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. Richard

    Perfect GOP candidate, cheats on his wife, then cheats on his mistress, finds God and now has a vision to lead the country.....Hurray for our side.........please

    May 11, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  2. Jeremy

    Do we have to have a president?

    May 11, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  3. grichard1956

    Newt you fig, sit down and shut up!

    May 11, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  4. John

    This is an insult. He honestly believes Americans will vote for him? Obama has more class and integrity in his left thumb than Newt has in his entire body. Who does Newt think he is? What a self-righteous bigot.

    May 11, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  5. BD70

    Sorry...Newt....you would sell your soul to the devil if that is what it took to get the GOP nomination and gain access to the WH. You make me sick.

    May 11, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  6. Truthwillsetyoufree

    He did everything that he accused Clinton of andhe thinks its ok? Gimme a break....

    May 11, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  7. Kenny

    Every Republican in the country is running for POTUS in this cycle. Some prominent Republicans have even had a bowel movement and thrown it into the race too. Now Newt comes along and steps into it all with 3 full marriages under his belt. That's all we need to have leading this country. A "wondering President". People will wonder every weekend where their "Newtly" elected Republican President is and who he is with while his FLOTUS is home in bed in the White House.

    May 11, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  8. ProudAmerican

    What a disgrace. This is offensive to all Americans for this guy to think Americans will vote him into office after the countless shameful things he has done not only in his personal life but throughout his career. It shows how shameless he is thinking its even OK for him to even consider let alone going through with wanting to run for president. He must think we are all brainless.

    May 11, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
  9. Mitch

    Dear Republican party, Please make your Newt your choice. GOBAMA!

    May 11, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  10. booboo

    Is this the cream of the crop for the GOP? I feel sorry for them if this guy is running against Obama.

    May 11, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
  11. Mitch

    Oh Newt, you make it so easy. 3rd wife = 1st lady = Republican party values...

    May 11, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
  12. Adriana Birmingham, Al

    I don't think the conservatives will care. They are just a bunch of hypocrites anyway. Crucify Clinton but forgive Republicans when they do it.

    May 11, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
  13. TJ1981

    As a young independent who tends to lean Libertarian or Republican, I am begging either party to find a decent candidate (Not great just decent) so I don't have to vote for Obama. The Libertarian candidates are nut jobs and the Republicans are all these morally self rightous bigots. I am fiscally conservative and supported the war in Afganistan and at first in Iraq. I am a gun owner and believe in mentally sound, non-criminal gun ownership. I believe abortion is extremely wrong, but I don't think I, the government, or anyone else should have the right to tell someone in their own unique situation what they can and cannot do. Teach your kids its wrong and let everyone else work it out with their conscience and their God. While I am not gay, if gay couples want to get married so they can have the legal rights like making medical decisions etc. that sounds only fair to me, and doesn't affect my family's ability to live our lives. How about someone who believes in letting people live their lives and have the freedom to chose how they raise their families, while keeping the federal government limited to things like defence and immigration. Let the states decide on the other things.

    May 11, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Live and let live? What a strange concept...

      May 11, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
    • Know What

      Yay TJ. You might just have to run yourself. You'd get my vote. 🙂

      If 1981 is your birth year, you are a bit young yet, but please hang in there. We need you.

      May 11, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • ScottK

      "(Not great just decent) so I don't have to vote for Obama." I am so GD sick of people who wouldn't know a good president if he were JFK giving them a reverse cowgirl. Obama IS a middle of the road centrist, bending over backwards to the republicans on foreign policy and military spending and you morons still vilify him because he decided to take action on the "dirty bomb" that is health care. But you wouldn't be able to see that since your only view of the world is from deep inside Glen Beck's colon.

      May 11, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • Beadles

      TJ – I'll be a volunteer worker for your campaign.

      May 11, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • andy666

      Great reply, I don't agree with it all but I respect your thinking a lot. Sounds to me like we need a MIDDLE party to bridge the gap. Now wouldn't that be awesome?

      May 11, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • Frankie

      "The Libertarian candidates are nut jobs and the Republicans are all these morally self rightous bigots"

      Yup. That's about it. I'm glad you realized this now. And it's not going to change.

      May 11, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • ???

      Your beliefs, with a few exceptions, seems a lot like the policy of someone who is in office...I think his name is Obama.

      May 11, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
    • BD70


      May 11, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • ProudAmerican

      VERY WELL SAID.. thank you.

      May 11, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • Denizen Kate

      Why don't you run for president, TJ? I'd vote for you.

