Is Newt Gingrich’s marital history fair game? He made it fair game.

Newt Gingrich drew huge raves from a conservative debate audience last night in South Carolina when he chastised CNN for raising the issue of his troubled marital history

“I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that,” Gingrich said.  “It’s as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.”

At issue is the claim by Mr. Gingrich’s ex-wife, revealed this week in an ABC News interview, that the former House Speaker asked that she agree to an “open marriage,” an arrangement that would allow him to pursue sexual relations with other women.

As someone who has studied and reported on traditional American culture, I was startled by the crowd’s exuberant reaction to the exchange.

Social conservatives have elevated marriage and sexual mores into central themes in our political culture. They have suggested that a permissive, licentious 60s-culture sensibility has eroded the nation’s moral strength.

Mr. Gingrich himself has argued repeatedly that a narrow, traditional definition of marriage should be one of the building blocks of a decent American society, and should be a defining issue in our politics.

He actively worked to impeach President Bill Clinton because of Mr. Clinton’s dishonest dalliances, throwing the nation’s Congress into a lengthy, turbulent political crisis.

Yet when the same yardsticks are applied to him, when he is asked bluntly whether he measures up to the political and cultural standards he has demanded from others, Mr. Gingrich views it as “despicable.”

Frankly, his response isn’t surprising or particularly difficult to understand.  Humans have always been fickle creatures.  The Bible is full of characters who talk the talk but can’t walk the walk.

What I don’t understand is the conservative audience’s response.  Given Mr. Gingrich’s own exhaustive efforts to link our private and political morality, surely it’s fair to ask him these questions.

This is especially true because, so often in recent history, those who have built their political careers on “family values” have turned out to be indulging in secret behaviors that are wildly out of sync with their professed morality.

They push for rules — often based deliberately on their religious views — that will define other people’s freedoms when it comes to marriage, adoption, military service, abortion, sex education, contraception, and a wide variety of other issues.

Then they give themselves the moral license that they would deny, through the power of law, to other citizens.

This strikes me as a very good question with which to begin a presidential debate.

As one of the leading traditionalist politicians in America, Mr. Gingrich needs to explain just how closely he has adhered to the traditions he claims to defend.

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51 Comments on “Is Newt Gingrich’s marital history fair game? He made it fair game.”

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  1. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I loved his statement that he was a 68 year old grandfather and people were bringing up stuff that happened 10 years ago. Wow! 10 years ago. A youthful 58 year old indiscretion. Precious!

  2. Terence says:

    Well put, Brian.

    The audacity of the man, declaring his own marital history off-limits — after dragging us all through the mud over Clinton’s dalliance with Lewinsky! And lecturing us all about the sort of families we ought to have! I couldn’t believe my ears. Is it possible that he’s really so delusional?

    Gingrich is a malignant garden gnome.

  3. PNElba says:

    There is only one person here that is dispicable and that is Gingrich. I for one am sick of conservatives lecturing me about social values and then supporting someone like Gingrich. Even worse, go to a conservative blog or website and see how they are placing all the blame on his ex-wife. Listen to Sarah Palin blame the “lamestream dumbarses” for asking a “gotcha question”. She should know, she has a degree in journalism. Social conservative values seem to only apply to “liberals”.

  4. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    CNN should have led with the question “Is it hypocritical to lead the impeachment of the president over sexual liaisons outside his marriage while your were doing exactly the same thing at the same time.”

    And the reaction from the crowd was precious. They’re either complete hypocrites themselves or their hatred for the “liberal bastion of news” known as CNN completely clouds their thinking. Truly bizarre….

  5. Walker says:

    Now Terence, that’s unfair to garden gnomes! After all, they’re generally quite faithful creatures, and I’ve never known one that was a hypocrite. Let’s just say that Newt is “as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.”

  6. Two Cents says:

    I’m sorry, but anytime i hear the word “despicable” i think of Daffy Duck.
    Newt behaves like a caricature he’s drawn of himself.
    The only thing more cartoonish was the audience’s sympathetic appluase to Newt’s arrogance.

