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. bnb42

    Well how do you know she's a witch?

    She turned me into a NEWT!

    I got better.....

    January 20, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  2. Anna

    What I find amusing is a person who makes marriage a campaign issue (gay marriage anyone?) doesn't want his own marriage to be a campaign issue. I don't how many wives he has had. I don't care if he has a wife and mistress now. However, his behavior illustrates something else. There are two sets of rules; one for him and one for everyone else. That to me is a big red flag.

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

      That's how all republican politicians are. I like how he claims republicans are vilified by the liberal press, when Fox broadcast 24/7 anti Obama lies and half truths.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • mother of four

      This is all too true of Newt. Miss the filing deadline in a state that doesn't allow write ins for primaries? Throw a temper tantrum and demand that they change the rules. Demand that the president leave office for having an affair in the Oval office and then get caught having your own affair? Well, you see, for him it was different . . . In his head, it would seem that rules are a fine thing until they get in his way.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  3. td40

    Of course it will help him and of course it will not scare off far right wingers and evangelicals. I mean, this is *the* group of people for which party-over-country and hypocrisy are core values.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  4. jdoe

    He's still popular because evangelicals secretly want open marriages.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  5. Casey

    Well... it's official. This blog is officially over-run with the hate filled lunatic fringe. I guess it has been for a long time... but ... well... I kept hoping. I guess it's par usual for CNN.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  6. Barry G.

    Was it Vladimir Viardo who said:
    People get the government that they deserve.

    We must be terrible people.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  7. RatyionalFew

    Well with Newt or Santorum, the hard line catholics will finally have control of the country. Right now the catholic bishops have more political clout that the evangelicals and with neither of these guys will put their catholic faith aside like JFK did. For the first time the pope will be calling the shots.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  8. bnb42

    Republican like to put family values on their platform.... Then they get mad when someone questions their family values....

    January 20, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • RatyionalFew

      It just depends who doing it. If a democrats caught cheating it's a major thing. If a conservative is caught it's just a little sin and who among us is without sin.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  9. Fred

    I seem to recall when repubtards wanted Clinton out, it was because he was an immoral man. But now apparently, that is no longer a problem.

    Hypocracy is the republican way.

    When the Duke of Hazzard GWB was running up the defecit, a word was said. When a democrat does the same, it's excessive spending.

    When will they learn?

    January 20, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • RatyionalFew

      Newt was leaking the Clinton witch hunt all the while cheating on his own wife..

      January 20, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • Fred

      I think even worse he was caught practically stealing. He was fined $300k – the first time ever by congress:

      If you want to vote to Newt, read this: http://tech.mit.edu/V116/N68/house.68w.html

      January 20, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  10. Bill

    Now, to those who view the Scriptures as authoritative, allow me to point out in 2 of the Gospels, Jesus is reported to have taught that divorce can only be sanctioned in cases where one of the spouses has committed adultery AND that remarriage to a third party is not permitted so long as the former spouse is alive, otherwise the remarried spouse lives in perpetual adultery. Newt, the Adulterer, for President! Right.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  11. pa10sion

    Does it really matter which one of these clowns gets the nomination? Really? Does anyone seriously think any of them have a chance against Obama?

    January 20, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  12. Independent Thought

    The GOP are in a bubble, big time. Newt may be the right guy to rally the troops within the ranks, but outside the GOP no one will vote for him.

    If the GOP forgets the Independents this cycle, they are done. And I mean done for good.

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

      What does it feel like to endlessly quote rhetoric never having had a single thought outside of the group's?

      January 20, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • badlobbyist

      Well AL, Independent Thought is right on the money. There might be 7 independents out there that would vote for Newt. But by and large, even though a lot of us are right there with you on the disappointment with Obama, we look at these clowns and wouldn't vote them to be a president of our HOAs.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  13. Character Matters

    I cannot vote for Gingrich. For me, character matters and the fact that Newt divorced his first wife when she had cancer, then cheated on and divorced his second wife just after she had been diagnosed with MS, I think, tells me that he has no character. When the going gets tough, he will make the easy choices not the right ones.

