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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. Scott

    Gingrich's daughters claim their dad didn't ask his wife for an open marriage, and he is using them to back up his denial. This means that Gingrich is lying for sure.

    If you want an open marriage, you ask your wife, not your kids. How would his daughters know, one way or the other, whether Gingrich made such a request?

    Still, this isn't NEARLY as creepy as Rick Santorum bringing a DEAD FETUS home from the hospital to introduce his kids to their "brother".

    January 20, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  2. mark

    What Bill Clinton did was terrible, but Newt is a really a great guy with high morals, There is no truth in this statement, and Christians are seekers of truth, but many have been blinded by their politics. I don't want a self absorbed Jack ass running this country. Newt's tract record speaks for who he is. Take the blinders off and stop giving Christianity a bad name.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • cjg

      when did it become okay for the conseratives to hate and then think they are following God?

      January 20, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  3. Andrew

    Evangelical duplicity is endless.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
  4. scott

    Anyone that supported the impeachment of Bill Clinton and believes that this allegation should not be an issue for Newt is a hypocrite. They can rationalize it seven ways to Sunday but they'll still be a hypocrite.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • Habib Razavi

      I absolutely agree. 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 5:59 pm |
  5. Andrew

    Jesus didn't speak directly to Zebra Fisting, so...

    January 20, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
  6. Scott

    Hmmm...someone who is faithful to his wife, hasnt't had multiple wives, cares about his family ... where could we ever find a politician like that. Oh, wait, we have one and HE'S ALREADY PRESIDENT.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • LL

      Well said!

      January 20, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • If horses had Gods ...

      See how well Obama's perfect marriage is helping the US economy and foreign policy!

      January 20, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  7. Eric

    Of course, why would the voters in SC mind? They were the ones paying for the gov to run around South America with his booty call girl while the wife was at home with the kids. Seems like Newt and SC are a good fit for each other.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  8. cjg

    Sad day when this is what Christians think is right and exceptable behavior friom someone running for POTUS. He is an angry man that hates taking responsibility for his bad behavior, but what makes me sad is the applauding and condoning hypocracy. They do so because of the hatred for out current president. We will all be held accountable for this kind of hate toward others.....not my kind of Christianty and proabably not Jesus either. Perhaps some need to spend more time reading God's word!

    January 20, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • David, CA

      Oh my! The so called "evangelicals" being hypocritical and brainless? Say it isn't so!!!

      January 20, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  9. Donald Shimoda

    Learning is finding out what you already know. Doing is demonstrating that you know it. Teaching is reminding others that they know just as well as you. You are all learners, doers, and teachers.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  10. Scott M

    Conservative "values" voters are willing to ignore their own values and support Newt Gingrich. And yet they HATE Obama and want him out. For what? Obama's intact first marriage and beautiful children? His policies? If it's his policies...what ABOUT his policies? Why don't they just forgive Obama like they done for Gingrich? You would think Obama's economic positions would be easier to forgive than Gingrich's moral transgressions. I thought their morals and values came first. Guess not.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • cjg

      Yes you are spot on!

      January 20, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • Collin

      I think it is because they think he is "uppity"

      January 20, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  11. anotherone

    CNN brought a knife to a gunfight and got what they deserved. CNN should have known better.

    But having said this, Newt later uses his claims that the 'media is trying to cover for Obama'. But he is using that argument as a misdirection to cover for his own behavior.

    He can't help behaving like a hypocrite because thats just his nature.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  12. Dede

    Gingrich may win South Carolina, but he definitely is not going all the way to the White House. I find him and his wife, Callista, to be quite suited for each other. She is all image with hair styled preciely the same that never moves a millimeter, and he is all bluff and bluster, and full of half-truths and a very shaky history in government. Let's not forget it was Gingrich who was responsible in the 1980's along with the man he worships, Ronald Reagan, for increased taxes, illegal gun sales to the Nicaraguan Contra "freedom fighters," and good ole Oliver North. I hope he explodes again like he did last night. Then we will see the real Newt Gingrich. Vengeful and hateful.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  13. exactaman

    Should CNN have made that their first question in the debate? No. Newt is right about that. But i dont think that Newt is being honest in denial of the claim to go into an open marriage. After all, Newt has been a womanizer and it is not out of the question that he requested that of his wife. Remember also, this is the same Newt who went after President Clinton on his extra curricular activities. Poor Herman Cain was run out of the campaign over attacks on his character. I think it is only fair that newt play by the same rules that Cain had to play by.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • cjg

      Newt is a master at turning the tables ....rules are for others , obvioulsy not for Newt, I hope SC feels as good about him as he does himself! Sometimes what we pray for is not what we need!

