As he prepares campaign, Gingrich faces hurdles with religious conservatives
Newt Gingrich on Capitol Hill on Wednesday after addressing a Hispanic prayer breakfast.
May 11th, 2011
02:53 PM ET

As he prepares campaign, Gingrich faces hurdles with religious conservatives

Editor's Note: CNN’s Joe Johns will explore the relationship between Newt Gingrich and social conservatives Thursday on The Situation Room at 5 p.m. ET.

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) - How big a stumbling block will Newt Gingrich’s three marriages and admission of an affair pose to his efforts to win so-called values voters?

“It’s a huge hurdle,” said Richard Land, the public policy chief for the Southern Baptist Convention, the county’s largest evangelical denomination.

“I must have asked 500 Southern Baptists about this in individual conversations,” Land said. “Evangelical men are likely to give him the benefit of the doubt. I find an implacable wall of resistance among evangelical women.”

As he announced Wednesday that he'll seek the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, it's clear that Gingrich is aware of the huge role religious conservatives play in the GOP primaries. But he also knows that his past presents challenges to winning them over.

“In meetings with pastors, the issue always comes up,” said Rick Tyler, Gingrich’s spokesman.

“And he answers it straightforwardly, courageously, without making excuses,” Tyler said. “Once they understand that he, like them, relies on his faith to get him through every day, they can get beyond it and hear his message. It turns out that pastors really are in the business of forgiveness.”

In recent years, Tyler has spearheaded Gingrich’s stepped-up campaign to organize evangelicals and Catholics at the grass roots - and to bring them closer to fiscal conservatives through efforts like the Tea Party movement. Tyler says that campaign will be especially important in early caucus and primary states like Iowa and South Carolina, where evangelicals represent huge voting blocs.

“I’ve been with Newt as he’s met with literally thousands of pastors; he’s made it an ongoing part of our travel agenda,” Tyler said.

On Wednesday morning, hours before he announced his campaign for the presidency via Twitter, Gingrich addressed the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast on Capitol Hill.

In recent years, Gingrich has also made promoting religion in public life a central part of his message. He says a 2002 federal court ruling against reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools because of its “under God” clause was a wake-up call.

At a speech to a Texas megachurch in March, Gingrich said that the United States will be a “secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists,” in a matter of generations unless Americans fight back against secularization.

Although religious conservatives are likely to respond to that message, the question for Gingrich is whether they’ll accept the messenger.

Gingrich's first marriage ended after he discussed the details of the divorce with his wife while she was recovering from cancer surgery. He married again in 1981 and was divorced in 2000, when he married the young congressional aide with whom he had had an affair.

Some accused Gingrich of hypocrisy for cheating on his wife around the time the House was impeaching President Bill Clinton for lying about his White House affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Many religious Americans may be apt to forgive him.

“Among evangelicals, the drama of sin and redemption is well understood,” said John Green, an expert on religion and politics at the University of Akron. “The question is how effectively he can explain that he’s not the same person he was back then.”

Gingrich would not be the first presidential candidate to overcome doubts among religious conservatives because of perceived personal transgressions.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan became the first divorced person to win the White House, with lots of help from evangelicals who’d supported Jimmy Carter, a Southern Baptist, four years earlier.

“Newt simply needs to address the past in an authentic way that makes it clear he is a changed man,” said Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, “and I believe the overwhelming majority of social conservative voters will be fair-minded and forgiving.

“Most important, he needs to talk about how he has found peace and meaning through a personal relationship with Christ, that his marriage has never been stronger and that he has never been closer to his children and grandchildren,” said Reed, who once led the Christian Coalition.

Gingrich has apologized for his past behavior in interviews and usually appears in public with his wife, Callista. Gingrich has also spoken about how Callista helped lead him to convert from Protestantism to Catholicism in 2009.

“What evangelicals see in that (conversion) story is God at work,” Tyler said. “He went to Mass with Callista as a supportive spouse, and evangelicals have told me they think that’s right where God wanted him. Over time, it had a powerful effect.”

Still, some top religious conservatives say Gingrich still has a lot of work to do to win the votes of many conservative evangelicals and Catholics. The Southern Baptist Convention’s Land said he told Gingrich late last year that he needs to address his personal behavior in a major address.

“The only chance of clearing this hurdle is to give a major speech in some pro-family forum," Land said, "in which he imagines himself to be sitting directly across from an evangelical woman and convinces them that he deeply regrets his behaviors.

