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. neastsider

    As long as one is a teabagger republican, a racist, a sessionist, a hatemonger and a proven lair about your fiinancial dealings and you have been found guilty of ethics violations while you're in office, and you've had extra-marital affairs while you accuse another of being unfaithful, and you've gotten rid of your previous wives because they don't fit into your plans anymore, according to the teabagger republican mentality there's nothing wrong with you running for president.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • Lucille Causey

      There is no proof Speaker Gingrich actually said this, just a scorned woman with every reason to lie. We had DNA evidence on Clinton, and Barney Frank running a pedophile ring out of his house.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • Mitch49

      Hey, he hasn't murdered anyone yet has he? Actually that might clinch the deal for many of the baggers.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
    • SafeJourney

      Lucille, are you really that **** stupid. Do you know anything about Newt?

      January 20, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
  2. Lucille Causey

    When Clinton was governer of Arkansas he used to pick out a woman and give a signal to the state troopers to abduct her and hold her down while he rapped her. Why did the mainstream media cover this up. You cant tell me Obong has not done equally bad things, but again the main stream media is siding with a lieing ex wife. Why didnt she go to the people 18 years ago if this was true?

    January 20, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • Bonester

      Hahahahahaha! Newton is a philandering, pompous, self-righteous horses behind. And those are his good traits.
      BTW, Lucy. If the "mainstream media" didn't pick up on your Clinton fantasy, what is there to make us think you are not lying?

      January 20, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • SafeJourney

      Lucille are you really that ***** stupid. Do you think Clintons action justify Newt corruption?

      January 20, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • Snow

      Since you love to point that Clinton's affair was backed by DNA evidence, I am sure you have a boat load of evidence about you allegetions on him when he was gov of arkansas too.. don't you..

      Umm.. ya.. there is none.. next time, honey, when you make a series of ridiculous statements, try to make them in such a way that they can not be used against your own crazy speak..

      January 20, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      He "rapped" her? Oh, brother. Dumb and Dumber.

      January 21, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  3. Prince Tamino

    Kooky evangelicals will vote for Santorum (most prob don't realize he is Catholic, which they crazily think is evil). After Huntsman left, the rest are a pack of fools.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
  4. Steve

    Evangelical "values voters" are some of the most hypocritical individuals in the country. Lying and cheating are OK: as long as you are a "Republican" and a "social conservative", and if you beat up on liberals, hippies, gay people and the press, then you can get away with just about anything with this group. However, if a Democrat did anything approaching the sort of conduct that Newt Gingrich has engaged in, both in his career and his personal life, his or her political career would be over. Evangelical "values voters" are disgusting with their hypocrisy. They are some of the most judgmental and hateful people I have ever met, and their influence is way too disproportionately given how hateful they are and how terrible their ideas are, if they even have ideas even half way based in reality to begin with. Time to fight back, and make sure that these people never get into any positions of power again.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • Prince Tamino

      Don't forget they need the candidate to be White.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
  5. cgs

    So "value voters" are supporting the sleazy, immoral Newt. Unbelievable! They are willing to trust a repentant sinner (the more sins the better). The best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. It also shows moral character. It's great if Newt has really found redemption but it's too risky to trust him to show good, honest, moral judgement as President.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  6. alfranken

    The real winner here over the accusation is Santorum

    January 20, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  7. Scot

    Gotta love these good christians ! Family values only are for those who will vote for their side.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
  8. Linda

    If his own family can't trust him.... why should the country. Everyone does make mistakes but a presidential candidate? I think we're forgetting something very important. “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” This is definitely something that should be expected from our president. I am disgusted that someone like this would even attempt to represent our country. It's embarrassing as a nation.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
  9. Anne

    Wow, Newt converted to the Catholic faith with his last conquest...now all is forgiven. I don't think so. This guys past is notorious for leaving the scene and leaving everyone in the dust. Can't trust a runner...they're only looking out for themselves. He's a disgrace.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
  10. naggingmoose

    I loves my Christian values! I can do or say anything and excuse it with "but I'm a Christian" remark.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • Scot

      AMEN Brother !

