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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. Lejaune

    We evangelical Christians are always taught about sharing since we are kids. Marianne went on national TV to show her selfishness of not wanting to share Newt with Callisa is simply a disgrace. How can a devoted Christian not want to share her husband with other sisters in Christ? I am sure Newt is willing to share Callisa with his friends if they ask.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • David, CA

      I'm sure Newt was willing to share any number of his STDs. So christian of him.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  2. droffilc

    So typical of Newt.......twist the facts so he looks like the victim. Wonder if he has cheated on the latest one yet?

    January 20, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • David, CA

      Obviously there is a mistress in the wings. He was able to talk Callista into the open marriage thing that's why she's still around. I hope she has a piece on the side as well and I hope it's a nice lesbian.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • Reason & Logic

      He's getting so old now that there aren't too many younger women left who would even consider it.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  3. NeilPeart

    Only in America can so called Christians be as brainwashed and HYPOCRITICAL as they are! Newt is a LIAR and has NO INTEGRITY.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
    • Reason & Logic

      Well spoken!

      January 20, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  4. David, CA

    What would we call Callista Gingrich? The First Mistress? Or the "second" First Mistress?

    January 20, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
  5. mbw

    So why not Newt Gingrich? Evangelicals are passionate about morals only when it suits them. Also, their concept of redemption is dispensed only on those they favor. They are equally adept at playing the family values card either for or against those they favor or disfavor. Morals and family values are nothing more than tools to gain the power they desire.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
    • David, CA

      "Evangelicals" are only concerned about morals when it comes to politics and bashing gays.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  6. Hypatia

    If the open marriage nonsense doesn't scare them off, they simply prove their own moral bankruptcy.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
  7. Mom in Charlotte

    The hypocrisy of the Gingrich supporters is unbelievable. I agree with previous commenters that people hate having a black man in the White House so bad, they will try to elevate a womanizer, liar, and arrogant power-grubber to the top of the party that purports to be faith-based and righteous. What a bunch of baloney. Holier than thou Newt Gingrich was trying to crucify Bill Clinton when he was doing the same thing. Makes me sick, and makes me sicker that there are people out there who believe he is the right man to lead our country.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • Al

      Those who accuse others of being 'holier-than-thou' are typically loose, half-wit, trailer t-rash western prosti-tutes that couldn't keep their legs closed before they married and are now afraid of getting their feelings hurt by being 'judged' by others for their actions.

      T-rash.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • Reason & Logic

      To Al: you have no idea what you're talking about so take your presumptuous insanity elsewhere.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • Al

      @Group-think & subjectivity

      I know exactly what I'm talking about.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  8. panamafelix

    KUDOS TO JOHN KING!!!!

    Newt is a bully and he didn't fool me by trying to make John King look bad. If it was a Democratic candidate, Newt would be the first to ask that question and then some. He is a hypocrite....but I guess that is ok for the fools who will vote for the bozo. Yeah, that's right, absolutely no respect for this character. If this is the best the Republicans have to put forward this country is in even worse shape than what I thought....pathetic.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • Rachel

      The fact of the matter is ...... his marital issues are old news. He acknowledges the mistakes he's made. How can you not question the timing of this interview???

      January 20, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • Reason & Logic

      To Rachel: the open marriage issue is a new one so the question was relevant.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  9. mjw

    Newt boy is a bully, a big mouth and a liar. He was known as cry baby Newt during the Clinton Presidency with good reason. Anyone can scream at the media like he did to avoid answering the question that he said he would answer. This showed his true dark colors and how he would conduct himself as President. Very simialar to old daddy Bush Sr. America doesn't need this. He is far too tempermental. A true leader is "diplomatic", Newt doesn't cut it. Wife 3 is being used to get him to the White House. He is nothing but a career politician and a deceitful one at that!

    January 20, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  10. ping

    How can an evangelical "Christian' as they say they are support a man like Newt? Pro open marriage and had been divorced 2 times. Reprimanded in the congress for unethical reasons.

    To all the so-called evangelical and born-again Christian – i believe in the abundant grace of God and for His forgiveness. But I also believe that He will not forgive unless we accept our sin, ask for forgiveness to those whom we hurt and most importantly ask for forgiveness from Him. But did Newt did those things? I never heard he recognizes that he made a mistake in congress and worst of it all, he put the blame to his wives. You decide now if Newt is really a changed man.