"That he understands how hurtful and destructive it was and that he has apologized to the people involved and is happily married and devoted to his wife," Land continued. "And that, whatever happens, there will be no sexual scandal in the Gingrich White House.”

Land says Gingrich told him he’d think about it.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Christianity • Newt Gingrich • Politics

soundoff (928 Responses)
  1. Donald in CA

    Just what america needs, a bigoted hater for president. It seems that a third of american wants to bring this country down instead of up.

    May 13, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  2. Joseph Cavano, Jr.

    Bad enough that Newt is a serial cheated on his spouses, no one will touch the issue that he was a DRAFT DODGER!!! First a student deferment, then, a teachers deferment! All during Vietnam! How come Hanity never touches this 3rd rail- maybe because, as a volunteer army baby- HE ALSO NEVER ENLISTED!!! I love these chicken hawks ready to send your kids off to war, but they themselves showed no guts at crunch time!! FYI: I am age 59, and drew # 297 in the 1971 draft lottery- my reason for not "being in it"!

    May 13, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  3. JustSayin

    He's got no chance. Even if he gets the nomination, which he won't, he'd get creamed by Obama.

    May 13, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  4. ED FL

    The only excuse he has not[ YET] used was/is that his current wife [TODAY that is] was at fault for chasing a much married man. Outside of deserving one another i guess that somewhere in this universe there has to be a religion that finds nothing immoral about this Ginghrich episode, if not i am sure that the GOP will create one, and put Former Senator Ensign has its Holy Roller in charge.

    May 13, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  5. TJeff1776

    Dear Mr. Gingrich:
    Pointing the accusing finger while secretly doing the same thing transcends hypocrisy. And serving your poor wife with divorce papers while she lay on her death bed was COLD, to say the least. This "running around" stuff is secondary.
    Methinks you need time to stack up some good works to clearly demonstrate a good example. Changing religions and claiming repentance and/or forgiveness will not suffice. The Apostle Paul states "works" is the answer. How else can an "example" be achieved ????

    May 13, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  6. Average American

    I find it interesting that the left wing Getto Necks can criticize Gingrich when the worst president in history sucked cocaine up his nose. Now I find that hyprocritical.

    Anybody running for President would be a hundred times better that Obama. Get him the hell out before he completely destroys America.

    May 13, 2011 at 9:04 am |
    • Will

      "when the worst president in history sucked cocaine up his nose". Yeah, I hear that Bush Jr's college life was crazy. Luckily he found JAYZUSS, otherwise he wouldn't have been able to trick hillbillies like you into voting for him.

      May 13, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • Yeah right

      You shouldn't talk about Dubya like that.

      May 14, 2011 at 7:25 pm |

    El Kababa nailed it twice. Wingnuts are delusional and believe anything that they are told by the FoxLies network.

    May 13, 2011 at 5:50 am |
  8. Reality

    With respect to "nutty Newt":

    Jesus was a bit "touched" (as is Newt). After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today's world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane.

    Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Most contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J's gospels being mostly fiction.

    Obviously, today's followers like "nutty Newt" of Paul et al's "magic-man" are also a bit on the odd side believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about bodies resurrecting, and exorcisms, and miracles, and "magic-man atonement, and infallible, old, European, white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices.

    May 12, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  9. El Kababa

    Gingrich is the perfect Conservative presidential candidate. He is both crazy AND evil. With him, Conservatives don't have to choose just one or the other again.

    May 12, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  10. Checkmate

    Newt Grinch.

    May 12, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  11. Inkiri

    Dumping your cancer-stricken wife does not count as health care reform.

    May 12, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • Fred

      Very well said...

      May 13, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  12. excitizen

    At a speech to a Texas megachurch in March, Gingrich said that the United States will be a “secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists,” in a matter of generations unless Americans fight back against secularization.

    Fear, fear, fear is all the right has to sell. What a bunch of crap from a 1iar with years of experience at doing so. Just like so many Catholics I grew up with – sin, sin, sin and then ask for foregiveness.

    May 12, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Rhea

      Yeah, that sentence had a few too many knee-jerk buzzwords, not that any of them had a chance of making sense.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • SarahLV

      I fail to see how "secular atheists" and "radical Islamists" could be the same thing. It just proves the man is dumber than a box of rocks, and has no idea what he's talking about.