      I'm neither Democrat nor Republican, I'm socially liberal and fiscally conservative. I keep wondering when the mainstream, true fiscal and social conservatives, those who really do want less government, will take back the GOP from the fright-wingers, Tea Partyers, and religious fanatics who have dominated the political arena lately, simply by virtue of being willing to make the most noise. I know there are Republicans out there who actually use logic and reason to express their viewpoints, and are even willing to listen to opposing views, but they've been far too quiet for too long.

      Come on, conservatives! Take back your party, so those of us who have more than a couple of brain cells to rub together can have a battle of wits with someone who is actually armed!

      May 11, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
    • Andrew

      So basically, TJ, you're then a centrist democrat? Right... so what's your problem with Obama again? Cause so far the dems have only been proposing the same kinds of stuff that republicans proposed in the early 1990s, the idea Obama is some massive liberal is absurd. Well, he might be, but his policies certainly don't seem to reflect his beliefs if he were. He's been compromising just about every liberal value he can, and yet repubs still manage to villify him? I've said it before, and I'll say it again, Democrats are spineless, and republicans are WAY better at playing politics than dems.

      May 11, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
    • Meg

      All I have to say is that Scott, you are a complete moron. I will denigrate you, because you deserve it. Obama, a centrist? Are you f–cking kidding me? Maybe, this is why America is losing its prosperity. As someone once told me. They live, they breed, and they vote; and you, Scott, are a prime example. How can you sheep be so blinded by Obama's BS? It is as if you were implanted with microchips. Before you worry about Newt, let's worry about the current moron that is obliterating this country. Please, Read a book, and educate yourself!

      May 11, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
    • Josh

      Meg, since we're a bunch of uneducated idiots, please present facts to prove your point instead of hurling insults like a child.

      May 11, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
    • ScottK

      @Meg – Wow, you have no clue do you. That is why there is such a divide of red & blue in this country is that instead of having a serious debate we just hurl insults and behave like children. If you did have a clue you would know "why America is losing its prosperity" or as you should have said "why America is now regaining it's prosperity that was lost during the Bush years." (US Data shows 7 consecutive quarters of GDP growth under Obama) The "No Taxes! Yes to military spending! No to financial regulation! Yes to the Christian equivilent to Sharia Law" red staters drove this country so far into the ditch it's not a matter of changing course slightly, its putting the bus in reverse, but your'e to busy with birth certificate, death panels & socialism scare nonsense to notice.

      May 12, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
  14. MSL58

    Since when does being an adulterer automatically qualify you for the presidency?

    May 11, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • Shannon

      He didn't just have an affair...he had an affair WHILE HE PRESSED THE MONICA LEWINSKY ISSUE AND CENSURE OF CLINTON!!! What a piece of crap!

      May 11, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • Andrew

      It doesn't disqualify you, it just makes you a hypocrite when you tout things like "family values" trying to appeal to the conservative base. It means he is perfectly willing to say "gays shouldn't have rights, and clinton's impeachment was justified" despite his own hypocrisy. It doesn't make him disqualified, it just makes him a pathetically bad candidate. He's almost as bad as Sarah Palin. Almost.

      May 11, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
  15. Monica

    Watch Newt Gingrich share his vision for a new American immigration system at the '92Y: Politics & World Events' series on FORA.tv (http://f4a.tv/dKZ1j9)

    May 11, 2011 at 5:40 pm |

    Newt thinks he is Richard Milhouse Nixon.

    May 11, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  17. koalaholik

    All I can say is, with Newt's history of dumping wives when they are ill, Callista better hope she stays healthy.

    May 11, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
  18. w l jones

    I here so much about who is and who are not so smart, I met a man were good with a pen and paper but could not walk without falling nor figure which were up or down. I am quite Mr. Newt have all the tool to be president the question can he use them.

    May 11, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  19. Cat

    What loser!! He is a great big hypocrite, as well as a liar, a cheater and just plan stupid.

    May 11, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • gmoney

      he's a old f@rt,addicted to viagra,what a dirty old man,he need's to retire

      May 11, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  20. Linda Bilbo

    What about the $300,000. penalty he had to pay for violations of house rules when he was reprimanded for misleading the committee on Standards of Offical Conduct for using tax-exempt organizations to advance his political goals?

    May 11, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • Steve

      Yeah, and how many Democrats have had problems with their taxes in the last few years? nice try

      May 11, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • Aaron

      Why is the Republican response to questions about ethics violations "buh, buh, buh, but Democrats have done it, too!" As if THAT mere fact gives their folks a pass. Are you kidding? These people can't defend so they deflect. Gingrich is a SCAM artist who's somehow managed since his inglorious departure from the House to keep himself in punditry circles despite being wrong on every major issue facing America. He's in it for the money, that's it. Can't believe people don't see this.

      May 11, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • ???


      Then get rid of all of the violators. "Two wrongs makes a right" went out with first grade.

      May 11, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
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About this blog

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.