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. dave

    the repubs give a heck of a lot more of their own money in charity than the dems (not forced through taxation)

    January 20, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • Working Joe

      Ummmm no they dont! Dem's give a heck of a lot more unless you call millionaire TV Preachers a chairity.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • Gary

      President Obama gives 14% of his income to charity (look it up), I wonder how much the Republican field gives each year?

      January 20, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
  2. francis

    I hope the allegations help him.....Lets take on Obama now....Enough is enough

    January 20, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Barry G.

      1 Corinthians 6:10
      …nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • Elaine

      Good fscking luck with that. No anti-abortion candidate has a chance any more, nor do the wacko Christ-pumper religionuts (nearly the same set).

      January 20, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  3. Gary

    These so called Evangelicals have been given much and much will be required; even the utermost farthing. How will they answer Him on that great day when he tells them that "when I was hungry you feed me not, when I was naked you clothed me not, when I was sick you visited me not? That's when they will say when did we deny you these things? And He will answer: when ye did it not unto the least of these you did it not unto me. They are a "generation of vipers", gainsaying, having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof. Their hearts have become hardened, seared with a hot iron as were their fathers. He that hath ears let him hear! Repent and be Baptised for the hour of the Lord draweth nigh!

    January 20, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Gagalicious!

      Do you have any sentences or thoughts that came from your own brain?

      January 20, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  4. Faith-Isn't-A-Preacher

    Gingrich declared 'Political Armageddon'. – Lacks the ability to build and hold together alliances that hold together the whole of the U.S.A.
    Santorum declares that the 'Far Right' is the only acceptable culture in the U.S.A. – Ignores the Religious, Cultural Diversity, etc ... of the whole of the U.S.A. Pitting cultures against each other.
    Paul declares that there is no role of the central government to assure 'Equal Rights' across State lines. – Which is an affront to the achievements fought for by the Reverend Martin Luther King.
    Romney states that individuals have the right to make a profit and decide on their own which charities or philanthropy they support. And that it's not up to the government or any envying faction to make that decision for them. – Which means that government can only regulate how that profit is made and not how that profit is utilized.
    So who is the the real advocate for 'Individual Liberty', 'Self Determination', 'Community Sovereignty', 'State Sovereignty', 'The Rule of Law', etc ...? Mitt Romney has collaborative discipline which is something that Gingrich does not have. And Romney knows how to bring people together in preserving 'Liberty'. He recognizes the diversity of our 'Citizenry'. And he knows that the 'Central Government' must yield to our 'Republic' (A government ruled by the People. And not by appointed Oligarch czars.)
    Do we want an 'American' President or one that will rule by the will of their Oligarch or Faction's designs to be imposed upon us? We hear the rant of 'Conservat-ism', 'Liberal-ism', and ?-ism. We should not elect an 'ISM'. Do a web search on this and you will know what I mean: "Cartoon predicts the future 50 years ago. This is amazing insight!"

    January 20, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  5. KevinH

    How is adultery any less excusable than breaking trust laws over 6 years. I would never nominate someone–forgiveness or not–if they lied to their spouse over 6 years. We're not talking about one affair...make a mistake....feel real bad.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  6. Abraham

    Very disappointed in CNN and their lack of accountability in bringing up the question in a Republican Presidential debate....it is shameful to see the reporter (John King) become the story vs. the actual issues that this country is facing and trying to vet a leader that can actually deal with the situation.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • atc333

      Had not Newt led the charge to impeach Clinton, and been castigating others for their infidelities, his own adultery would not have been an issue. and his response appropriate. However, Newt made it an issue years ago, and therefore it still is an issue for many people today. Our leaders are not supposed to practice the old "do as I say, not as I do" saw..

      January 20, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  7. Paulfor2012

    Newt is bellowing. That question asked was valid. Newt is grandstanding and playing for the evangelical voters. Vote Paul 2012.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  8. francis

    I hope the allegations help him. Are President is a disaster , He can do what ever he wants , But they are busting Gindriches chops for his private life. With all the real problems in America , Most Americans do not care about the ex wives and there allegations. If Gingrich left the race the ex wife would disappear just like Herman Cains accusers. Enough already ....Lets take On Obama NOW....

    January 20, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • Gary

      The lack of education is a growing problem in this country; I hope they can tackle that.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • 80shiling

      Francis; What I hope is for you to go back to school and take a remedial spelling class.....

