. How can all of this wouldn't be a deal breaker to these Evangelicals or are they just a bunch of Hypocrites.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  20. Which is sad

    If you're going to insist you can enforce your values on the Nation why cherry pick which ones are important in a candidate? I would think his marital infidelity would be a deal breaker for Evangelicals... if I believed they weren't all hypocrites.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:21 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.