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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. sparx2010

    I hope Newt gets the nomination. He has shown courage in the face of cowards! How hasn't sinned or made a mistake in his/her life...we have ALL fallen short of the glory of God the Father. Newt knows what it takes to fix the country....unlike Obama who said that he would cut the deficit by half at the end of his first term, an here we are with the debt equal to our GDP and only projected to get worse....if Obama wins this nation in over!!!

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

      Newt scares me. He might be the most likely candidate to fire up the crusades and the inquisition again.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
  2. doggies with full bellies wagging their tails

    Does Newt like lesbians?
    Inquiring minds want to know!

    January 20, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
  3. farwestdude

    Only in America could a thrice married,double adulterer get a standing ovation from the "Family values" crowd

    January 20, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • Richelle

      A-friggin-Men. But only if he's white.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • bnb42

      Where's the 'like' button when you need one......

      +1

      January 20, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  4. AJ

    Ironies do abound but appear to be lost in these primary discussions. Newt, the evangelical, seems more comfortable with the notion of multiple wives than do either of the two mormon candidates – but evangelicals still love him and hate them. Maybe that's what we should expect when the Southern Baptist Convention, which was formed in 1845 as an evangelical alternative for slave owning "missionaries", attempts to take the moral high ground on the question of marraige and the family

    January 20, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  5. PBM

    But Christ said divorce wasn't an option. Something these so-called Christians keep forgetting especially when they keep quoting the old testament. They call themselves Christian as in the followers of Christ but all they quote is the old testment, just Jewish rhetoric.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • Observer

      Yes. It's the same old hypocrisy when they trash gays, too.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • James

      To speak more precisely, Jesus allow that the divorce of an unfaithful spouse might be necessary (Matthew 19:9). Jesus also called the old testament the first half of His own story (John 5:39). It was the traditions, not the old testament scriptures, which Jesus called useless rhetoric (Mark 7:13).

      January 20, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  6. badlobbyist

    I want to know if Newt got elected would he repeal the Defense of Marriage act. You know....the whole one man one woman part is obviously not that important to him.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  7. Whatever

    Says a lot about South Carolina and evangelicals...wink-wink

    January 20, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  8. Joe citizen abroad

    So it's okay for Newt to question Romney's character based on past business dealings, but it's not okay for us to question Newt's character based on...uh...his character? Hmmmm...

    January 20, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • How embarassing for you...............

      EXACTLY! Thank You!!!

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

    If you are Republican it's ok to lie and cheat. They didn't say that about Clinton because he was a Democrat.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  10. Al

    This is exactly why we should line up every J-ew, rag, communist, socialist, secularist and other group-think worshipper against a wall and fire away. These are animals. The sooner planet earth is rid of them, the better.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • Ralph_Indy

      Al is a nazi. Jew rag? Ignorant fool is the kind of perosn responsible for Hitler. It's trash like him who should be allowed to vote.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • Randy

      And then what should we do with the murderers and fascists?

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

      That's funny –tokill a rag, Jew, sodomite, or some other dege-nerate isn't a crime. Why would it be?

      January 20, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Al

      *m-urder is a term that applies to human beings.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Randy

      I believe the answer to that question is, uh, laws. Look them up. They're very interesting.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • bnb42

      AL:
      Wow I hope all your hate keeps you warm at night.....

      January 20, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
  11. Bob Casillo

    The elite media likes to make negative remarks about the republican candidates.I agree with Mr. Gingrich.The media looks for all the dirt they can find on the republican party candidates. It's time for millions of americans to email CNN.Clean up your act.You don't run the country.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • Randy

      And the Republican noise machine – Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly – is so complimentary toward Democractic candidates.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • NorthropP61

      No one has to dig up the dirt on the far right, it's rife and glaring.
      The party that claims to be for "family values" can count on their voters, having once heard the phrase, to look no further. With such a gullible base, guys like Newt can do whatever they want and still garner votes.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • Observer

      Speaking of cleaning up your act, why not start wilth all the ignorant Republicans who have come up with false accusation after false accusation against Barack Obama? Tell us all about the integrity of the disgraced "birthers" and "deathers". lol.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • Fred

      And by "clean up your act" we mean stop exposing our candidate as a lying, cheating, embezzling, adulterer who got censured by congress, fired from his job, and had to pay a $300,000 fine.

      Just stop calling him what he is. Us Christians need a man to vote for.. please..

      January 20, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • reACTIONary

      CNN, ABC, WashPo have my support in bringing these abysmial character flaws to light. This is why a free press is the light of democracy.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  12. Rick

    Why is CNN obsessed with S.ex?

    January 20, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  13. Steve Gastin

    First wife daughters support Newt because of Enemy of the Enemy logic. 2nd wife took Newt from their mother and the reason they are supporting Newt against second wife.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  14. Dave

    John King is a bigger piece of garbage than Newt Gingrich. One is a Left piece of Garbage one is a Right piece of garbage.