      January 20, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  14. Kevin

    If you're more concerned about who he's married to than the issues then you people are very shallow. ALL I care about is is he honest? Is he good President material? Can he run the country? Can he handle congress? Can he create jobs? Can he create a better health care system? Can he reduce our debt. Get it together drama queen CNN and followers. To start off a debate like that last night was what losers do when they are trying to hurt someone from gaining credibility. I've noticed more and more CNN likes the democratic party much more than the Republicans. Otherwise I don't think they would have ever started a debate like that.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • Kathy

      It matters that he has committed adultery not once but at least twice that we know of. Why does it matter? One it shows that he is a man who cannot keep a promise. When he got married he made promises that he decided to break when it suited him. So we can’t trust what he promises us when he couldn’t keep a promise to the ones he supposedly loved.

      Two, he is a well established liar. A hallmark of infidelity is lying. Quite frankly they do it well and often and not just about adultery. His anger at the “open marriage’ question is proof. He does not define open marriage the way his ex wife does. Therefor he is right and she is wrong. Weasel words, changing definitions to suit yourself. Misleading people to believe one thing when another is true.

      Three, the utter selfishness of adultery is not a quality we want in a president. He has shown that he cannot put aside his own desires for another. What makes you think as a president he would do what was best for the country instead of himself.
      Yes adultery matters because it tells us important things about a person’s character. It isn’t an isolated action that only takes place in a marriage but permeates all of their life.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
  15. GodGutzN'Gunz

    Pervert or not, Gingrich hates all of the right people and loves Jesus so he's got my vote!

    January 20, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • Dede

      Aren't those two qualities mutually exclusive? I don't remember reading in the Bible about Jesus hating people. However, I do know from Newt's past that he is vengeful and hateful.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • Howard

      This is the most ridiculous comment ever. You will vote for someone because he hates all the same people you do??? You are going to vote for someone that hates certain people? Oh, but that's okay because he also loves Jesus! You are everything that is wrong with this country.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • chrissy333

      Too bad you don't follow Jesus' teachings.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • cjg

      Not sure hate for other and love for Jesus will work on judgement day! Love for others is what Jesus taught even sinners like you and Gingrich are to be loved ,

      January 20, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • GodGutzN'Gunz

      @Dede, et al, If you couldn't ascertain just from my post that I'm a liberal making a satirical comment then you should have at least been able to put 2+2 together based on the username I chose. Pretty weak!

      January 20, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
  16. If horses had Gods ...

    I'd rather have a cheater in marriage for President than an openly delusional, and proud of it, religion follower. Too bad most politicians are both. My kingdom for an Atheist President!!

    January 20, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  17. 4sanity

    Any Republican calling himself a "social conservative" who votes for Gingrich is as much of a hypocrite as Newt himself.
    "One man, one woman, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, till death do us part, let no man rend asunder ....."

    And for his second and third wives who engaged in affairs with a married man – you also have nothing but contempt from me. So yes, I hope the media repeats the question every day until election day – just to remind people that we need more "decent people" (Newt's words) running for office. I suggest Newt, you drop out to make room for them because you sure as h ell aren't it .....

    January 20, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  18. 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 5:54 pm |
    • JayJ7

      That about sums it up!

      January 20, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • Dede

      Wow, does it ever!

      January 20, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • cjg

      pretty much !

      January 20, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  19. zapatta

    John king had his azz handed to him in a hat by a good ole' Georgia boy. Funny!

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

      No, he didn't. He simply allowed Newt to show himself the hypocrite that he is–remember this one from your church-going Georgia crew?

      "whitewashed sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outwardly but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness"

      Amen.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • If horses had Gods ...

      God saw the debate, and it was gooood!!!

      January 20, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  20. Yesorno

    Evangelicals just another lying sack of dog stank. Its just another church full of white only clowns.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:53 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.