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. harrisonhits2

    It wouldn't surprise me at all to see the same people that screamed for Clinton to be impeached for having an affair ignore the fact that Gingich had multiple affairs with multiple wives. Evangelical Christians and in fact all religious extremists are often among the most hypocritical people on the face of the earth.

    Gingrich like every candidate and sitting congressperson of both parties is hopelessly corrupt and owned by the corporations. Both parties have to go as neither has the slightest concern about what's best for the country, only serving their own enormous greed and that of their corporate owners.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
  2. TM

    If voters motivated by evangelical values do not denounce Gingrich with EXACTLY the same level of fervor and sincerity that they leveled against Clinton, then they have two options: Admit their rank hypocrisy OR stop imposing their narrow values as the exclusive qualification to candidates for elected office. They can NOT have it BOTH ways. And if they try, then they are not worthy of notice in serious discussions

    January 20, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • Steve Gastin

      We forgive if this is done by GOP president and impeach otherwise.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • Peter

      I have a feeling that some Republicans would nominate Adolf Hitler if they thought that he could beat Obama.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  3. Role Model

    At the end of the day, one dimension of the POTUS is as a role model for kids and adults around the world. I think we can do better than Newt.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
  4. Nero

    I cannot believe anyone would vote for this piece of trash. He was having an affair while he was condemning clinton for having an affair and trying to have him impeached. This guy is so untrustworthy that I have to question the intelligence, or lack there of, of anyone who would vote for him. He's a liar, a cheat and a hypocrite. Are those the three most important qualities in a president for Republicans? Because that is what he is best at!!!

    January 20, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • joe

      Those qualities got Obama elected. I'm an Independent and just may sit this one out . Either way you go it's which crook do you want?

      January 20, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  5. JR in Texas

    Jim Bakker, Tammy Faye Bakker, Jerry Falwell, Reverend Ike, Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson, Jimmy Swaggart, and Robert Tilton represent a short list of modern day evangelical Christians who have lied, cheated, and otherwise caused or been involved in high profile scandals.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • Nero

      yep and Gingrich could and should be their poster-child. he's nothing but a piece of trash

      January 20, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
  6. OldRightRep

    Of course the question was asked with the intent to allow Gingrich to dismiss it and get a bump...that wasn't a gotcha question or accidental.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  7. Canuck

    Please someone answer this question: Regardless of if this is true or now, how does someone wanting an open relationship have any impact on them making good policies and being a good president? Bill cheated on Hillary, but he is regarded as one of the most successful presidents in recent memory. I am not for Newt, but his personal matters do not have any impact on that opinion

    January 20, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • JohnM

      Has everything to do with honesty, integrity, trust, etc. If a person cannot be loyal in the single most intimate, personal relationship in their life, they cannot be trusted in their public life either. Newt Gingrich is a politician and knows what to say and when to say it, but it doesn't mean it is true or sincere. The reason so many people are having a problem with this being a problem is because they have done much of the same things in their life and hope, rather than changing, that society will just accept them as the morally bankrupt person they are.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  8. skarphace

    Callista: the first 'other' First Lady.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  9. xrk9854

    Why is okay for republican candidates (the party of "family" values) allowed to act as Gingrich did, while a democratic candidate's campaign would be over? I don't understand this double standard in American politics. Why do republicans usually get a pass on such behavior and democrats not?

    January 20, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  10. liashdoiah

    Hed be worse than Nixon, making him president would be the biggest mistake America has ever done. He fits the personality profile of a dictator, he has no self control over the things he wants whether it be drugs or women, giving him power over the country would be insane.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  11. mechris

    After all these dirty linen laundry,bickering and outright fooly, i don't see how any of these lot will convince Americans that they are capale of running this country.The shear quest to beat Obama has made these guys less articulate on issue based debate.When the chips are down ,they can hardly stand against Obama on policy based encounter.Sit up Dudes !!

    January 20, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  12. Maryland

    Gingrich is a piece of trash, plain and simple. What kind of a country do we live where people actually applaud a guy that cheats on his wives, has a long history of lying, and was asked to leave Congress??? I'm moving to Canada where they have smart people with morals!

    January 20, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  13. Kevin

    I was a Newt supporter before I heard he had three wives. I'm no longer not because of his infidelity, but because if someone is stupid enough to get married once and is smart enough to get divorced, but then does the mistake a second, get divorce, and still makes the mistake a THIRD time.... that shows he hasn't grown as a person, and we don't need that in a leader.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  14. Bill

    I have come to the conclusion that I do not know what Evangelical means or what characteristics one has to have. I went on the Internet and looked at various sites and what I discovered is that there is no agreed upon definition. My definition is: A very religious Christian who wants to force his or her agenda on others and does not care about anyone else except other Evangelicals; who is intolerant and not accepting of non Christians, who moralizes and judges others; and who is so stupid to believe that if someones says I am sorry for having cheated on my two wives and accept God as my savior, all if forgiven.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • KGarner

      I am embarrassed to be a Republican!!

      January 20, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • joe

      And all those people you've just judged will have to answer for their short comings. As will you and I.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  15. KGarner

    BIGOTS! what the hell is the difference between Newt and Bill Clinton?????????

    January 20, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • Wil

      newt represents the Republicans and ANYTHING morally wrong with Republican Congressmen is acceptable, remember Senator Vitter, Senator Ensign,

      January 20, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • KGarner

      And the Democrats also, but Republican voters usually call a spade a spade but this time a cheater or a Mormon. Well we all know the choice here.....

      January 20, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  16. Tom Adams

    Conservatives have very little common sence. They are so warped that they don't care what their candidate is if they thought he could beat Obama.

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

    What voters really need to do is research each candidate..
    Hypocrisy is a little harder to swallow.
    when they find he had no qualms condemning Clinton, while carrying on an affair himself..
    This little "in your face" shtick he pulled, will seem a whole lot more hypocritical and self serving..

    January 20, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  18. Soul68

    Amazing what putting an (R) after your name can do. It's almost like a force field or a get out of jail free card.
    These so-called evangelics are not only arrogant for labeling themselves as such but the biggest hypocrite demographic in the US. I know atheists who have far better moral compasses than these people do.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • Peter

      It only proves that all this "morality/family values" stuff is just a bunch of empty posturing for some people. How can any of this crowd embrace Newt Gingrich, who has admitted to affairs while married and had eighty-four ethics charges filed against him during his term as speaker? This is who they want as their leader? They've got to be kidding!

      January 20, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  19. Donald in CA

    What kind of country are we living in when allegations that you want a open marriage is supposed to help you become president. And the self rightous southern baptist love it.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  20. Carol

    The Bible being used to serve the purposes of another human,again, nothing new there. Comparing poor Gingrich to King David. That's a stretch. It wasn't a brilliant out to attack King and the Media, just expected.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • SafeJourney

      Newt is running for POTUS. ANY question is relevant,. This question John King asked speaks to Newts moral and ethical character or LACK there of. Do not let Newt anywhere near the White House

      January 20, 2012 at 7:23 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.