      January 20, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  11. Michael

    This is likely to help him – proof, to some, that God works in mysterious ways. Indeed.

    But let's get on to the main attraction – Obama v Romney.

    All things considered – and after the Aug/Sep convention(s) the Republican's won't lay a glove on Obama.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
  12. larry5

    This kind of mud slinging has Axelrod's finger prints all over it. If the lady (described as a gold digger by many that know her, a fact that the media forget to report) in his apartment building can be prompted to go after the pizza man then the ex-wife can be counted on to do her part with the proper stage and audience. It's action and lights the show has begun, boots and safety glasses are recommended.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
  13. markbeez

    What if a Democratic candidate surfaced who had as much baggage as Gingrich? Do you think the Republicans would be rushing to insist that one's past behavior should be no predictor of future behavior? I know they are faith based, but really don't facts have any place in their calculations? Here we have a person who not only cheated on two wives and left them when they were ill, but he toured the country talking about "Family Values" as he was bedding his present wife? This didn't happen when he was 22, he was in his late 40's at the time. Or how about a Democratic candidate who was charged with unethical behavior by the very body he led and had to repay $300,000? How about a candidate that received over a million dollars from Fannie Mae to do what? We all know what, he got paid because he is connected. Does the right has so little love left for this country that this is the kind of person they would have leading us? Clinton's behavior was a disservice to the office of President. Picking Gingrich is scraping the barrel. Where are the Tea Party people when we need them? Gingrich is exactly the kind of politician they claim to despise, that is unless he is a Republican.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  14. RightCoastVA

    Dear Religious Right, your hypocrisy is showing...Flip on the issues bad, flip on your wives and then try to convince them to swing....a-ok.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  15. Carebear

    I am a follOwer of Christ and I find it interesting that evangelicals nailed Clinton to the cross and simply would not forgive him, but Gingrich's actions are pardonable. This is not right. Gingrich acts like a bully- too much hubris-

    January 20, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  16. cgs

    So "family values" voters are supporting Gingrich? They have lost all credibility. So Newt does great in debates by throwing around the red meat. Don't be stupid, S Carolinians. He cannot win moderates that way and he can't beat Obama. Newt is a loose cannon. Have you already forgotten his attacks against capitalism just last week? And then there is Freddie and Fannie etc. Romney is the only one who can get enough independents to beat Obama. No candidate is perfect but Romney is the only turn-a-round guy and if he likes to fire people he can start with our bloated federal government.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
  17. Mitch49

    I have to ask how this man is in running to become the next president. Are the R voters really as desperate for anyone that they'll back a hypocrite and liar who is so transparently self serving that he makes Romney look genuine and honest?

    January 20, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  18. jtarver

    In ninety-six Bill Clinton would invite Monica over for one of her tossed salads, to keep him energised for defeating Bob Dole.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  19. cgs

    Newt is blaming the media and his ex wives for his giant character flaws and the "values voters" are buying it. Unbelievable.!

    January 20, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  20. Mark Davis

    This woman is a lier, she is a plant, she has probably been payed off by Geoge Soros to smear Speaker Gingrich. The Democrats and ABC will do anything to protect Omammy

    January 20, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • Scot

      Really ! Oh thats right he is a good pious man and she is a plant from the left ! The timing was bad but he did what he did and if you really believe that – well I am very sorry about your common sence !

      January 20, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • sharoom

      A plant? For crying out loud Gingrich MARRIED THE WOMAN!

      January 20, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • Bonester

      Ex-speaker Gingrich. He got fired from that gig for ethics violations. There is no cure for a sociopath. Maybe his god forgave him, but he's still a sociopath.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • Sandra

      Learn to spell. You apparently do not pay attention to anything, and only hear the voices in your head.

      January 20, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • 80shiling

      You are a complete imbecile! All of this is just plain fact.... Gingrich is a slimy, thieving, cheating aduterer, who WAS CONVICTED of ethics violations and FACTUALLY CHEATED on his WIFE.... This is all on record you DUNCE!

      January 21, 2012 at 12:08 am |
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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.