      May 13, 2011 at 7:59 am |
  13. shane

    He won't get the nomination because he's not a Democrat. Again we will have the choice, Democrat or "Another Democrat"

    May 12, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • El Kababa

      Shane, all of you Conservatives pull that on us. No matter how much damage a Conservative President does to the nation, you guys say, "Hey, not our fault. He turned out not to be a TRUE Conservative. He was just another one of those false Conservatives who are really liberals or socialists or dishonest or whatever."

      Back when Bush was president, you guys were saying that he was the real deal and you called anyone who voted against him a socialilst lesbian muslim traitor.

      May 12, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • Will

      Did it ever occur to you, for just one second, that candidates that are "real conservatives like you" (Christian fascists) don't make it to the "big dance" because THEY CAN NOT COMPETE? If you were the head of the RNC, would you field a candidate who appealed to nobody outside of the deep, deep south? Winning in Mississippi/Alabama/Kansas WON'T win you the general election.

      Same reason that, while I'm as liberal as they come, I understand why the Democrats don't run a Michael Moore/Rachael Maddow ticket.

      May 13, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  14. Kirb

    I had to chuckle when I saw today's poll question. I would rather vote for Osama bin Ladan than Newt. Even though we all know that bin Ladan is dead, he's a better choice than Newt. It's Obama all the way for me.

    May 12, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • Average American

      I hope you are right. All the way out the door. What a stupid moron you are.

      May 13, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • Will

      "Average American" = Average American from Alabammy or Arkansaw. Luckily not "average" of those of us who live in the parts of the country that have paved roads and indoor plumbing.

      May 13, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  15. donna

    As a native Atlantan, I can absolutely tell you that Newt is a 1st class scuzz ball. My husband used to work at the same school where Newt's first wife was a teacher. She WAS in the hospital with cancer surgery having been performed. Newt had served her with divorce papers there. He had, I think, 3 children with her. He also began cheating on her with the woman who would become his 2nd wife. He cheated on that wife too, with Callista. to whom he is currently married. What have you got when you marry a man who's had mistrresses? A man WHO'LL CHEAT ON HIS WIFE!!! I have not changed my opinion of Newt ever since he 1st entered Ga. politics. He was, and is, a major loose cannon. He says he has asked for "forgiveness". I hope he has received it, especially from his 1st wife, (since the 2nd one was a homewrecker as is the 3rd). All a person of influence has to do is grovel a while for the American people, claim that he made some bad choices and has now mended his evil ways. Just 1 more thing: my husband was born the same month and year as Newt. He served in Viet Nam with an honorable discharge and a Purple Heart. And where was Newt during this time? Off with his "other priorities". Sounds like Dick Cheney with "more pressing matters" than serving his country.
    And wasn't Newt charged with ethics violations while in Congress?
    Please leave, Newt and don't be giving your Intent to run for president speech in Macon, Ga. , as you aren't a legal resident here anymore. People may "forgive" you, but may we never forget.
    As my mother used to say: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me".

    May 12, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • El Kababa

      Fool me once, shame on you.
      Fool me twice, shame on me.
      Fool me a hundred times over fifty years and I must be a Conservative voter.

      May 12, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  16. Southern Christian

    Clinton lied about his escapades, even to the point of being convicted of a felony. Gingrich has made mistakes as we all have. At least he owns up to them. I would have to be convinced he has repented before I could commit to him as a leader. I am as guilty of sin as anyone. Even King David commited adultery with Bathsheba, but as with Clinton he tried to cover it up which led to another sin of murder. We all need to face our failure and understand how badly we need a savior.

    May 12, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • James

      Jesus bemoaned the hypocrisies of the Pharisees many times in the scripture. Just because you say "I'm sorry" as Gingrich has said many times, actions speak louder than words. Gingrich has said he's sorry too many times – it's obvious he's a hypocrite and is pulling the wool over the eyes of the christian fundamentalists.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • S1N

      Or I can just not cheat on my wife while staying atheist. Problem solved.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • dmv

      Clinton was not convicted of a felony, nor did he murder anyone.

      I guess bearing false witness is OK in your book.

      May 12, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • SarahLV

      So what you're basically saying is that it's alright for a vocally "God-fearing Catholic" to ignore the 7th commandment, but it's abysmal for someone who doesn't vocalize his religion to ignore the 9th commandment? Isn't that a bit, um, hypocritical? I thought the idea of forgiveness wasn't limited to those who you personally feel deserve it.

      May 13, 2011 at 7:57 am |
    • Will

      When has Gingrich EVER owed up to divorcing his dying wife on her hospital bed? When had he EVER apologized and repented?