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

    Just figures. I am not anti-Newt, he is a very bright man, he has some very interesting ideas. But for the evangelicals to give him a "free pass" is really hilarious – because of the media? really? Look this is NATIONAL politics, its a full contact sport, and I WANT the media to question them hard and heavy. No exceptions. But too many have bought into this silliness.

    The role of media is to question everything,...they are definitely not saints, but they have a role. And I would have that than have to blindly accept whatever some candidate says.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • Reason & Logic

      No one on the right criticized the media when they hammered Obama about Rev. Wright. I guess they only blame the media for wrongdoing when the facts are in direct conflict with their conservative agenda.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  12. ItSOnLyME

    Only in the bizarre world of the far right could being a philandering, lying, hypocritical little troll be in your favor. Welcome to America.

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

      Who here besides me is far-right? St-upid animal, go back to watching MTV.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • SamJ

      It also helps that the other viable candidate is a Mormon.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • Edwin

      Agreed. It is so odd to me that a man who cheated on TWO wives and left them when they were sick, a man who did this while attacking a President for infidelity, is the choice of the party of 'family values.' Add to that list the fact that he was also found guilty of ethics violations while in Congress, and you get a liar AND a cheat.

      But apparently, evangelicals are a very finicky bunch. They don't forgive sins in democrats, but if a republican says 'oops, i made mistakes... and repeated them... but i'm sorry' then all is forgiven.

      Bottom line: it is all hypocrisy. The conservative right does not have any values except a desire to beat Obama. Oh - also a belief that media is controlled by liberal socialist islamists.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • Reason & Logic

      Al needs to get a life because he knows not of what one is.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  13. David, CA

    Newt's Debating skills are debatable. If Newt couldn't convince wife #2 of accepting his warped notion of "traditional" marriage how are we supposed to buy that he's some kind of a great "debater"?

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

      Wife #2 was his mistress while he was married to wife #1.... Just saying if he'll cheat with you he will cheat on you. It's really not all that surprising. And I would absolutely love to see him debate Obama.... with his teleprompter. Newt would chew him to bits. While I don't agree with the things he's done in his personal life.... the man can debate and communicate very effectively.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • LJB

      I heard he was a master debater....

      January 20, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  14. markiejoe

    Most politicians I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt, but sorry, Newt is just slimy, dishonest and extremely unlikeable.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
  15. SeattleMark952

    I guess Newt's "repentance" would be more credible if he had apologized to the 2 previous wives that he divorced right when they were diagnosed with serious illness. Put that together with the statement that he needed a new wife to help his presidential run, and I don't buy his convenient religious conversion story that led up to his presidential run. As a Christian, I would give the average neighbor the benefit of the doubt; however, in hiring the next President of the USA, I'll choose to give that benefit of the doubt to a candidate that has a better track record of faithfulness, human decency and integrity of character.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  16. packerfans

    Vote for Mitt Romney who can beat Omaha Only!!! Newt will never beat Omaha for life!! Look Cnn Vote Newt does weakness and not leader!! SC voter awake up be honest who will good president this time.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • David, CA

      Is Omaha running for president too? The WHOLE state?

      January 20, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • Ken

      I don't think Gingrich is running against Nebraska, which is a red state.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  17. CJ

    "evangelical voters, who are expected to make up about 60% of the vote in Saturday’s South Carolina primary"

    Sad state, of affairs, of a place, of a world where so many are still so ignorant and know so little of the world. SC should have its vote taken away. Nightmare hellhole.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  18. Dave

    As a Christian, I think Gingrich's behavior shows he can't be trusted. I definitely do NOT want him to be president.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  19. Mr. Izz

    So... Just because Gingrich has this "great response" to a valid question concerning his character, it suddenly uplifts him? Come on. Are the Republicans in that area really that blind? He bashed the question, didn't answer it, and is getting support from "evangelical leaders" because of all of this? So what if it is a disgraceful question; it is still something the American people want an answer to! We want to know the character of our leaders. We want to know how they live and if they can be, as the article states, "trusted."

    He must be lining those "evangelical leaders" wallets with gold at this point. I really don't understand how they can fully support this individual, especially support him more with these recent allegations. Yes, the public is tired of the media, but this didn't come from the media. It came from his ex-wife, not from some reporter reading an old email and making up a story.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  20. Mike saujani

    I think Newt is crazy. Sometimes I feel his e supporters may be as crazy as well particularly if they are supporting this crazy egomaniac. At least Obama and Romney (and Ron Paul and Santorium) appear to be level headed decent people.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:00 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.