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

      John King did his job and asked a question that directly related to the incredible hypocrisy of Gingrich. It's ridiculous to blame the messenger.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  15. hope120

    Sure hope not. With Newt the lizard and his stepford wife. Anyone voting for him has to wake up

    January 20, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  16. tim

    Hell yes this will help him. It proves he's the MAN! He gets way more saggy, pasty, geriatric @ss than a toilet seat at Old Country Buffet! Romney can't say that. The crack of dawn ain't safe around Newt. You old polecate you!

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

    If a person doesn't have integrity in personal life, they can't have integrity in professional life.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • Al

      Tell that to the t-rash that reads CNN (for those that can read).

      January 20, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • If horses had Gods ...

      How's that "intergrity" helping the US economy right about now?? We don't need integrity, we need a powerfull leader with the right ideas on how to lead this country, whether anyone likes them or not .. this isn't suppossed to be a popularity contest!

      January 20, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  18. Cameron

    Newt needs to leave politics once and for all! He's hung around the GOP long enough to be relevant to the GOP historically, "I did this", "I did that"....but he's John McCain all over again, looks good on paper, but cannot win against Obama. 3 Ex Wives = a lot of baggage. Too much baggage.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • NorthropP61

      Newt perfectly illustrates the hypocrisy of the family values far right: "Condemn everyone else, excuse ourselves."

      January 20, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  19. Craig

    It seems like "non-evangelicals" think that "evangelicals" only like perfection. As has been pointed out in these comments, evangelicals are about forgiveness and we don't demand perfection. Of the remaining candidates I like Newt or Ron. If Newt wins it's going to be strange to get used to says, "President Newt". I've never had any member of the salamander family in charge. Ron isn't perfect either and does have some crazy idea, but I like his style. I hope I won't have to say "President Mitt". Or worse yet, vote for a Newt/Mitt ticket. Although, mittnewt sounds like some sort of fig based cookie which does sound delicious.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • Richelle

      Forgiveness is for those who have repented and changed their ways. It's not your or anyone else's place to forgive anyway, that's God's job. It's our job to elect someone that is honest and has the best interests of the country at heart instead of a narcissist in search of more power. This guy is a serial philanderer with zero integrity or character.

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

      Come on Craig... at the time he was cheating with his assistant he was trying to impeach Clinton for doing the same... i didn't see any foriveness to Clinton at the time. I have nothing wrong with forgiveness, I just don't think God forgives on the basis of politics. Newt just shows he has no real morals. He rants and raves like many of the self proclaimed righteous while doing dirty deeds himself.... sounds like Jimmy Swaggart. He doesn't deserve the presidency. He needs to go away and concentrate on his own life. The American people will be better off.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • badlobbyist

      Are the Evangelicals going to "forgive" Obama? (Not that he needs forgiving IMO.)

      January 20, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • Fred

      This isn't about forgiving a cheater. He LEFT his first two wives when they were seriously ill, and twice broke up his family. What is he teaching his children (and the rest of us) about "family values? We aren't supposed to ditch our spouses for someone cuter, we're supposed to repair what's wrong. It sickens me that he acts pious when he's no better than Bill Clinton or any of the other homewreckers in politics. He makes Republicans look like a bunch of hypocrits. If he gets the nomination, Republicans can't possibly win.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • HZ

      Because the loudest evangelicals are often rude, judgemental, hypocrites – all things Jesus was not!
      You could learn a lot from people like Joel Olsteen who is not mixing politics & faith.
      I am a Christian & independent voter.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • reACTIONary

      Sure Newt should be forgiven – but not rewarded. If you need this level of forgivness, you have no business seeking a postion of public trust – especially not the presidency!

      January 20, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  20. If horses had Gods ...

    So, how much is President Obama's perfect marriage helping the US economy or foriegn policy?
    I don't care what Clinton, Bush or Kennedy did in their marriage, I just want a President that can do the job of being President!!

    January 20, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • GeneK1953

      I doubt very much that moving the economy from a -3.5% growth rate and losing 750,000 jobs a month at the beginning of 2009 back into positive numbers or killing Osama Bin Laden and bringing down Gaddafi without any US losses got much help from Obama's marriage. Except, perhaps, to the extent that Obama wasn't spending a lot of time planning how he was going to make calls to his wife at night from another woman's bed.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • badlobbyist

      How much did the Republicans help the economy and foreign policy when they were in charge? Let's see....doubled the debt from $5trillion to $10trillion and started two wars. hmmmmm.......(Oh and don't forget my favorite Medicare Part D – with a total unfunded cost estimated to be $16 trillion. yes, $16 trillion, the $500-$700 billion is only for ten years, not perpetuity (since the program isn't ending in ten years as you recall.) Thanks Republicans!)

      January 20, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • If horses had Gods ...

      See GeneK & badlobbyist .. even your responses show their marriages had NOTHING to do with what they did as President. Now I hope you can understand the point of my post. Likely not though, you're obviously too deep into partisan politics to understand.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • reACTIONary

      A "perfect mariage" dosen't "help" president Obama do his job, it just doesn't disqualify him. This issue isn't Obama's marriage, it Newt"s pretty absimal character. Who could trust him? Character and being trusted are requirements for the job!

      January 20, 2012 at 6:31 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.