      January 21, 2012 at 12:25 am |
  9. Steve

    The hypocrisy of the evangelical right almost never ceases to amaze me.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • Elaine

      For sure. Seems to go with the territory, no exceptions.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  10. Youarejokingright?

    Hypocrite. Above his own rules. Playing us as fools.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  11. Working Joe

    Yes it will help him because people are stupid.....I like it when the evangelicals say I will pray for you....Read I will do the least amount I can possibly do so I dont have to get up off my butt to actually do the "christian" thing and physically help, I am protestant but am repulsed by the "christian right wing" a war mongering, anti poor, self serving, wealth worshiping, group of pigs. You should be ashamed of your selves for every political thing you stand for. Right to life my Abutt once it is born you would starve it or put it into a life of slavery with out once lifting a finger to help the mother or the baby, you would pray I suppose....Remember this is not to all, but most.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • Barry G.

      Proverbs 29:4
      By justice a king gives a country stability, but those who are greedy for bribes tear it down.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  12. dave

    Evangelicals are interesting. Many will vote for Newt who is a serial adulterer, all to avoid voting for a moral family man with a model familyi but who happens to have a different Christian belief structure.

    By their fruits ye shall know them

    January 20, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • kateslate

      I I do believe you have the facts just as they are presented.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  13. Michael

    Gingrich is a follower of the Roman Catholic cult, a heretical system of Popish decrees, the lying system of sacraments(damning to men's souls), prayers to the dead(an accursed thing), the ceremony of the mass(a filthy lie), transubstantiation(doctrine of Antichrist).

    There is no comparison to King David (who believed the truth concerning Christ and "did that which was right in the eyes of the LORD, and turned not aside from any thing that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hitt ite."

    January 20, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  14. CDSJr

    Republican's prefer misogynistic doooooooches. Who cares what the Ex says. Why would the evangelical's even care what any wife or ex has to say. They are in fact, only women.....

    January 20, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  15. Senior Citizen

    Since the candidates only want the media when it benefits them I think it would be great if the media would just ignore them and see how far they would get with their campaigns. I, for one, would love it if the airways were free of all the BS that is spouted daily from the mouths of the politicians. They are like little kids who want attention, but only when it benefits them.
    Newt is a jerk, who is on his 3rd marriage and has cheated each time. We're suppose to believe that he is sorry for what he's done to his other wives and I'm sure he'll be sorry when he is tired of Clasita.

    I personally think that as long as we have to have the airways filled with them and their lies that I wish the reporters would ask the hard questions that really need to be answered and not let them get by with avoiding direct questions when they are asked..

    January 20, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • Barry G.

      Proverbs 15:27
      The greedy bring ruin to their households, but the one who hates bribes will live.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  16. Francisco

    Gingrich is exactly what we don't want. If republicans want to beat Obama, this guy just doesn't cut it.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  17. Dilip Samuels

    This guy is a classic case of mania ..grandiosity...he calls his ex-wife a liar...his record is manic

    The world should be afaid of this manipulative liar ..his record should be posted for all to see

    January 20, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  18. Chuck

    Definition of Primaries: A chance for people of the same party to show the American public what is wrong with the PArty. Seriously folks who thought of this insanity. For weeks on end the people hear politicians from the same party talk trash about each other and then the public are expected to vote for one of them. How stupid. If the politicians were smart (insert laugh track here) they would stick to the issues, debate the positives they would do and let the people vote based on the the positives. Instead they do slam/smear campaigns and make their party look bad...stupid. That would be like all the soldiers in Afghanistan trying to out do each other by seeing how many Taliban fighters they can convince to surrender to them as individuals..."No Habib surrender to me I have a nice family and Bob has a wife that was a swinger." No Habib I read the Quran and Bill cheated on his taxes. " An then shoot each other so the Taliban (Democrats) win. Just plain stupid. Attack campaigns are the most insane way to get votes....here's an idea...tell America what you can do in the White House and not what goes on in your own house....everybody has skeletons and a past, but I care about what you can do in the future....focus people...focus. Stick to the political record of what they can or cannot do....what they can or cannot offer....what they have done politically in the past and not who they have done in the past.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Sly

      Your post made me chuckle!!!!!!!

      January 20, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  19. teamtrek

    These same evangelicals made a huge deal about President Clinton's infidelities, but are okay with Gingrich because he suits their needs. Hypocrites.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
  20. john king tonight

    the lady on john king with the pastor should be allowed to just punch him in the face.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:56 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.