    If you want to know decisions someone will make, look to their past choices. In matters of character, history is the best way to tell what future choices will be.

    As for me, I will not vote for Gingrich or Santorum. Adultery is just too important of a future indicator.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  14. Mr Chihuahua

    Newt looks like a Peanuts character lol!

    January 20, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  15. Casey

    Of course this is all behind him and he's faithful now. He's an overweight old man. He wouldn't really be able to attract the ladies again unless he was somehow able to gain an extremely high position, wielding tremendous power and authority.

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

      Don't forget the half million dollar line of credit at Tiffany's!

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

      He has money, that's enough to get a little tail right there. There are a lot of shallow desparate women out there!!

      January 20, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  16. Bob

    Christians are shallow hypocrites, news at 11.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • Character Matters

      Bob – Too many are and anyone that votes for Gingrich or Santorum, may well be one. Gingrich at least has no moral values, integrity or character. I do not see how anyone that believes in a moral code could vote for him. There is a difference between forgiving someone and getting into bed with them.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  17. Leonard

    What is troublesome is not that he had affairs...but, that he was lambasting a sitting president for something that he himself was engaged in. The hipocracy is unbelievable...tells you a lot about his integrity – this he has none.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  18. If horses had Gods ...

    Did anyone ask John King if he's had any marriage problems? Is he qualified to be a debate moderator? Did your boss cheat on his wife? Does it disqualify him from being a boss? Ask yourself .. don't we have bigger things to ask a candidate for President?

    January 20, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • pa10sion

      ....uhhh.. let me think about that.....NO!

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

      But the republicans tout 'family values' as part of their platform....

      So yes it was an appropriate question.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • badlobbyist

      Absolutely. When the Repubs want to have big govt interfere with my life in the form of The Defense of Marriage act then this is a totally acceptable question.
      I want to know if Newt would champion repealing the The Defense of Marriage Act. You know, one man, one woman....

      January 20, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • Diana in MO

      ... unless we're talking about a democrat of course. Then the republicans have to drag the whole country through an impeachment process to prove how morally superior they are. Sorry guys, we're on to your game.

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

      The responses so far show that everyone is only into partisan politics. The question is don't WE (as in us, the voters) need to know more about what the candidates plan to do to better this country .. or are we nothing but tabloid addicts. This isn't about a party, I don't care what Clinton or Bush or Kennedy or Obama did/does in their marriages.. I want a president to know what they're doing on the economy or foriegn policy .. don't you?!

      January 20, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • SAM

      I want a President with good morals and character. The President of the US is arguably the most powerful person in the world. So many decisions the President has to make involve moral judgments. Don’t you want a President who is morally sound?

      I think the majority of people, regardless of religion, will agree with me on this: a man who has an affair while at the same time is berating someone else for doing the same lacks morals and character! If his wife can’t trust him, a person he’s taken an oath to, do you think anyone can trust him? Newt has shown time and again that he is morally corrupt. If he’s willing to sell out his wife and be a hypocrite about it, do you think he won’t sell out our country?

      January 20, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
  19. it ain't true

    The loud response in SC was mainly from redneck men who think of Newt as a god for being able to have so many women and not having any of them being a relative. They are not looking to forgive him.. they are looking to immulate him. Notice, he has a thin following with the women.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • voice of reason

      Stereotype much? ... Since you can discern the hearts and minds of the audience, maybe we should ask you who is going to win the election. Pffft.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • signalfire

      No, they were roaring to their feet cheering because he 'dressed down' the so called 'elite libtard newsmedia'. This had nothing to do with Newt's being a major league pig, and everything to do with the South's feeling like NYC thinks they're hicks.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  20. JR in Texas

    The sanctimonious, self-righteous, pious, holier-than-though, hypocrites representing the evangelical far right wing of the Republican party would vote for the devil himself if they thought he could beat President Obama in the 2012 election.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • pa10sion

      Couldn't have said it better.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • voice of reason

      the devil can't run against himself

      January 20, 2012 at 6:24 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.