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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. chrissy333

    South Carolina is not that important. It is full of racists and bigots, so of course Newt will win it.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • Al

      *gasp* a group-think worshipping animal like you attempting to belittle others with made-up words used to silence and intimidate opponents? Go watch Desperate Housewives, half-wit.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • sbp

      what word was made up?

      January 20, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • chrissy333

      Made up words? You've never heard of the words racist and bigot. Who's the "half-wit". Stop trying to sound intelligent. You're not pulling it off very well!

      January 20, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Jimmy

      And which word was "made-up" exactly? lol Oh that's right; there were multiple syllables.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • Al

      This trailer t-rash apparently doesn't understand which word was referenced.

      Can't blame you.

      Stop f-ucking your brother, trailer t-rash western prost-itute.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
  2. Jimmy

    The "moral right" shows its true face. What a bunch of hypocrites! Never mind the fact that Gingrich was the ONLY speaker of the house in US history to be found guilty of ethics violations (charged with 84 counts!), fined $300,000, and kicked out of the speaker position by his own party. But these are the people with morality??

    January 20, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • Daws

      Thank you!

      January 20, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  3. rh

    Asking for an open marriage when you're already cheating is like saying "I don't want to pay for a divorce".

    If I were Callista, I'd be worried.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • Jimmy

      She only has to be worried if she gets sick. After his track record of leaving two wives within months of them being diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses, what are the odds she would even tell him?? lol

      January 20, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  4. Slupdawg

    He was able to build up his kinship last night all right, to be a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do hypocrite. Bunch of hillbilly bible-thumpers down there hate that there's something black in the White House so bad, they're willing to support anybpdy, even a proven liar, thief, and womanizer, and make it sound like a strength. It makes me want to vomit.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • Jes Toms

      You are so sad. The Bible says in order to be forgiven you must first forgive. While I don not think Obama is a womanizer, I submit Bill Clinton to you. As far as a liar, well last time I checked Obama has not fulfilled a lot of promises so he is a liar too. And right now he is the biggest thief in the land when come to spending others people money. I hope the press digs up as much dirt on Obama and they do any one who challenges him this time around, since the just ignored the first time around. I mean the man sat in a pew for 20 years while a man cursed Jews, White people, America, etc.... and then gave a speech and everything was ok.....pathetic.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  5. Brandon

    This article is just CNN crying over it getting its left-leaning views exposed.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  6. lynn

    Evangelicals are over-inflated and Newt is a skirt-chaser in the good old days. Now he's nothing but a blubbery hulk of a man, trying for his last horray. Not going to happen Newt, take your warm milk and cookies and behave yourself if you remember how.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  7. opinion8it

    it was improper to bring his ex-wife up in the debates - but in any other forum, it is fair game and "yes" he will lose credibility over this.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • rh

      The only way to make debates "real" is to license the word and limit any conversations to political ones. If moral failures disqualified politicians, we'd have no office holders.

      That being said, putting your dog on the roof of your car for a 12-hour trip is much worse and uncommonly evil, not at all comparable to cheating on one's spouse. I don't think cheating is cool, but torturing animals, and then responding to its clear suffering by making sure your car isn't damaged, is pure evil.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  8. sbp

    Nothing new here. Somehow, the holier than thou Bible thumpers always find a way to rationalize any transgression by one of their own – whether Gingrich's cheating or Rush's drug abuse – while STILL condemning anyone who is not "one of them" for the SAME THINGS.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  9. Q

    How common are open marriages?

    January 20, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • S.C Prime

      What a sham to the inst.ti.tuion of marriage

      January 20, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  10. Jon

    How freaking sanctimonious is that?

    January 20, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  11. Pimpson

    Defining moment for Newt. He knocked that moderator and the liberal media on their asss.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • RasPutin

      I wonder how many times he practiced that self-righteous retort the afternoon BEFORE the debate? You think he made that up off the cuff?

      January 20, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • John

      A majority of the country has got Newt pegged. He's an immoral opportunist. Only the most blinded conservative can overlook not one, but two affairs (and those are the ones we're aware of). Hypocrisy of the highest order, when leading the impeachment of a sitting President while doing the exact same thing at the exact same time. In his mind a bj in the oval office is impeachable, but the same type of behavior by none other than himself should be overlooked by the electorate. Sorry Newt, not in your lifetime, not by this voter.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • TonyK

      Au contraire, my friend. Newt showed himself and the asinine audience applauders to be the immoral, shallow and self-serving lot that they are. There is nothing Christian in this group–"whitewashed sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outwardly but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness."

      January 20, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • sbp

      Knocked them on their ass by being proudly and defiantly hypocritical? If he was found to be shooting up heroin with a gay lover, the Right would somehow find a way to excuse it.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  12. Bill

    Newt is an effete intellectual snob.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  13. IceT

    We all seem to know about his marital issues, but how many of us know what he plans to do about Iran's nukes or China's economic attack on the US or what he plans to do to fire up the US economy? Forest for the trees folks!

    January 20, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  14. Drinker

    Gingrich is a hypocrite...but so are most evangelicals.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  15. gop hate america

    no surprise christian inbreeds are do as i say not as I do. a bunch of phony hypocrites.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  16. buckheadbetty

    I don't think CNN put up my post. The question is, do we really want Gingrich's w*ore for a 1st Lady?

    January 20, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • shut_up

      we have oblozos????????????

      January 20, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  17. Doyouwantmore

    Yes, how dare he actually marry the women he fell in love with while he was married. He should have secretly bought them off, cast them aside, and then lied about it to the American public while under oath. Sounds like Newt won't be getting too many Clinton voters!

    January 20, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • Oodoodanoo

      You should fall in love with your wife while you're married. At the very least, you should obey the Seventh Commandment.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  18. Wade

    To the extent it reminds everyone of just how outrageous the News Media is so liberal Biased it certainly helps. How many of us reg folk just want to slap the face off off the Liberal reporters who never treat a Dem the way they treat any GOP member?

    January 20, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Bob

      Spoken like a true idiot.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • Jay

      The media were all over Clinton. You people have interesting memories. The reason you hate the media so is that the right has driven that drivel into your minds. And I'll wager you consider Fox News fair and balanced!

      January 20, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  19. Mr. Phil

    “Gingrich has never claimed to be a patron saint...”

    WWWWHHHHHHAAAAAATTTTTTTT?!?!?!?!!! You hypocritical POS!!! Newt was touring the nation as the spokesperson for "Family Values" while having an affair and pointing fingers at Clinton (and, yeah, I know Clinton was impeached for lying, but Newt was still drumming up drama about the affair).

    January 20, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • chrissy333

      Good point! I guess our memories are very short.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  20. RasPutin

    Good grief! How can the chance of putting this egomaniac in charge of enough weaponry to sear the entire earth be a source of levity?

    January 20, 2012 at 5:41 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.