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. VL CHapter

    Evangelicals my butt. They're whackjobs attempting to hide their bias and bigotry behind the clock of religion, thereby thinking they can justify it. It's the definition of hypocrisy.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  2. Barry G.

    Exodus 23:8

    “Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent."

    January 20, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  3. John

    But his ex-wife said he is lying about it. If he is lying, will he lie to the American people too, whenever he is under pressure?

    January 20, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  4. Andrew

    I don't really care about him wanting an open relationship, I care that he had the gall to say "it's not important, private afairs should stay private" while coming out swinging and attacking Clinton for THE EXACT SAME THING. I care that this man considered it perfectly alright to attack clinton when it was politically expediant to him, but when people attack him for cheating on his (multiple) wives, this man who promotes "family values", suddenly we're expected not to care about blatant, transparent, utter hipocrisy? This is the very definition of the word "hipocrisy", and we're supposed to let this slide under the rug?

    January 20, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • BioHzrd

      Thank you! I was hoping others saw this hypocrisy for what it was.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  5. Reggie from LA

    You know why they "forgive" him? Because those fine Christians hate Obama. They don't care if Joe sh%* the Rag Man was running (obviously. look at the field), the just HATE Obama. Imagine that. Those "fine Christians".

    January 20, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  6. Louis

    If South Carolina gives this man the nod, they will be guaranteeing another four years of Obama. So much for the "wisdom" of the Evangelicals. (is that the toilet flushing I hear?)

    January 20, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  7. Texas

    Newt is better than Romney any day

    January 20, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  8. socalgal

    dear dina–you have just described the current occupant of the Oval Office.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Anchorite

      So now Obama has cheated on his wife? Wow you guys just keep on going, don't ya? I don't like Obama one bit, but when it comes to Christian and family values he tops everyone on the GOP side.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  9. The Hypocricy is Astounding....

    3 candidates who have been faithful to their spouse their entire life vs. one candidate who has traded in two models for his current third. And he claiming to have the moral high ground....? The ultimate narcissist.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  10. jj

    The Republicans need to take their heads out of the sand and face the world as it is today. What they are arguing about has no relation to what it takes to govern in a time of tense foreign relations and science in a secular world.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  11. dina

    I don't want a flawed person as president with a wife who was cheating with him even though she knew he was married posing as first lady. I don't want a president who is compared to a fictional character in a fictional book of religion. I don't want a man who has no control of his anger , feels he is the grandest person in the room and is so unable to be humble,lies about his past history and dismisses his mistakes. I;m just glad I'mnot a Republican. Tey have no leaders.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
  12. Knucklehead

    There's still time before the primary to accept Jesus as his personal Savior. That should fix everything. Mix in some tears. Do a Jimmy Swaggart.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
  13. willie

    Separation of church and state, the great American myth.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
  14. 30to30

    "Values voters" my @#$%. Fiscal conservatism I can understand, but Southern-fried social conservatives just don't like to see a black dude in the White House. While they are happy to spend trillions to bomb brown-skinned folk, they don't want to see one dime spent to educate or care for them. While they go on about "values", they'll happily elect a swinger to avoid four more years of the Kenyan menace. We should have let the South secede.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
  15. Anchorite

    Help him? It's the end of him. Gingrich expected nobody but liberals would care or remember that he served his cancer stricken wife with divorce papers so he could be with his mistress while he almost simultaneously called for the impeachment and trial of Clinton for an affair with an intern. But you run for the most public office in the world and people like to know if you're a raving hypocrite, surprisingly, especially when Christian and family values are central to your platform. The next step is Romney takes it all.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
  16. GH

    “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.” Well said.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
  17. jelly12

    I for one support Paul, but stopped talking about my support and have had to, of all things, defend Newt Gingrich.
    Why? Because anyone who has been married to an abusive person, wants the right to divorce.

    That means 12 years after the marriage, that person does not have the right to continue making false accusation. They do not have the right to continue to be part of your life. They do not have the right to interfere with your new wife, new job, or any of your aspirations.

    I don't know any woman that wants to end the right to divorce, to give your ex-husband permanent influence and control in your life, and guess what, men feel the same way.

    Marianne Gingrich needs to move on with her life. She has been rehashing claims about Newt for 12 years now – this is not a news story – this is a simple attack.

    And Newt is right to deny her claims, but not to go around calling her a liar – because getting into that exchange, is exactly what she wants. No – the time for calling your ex-wife a lesbian, and for her to call you a wife-beater, is during the divorce.

    After that you grow up – move on, and do something else with your life.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • Barry G.

      Ron Paul does seem like a decent and sensible person.

      But I don't know if the American people are ready for that.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Knucklehead

      She's probably scared sh!tless that he might become President.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  18. Shannon

    I will do my part to keep a philandering husband and his mistress out of the White House.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • Sam

      And how did you feel about Bill Clinton?

      January 20, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
  19. Marth

    To Conner: and I am constantly amazed by people who say they are constantly amazed about anything.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  20. Barry G.

    The good news is, the American people are starting to wake up to what has been going on for the past decades, and they're starting to speak out.

    The bad news is, it's so easy to deflect any problem, by blaming the other party.

    Let's face it, one party is about as bad as the other; they both work for the lobbyiists, even though they have sworn to serve and represent the American people.

    When did we start calling the exchange of money for favors a campaign contribution and stop calling it a bribe?

    January 20, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • zkito

      President Obama was ordained by God to help America and the world. U.S.A was founded on God, we have lost the true Foundation we use to have " In God We Trust". We need to bring back our Foundation " JESUS CHRIST" only God can clean up all the dirty dealings at the White House right now and in all the states. My opinion, President Obama is not perfect, but he will be the president again for four more years.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:05 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.