      Southern Christian Conservative, eh? I say we let you guys secede already. That way WE (who live in parts of the country who value education and knowledge over 2000 desert fairytales) can join the rest of the civilized world in the 21st century.

      May 13, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • Fred

      Christian...what murder are you talking about???? maybe you need to deal with the facts and not some thing you are dreaming up...

      May 13, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  17. Ken from FL

    Every time I hear someone from the left bemoan Gingrich's supposed lack of values, I can only smile. This from the party that brought us Bill Clinton, that upstanding moralist who occupied the Oval Office. The last time I checked, Gingrich didn't have a thing about cigars and White House interns.

    May 12, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • mitzie

      Gingrich is just as guilty as you believe liberals are. He bemoaned Clinton's immorality while being equally as immoral.

      May 12, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • Fred

      So Clinton had an affair? So what? Bush invaded Iraq without cause and then mismanaged the entire war from lack of planning to lack of financial controls on companies involved to simple lack of anything. He could have been on vacation his entire presidency and he would have been a better president than he was. He increased the national debt to record levels, waffled on Katrina, etc., etc.. The only good thing he did was allowing federal money for religious charities.

      May 13, 2011 at 4:56 am |
    • SarahLV

      The main reason people talk about Gingrich's lack of values over many others' is because he's out there, touting family values at the nation, and it is very hypocritical. It would be like someone who trained suicide bombers getting up in front of the nation and saying that all would-be suicide bombers should be put away.

      May 13, 2011 at 7:53 am |
    • Will

      Ken from FL (obvious southern redneck) - the difference is, THE DEMOCRATS DON'T RUN ON A SOCIALLY CONSERVATIVE/CHRISTIAN PLATFORM.

      May 13, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • DYBO

      Give me good old cigar dippin slick Willy any day- at least he had the clock stopped on our deficits and actually heading backwards.

      May 13, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • Fred

      Ken...Clinton did have an affair...but your boy Newt is in a class all by himself..he cheated on wife Number (1), who was his high school teacher who worked her butt off to get him elected to office...he walked into her hospital room while she was recoving from a cancer operation and told her he was filing for a divorce...he had been cheating on her with a woman who soon became wife Number (2)....he was married to her while he was carring on a 6 year affair with the woman who is now wife Number 3...all the time during each of these affairs he has been attacking his political enemies-from both parties-about any affairs they may have had...he is a lier, a cheat, walk out on any person who helped him, say anything that would help him get ahead, his actions were so extreme that he was forced to resign in disgrace as the Speaker of the House of Represenative...He has done not one thing to improve this country...it is all about NEWT..NOT THIS COUNTRY..But I hope he runs..cuz "he'll be easy to beat"...cuz every thing he does or says will help defeat him

      May 13, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • Republican Hypocrites

      Clinton did not proclaim to be a pillar of values like Gingrich and the rest of the Republicans. The Republicans passs laws in defense of marriage, but don't live by the values they try to force on the rest of this. I know that the hypocrisy is just too much to wrap you pea brain around

      May 14, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
  18. Code

    Gingrich is a person without values. Old, dishonest, disloyal, basically dumb.

    May 12, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • dabble

      So, he DOES have values.....just values that I certainly would not like to see in someone trying to become president.

      May 13, 2011 at 5:47 am |
  19. Warren

    Please run and get the nomination...you would be perfect for the Democrats

    May 12, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
  20. Vence

    Dear Gingrich,

    Do us a favor. Run for president. Pick Mr. trump for vice-president, Ms. Palin for Secretary of State. Maybe, some citizens of this country will see the worst president ever, and they will start loving Mr. Bush again.

    May 12, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • El Kababa

      Vence, if a North Korean spy was elected to the presidency, he would not be able to do more damage to the nation than George W Bush. Ronald Reagan was the second worst president because he was the first Republican to double the national debt. His Vice President doubled it again. Bush2 more than doubled it again.

      May 12, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • MSCOTT

      Neuter is the dumbest intellectual I have ever seen. The reason he is running is because most candidates that enter a presidential election receive so much money from contributors that they become millionaires. These righties are really good at money launering and moving money around so that it is difficult to trace. Just when you thought these crazies are gone forever, they reappear like Jason and come back to haunt the American people. Guess in 2016, De Lay will come back and run for president fresh from a Texas prison and a reborn Christian. Good news for Democrats!

      May 13, 2011 at 10:38 am |
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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.