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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. Joel Miller

    There are many differences between King David and Newt Gingrich. One of them is David was annointed by God. Gingrich was annointed by .... Gingrich. The other is David went out into the street, he wept, put on sackcloth and threw ashes on himself as he made a public confession that lasted for days. He really meant it. Gingrich talks about "reconciliation" as though he's taking his medicine. So much for heartfelt remorse.

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

    Evangelicals are supposed to excuse anything because, if the media asks about it, it's us vs. them bashing and that gives them kinship? *facepalm* It's a strength to lash out and turn the blame around when someone calls you on something?

    January 20, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  3. Chris

    Newt Gingrich is the same man that says he smoked weed, but wanted to introduce the DEATH penalty for POSSESSION of marijuana on you, his ex-wives and everybody else... but not on Newt "Do what I say, not what I do" That's a wonderful president of the United States... The fact that people cheered when Newt defended his immoralities during the debate just goes to show how sad of a state America is in today. And you wonder why America is getting weaker and poorer? Ron Paul is the only honest, consistent and intellectually sound candidate on that stage. No matter how much CNN tried to ignore him and with no shame even framed him out of the picture (literally) for most of the debate. Why? Because every time they let Ron Paul open his mouth (even with the carefully scripted poisonous questions they prepare) his message hits home hard, and it sticks. It's not the easiest for most people to grasp because they have been fed the same establishment rhetoric their entire life.... But once you understand him, you cannot deny he's the only one worthy of leading this nation out of chaos. Ron Paul ... period. Unfortunately when Obama starts singing "I'm so in love with you" on stage, pop culture brainwashing takes over and Ron Paul's msg becomes irrelevant to the programmed masses. Cheers.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  4. Kool Aid

    This man is a ball of smegma. You Righties never cease to amaze me...if this were a liberal up there, you'd be hammering him/her to no end. But this guy...this D-bag, used-up, has-been, wanna-be playboy!?!?! You think he is presidential material and Obama is not!?!?! Jesus H Christ...

    January 20, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  5. John

    Newt should have coffee with Herman. They're both going to end up in the same place. God will for give you, Newt. That's the best you can hope for.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  6. Observer

    Republicans seem immune to Gingrich's world-class hypocrisy. That says a lot for their pretend "family values".

    January 20, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • edge

      Hey, the sooner the reps get off their faux principles, the sooner we can get back to repairing the economy.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  7. opinion8it

    Newt will lose the nomination, but from a democrat standpoint, the longer he is in the race, the better. This is costing Romney a lot of his cash and I'm loving everey minute of it, especially since he will end up losing to Obama as well.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  8. patrick

    a classic question...WWJD.....Jesus would see Newt for who and what he is...a liar, adulterer and a blowhard. He would forgive if it wre once, maybe, but twice is a pattern. And his shennanigans as Speaker. Jesus would put Newt in the same class as the money changers. I love how the Evangelists will toss thier moral compas aside and vote for a guy, or a party that will toss the poor out...Meek shall inherit the earth comes to mind, where in the evangelical platform do they adhere to that concept?

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

      How many times shall I forgive? I say not seven, but seventy times seven. So many times you lose count.

      Get thee of thine high horse.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  9. henderway

    How hilarious!!! Christian evangelicals will OK anything when it suits their needs. Infidelity in any other situation would be severely frowned up. But in this situation, because of their loathing of Obama, all of a sudden they're willing to look the other way. So I guess Newt will be the new poster child for the Defense of Marriage Act. And they're supposed to be the light shining in a dark world? Laughable.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  10. amac

    Evangelical Christians are the most hypocritical people I have ever heard of. Their support of Newt Gingrich is Exhibit A in backing that up.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  11. glorydays

    Yeah, these people are pretty dumb and love to get stirred up.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  12. VintageChick

    I'm reaching back in my mind to the debates leading up to the 2008 election and can't recall anyone asking John Edwards about his affair with Rielle, the birth of his daughter out of wedlock and the campaign money he funneled in her direction to keep her quiet. Not to mention that all this occurred while his wife was slowly dying from breast cancer. I'm sure he was asked..the media being as fair, balanced and unbiased as it is. Particularly since this was a current affair and not something dug up from over a decade ago. Has anyone seen a clip???

    January 20, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • Al

      Who's John Edwards ya loose western s-lag?

      January 20, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  13. Marc

    John King is a moron anyway

    January 20, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  14. EtaYorius

    I cant belive people will buy Gingrich hypocrite statements, you definetly must be messed in the head if you even consider Gingrich to vote.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  15. me

    If the grinch is elected, then the re-pubic-ans deserve what they get. Us others will have to ignore him while he sinks the country like George and Dick dick...

    January 20, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  16. Daniel

    Sheldon/Leonard 2012 !!

    January 20, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • 2Late2Duck

      I would prefer Willy Wonka. He was a far more entertaining extremist than Gingrich.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  17. bobby

    I guess family values don't really mean much to values voters.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  18. marc fischer

    Are Republicans that crazy to support a person who left two sick wives when they needed him most. He is a total clown and God help us all if he ever became our President.

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

    The sheer hypocracy of Gingrich makes my blood boil. He led the charge after Clinton at the same time he was having an affair! But then that's pretty par for the "family values" crowd.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  20. CK

    Some people care about candidates' personal lives: I'm not one of them. But politicians such as Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Senator Ensign, Senator Craig, Rep. Foley, and so many other "family values," right wing guys should expect some heat from the media and from voters when the chasm between their talk and their actions is exposed. On the democratic side, personally, I don't care about JFK's affairs, Bill and Monica, Weiner's internet exposure (pun intended), or Gary Hart's "Monkey Business" exploits either–it's none of my business. I care about the candidate's positions, ability to speak, ability to collaborate, intellectual prowess, etc. You can be sure that these right wing defenders of Newt would not be arguing for forgiveness and transcendence if it was Obama in the hot seat. Their duplicity is not admirable. They probably need to simply decide how much meaning they're going to give candidates' personal lives and then be consistent in judging behaviors regardless of the behaver's party.

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

      II may steal your entire post for my status update on Facebook. Very, very well put.

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

      Brilliant!

      January 20, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      Every person on every planet has the right to do whatever makes them happy. You do too.

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

      You mean someone that couldn't keep their word on a basic, personal level should be elected to the highest post in the country?

      Utterly brain-dead.

      Come back when (if) you have a thought of your own.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:56 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.