  7. Paul says:

    Is his marital history fair game? Of course it is. It goes toward defining his character. Knowing about a person’s character is a very important when it comes to deciding who will be president. In my opinion Mr. Gingrich has some very serious character flaws.

    As for this:

    “Clinton’s dishonest dalliances”

    When a boss takes advantage of a young intern like Mr. Clinton did it isn’t a “dishonest dalliance” it is sexual harassment and it’s illegal. That was no normal office fling.

    Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gingrich are members of the same club when it come to character flaws.

  8. I’m glad we have someone like Newt Gingrich defending “traditional marriage”.

  9. Gary says:

    I’m not a fan of Newt but I just want to se if my facts are correct. Bill lied to his wife and the American people about Monica. He cheated on his wife. It wasn’t until “the dress” appeared that he finally told the truth. Newt asked his wife for an open marriage and she said no. They got divorced.

  10. myown says:

    From Wikipedia,
    “Hypocrisy is the state of pretending to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that one does not actually have. Hypocrisy involves the deception of others and is thus a kind of lie.”

    Social conservatives do not understand the concept of hypocrisy and are immune or in denial when you point it out. All that matters is what a person says, not what he does.

  11. Jim Bullard says:

    Hey guys, Newt says his ex is lying. He didn’t ask her for an open marriage. His daughters verify that. How do they know? He told them. What more proof could you want from a candidate with the second worst record for truthful statements on both Politifact and

    As for the audience reaction, it fits with the conservatives and fundamentalist Christians I have observed in the past. Behavior that they angrily condemn in those outside their fold, they readily forgive of insiders.

  12. PNElba says:

    Newt’s response is also an excellent example of conservative “victimhood”. Whether they are in power or not, everyone is out to “get” them. The latinos are taking their jobs, the welfare queens are taking their money, the Kenyan socialist is transforming the country somehow, in a year or two sharia law will common, we need traditional marriage (except for conservatives), we need to “take back” the country, and let’s not forget these huge scientific conspiracies concerning climate change and evolution. Newt wasn’t the only hypocrit, most of the room was filled with cheering hypocrits.

  13. Pete Klein says:

    I love how Newt complains the media is picking on him. The poor dear. No one loves him. That’s why he keeps getting divorced and married in his search for someone to love him. Why not be honest and just hook up with hookers?

  14. Will Doolittle says:

    If for no other reason, Mitt Romney will be the GOP nominee because his family values appear to match the high standard set by Pres. Obama. Voters care about that, especially post-Bill Clinton. No one wants to have to endure again hearing the graphic details of their president’s sex acts. An Obama-Romney contest will, mercifully, be able to ignore each candidate’s marital history.

  15. Walker says:

    Gary says “Newt asked his wife for an open marriage and she said no. They got divorced.”

    Gary, you’re leaving out the part where Newt has an affair with a staffer, Callista Bisek, 23 years his junior, years before his wife becomes aware of it. Pretty close parallel to Clinton, if you ask me.

    And let’s not forget Newt’s incredible explanation of his infidelities: “There’s no question at times in my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate.”

    Details at

  16. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:


    It’s well know that Newt was having an affair with wife current wife number three while still married to wife number two. And while he was leading the impeachment process of President Clinton over lying about having an affair with an office intern. It’s hypocrisy anyway you slice it.

    Let me add that I could care less about who’s having sex with whom whether married, not married, whatever. But obviously Newt’s public stance on such things is completely opposite. The guy is just a liar.

  17. wakeup says:

    Clinton was impeached over perjury, not for being a cruddy husband. Let’s not rewrite history.

  18. Peter Hahn says:

    I am shocked – shocked – that there is hypocrisy…

  19. Walker says:

    Wakeup, it was perjury he committed in the course of a brutal inquisition led by Newt himself. Seems a pretty safe bet that if Newt had been in the White House at the time of his affairs, subjected to the same persecution, he would have done the same as Clinton did.

    Let’s put it this way– for anyone to think that Newt wouldn’t perjure himself in like circumstances, they’d have to be basing their thinking on some evidence of truthfulness in Newt that has escaped me.

  20. Hal Apeno says:

    I wonder if Newt supports an open presidency?

  21. just say no says:

    The reason Newt waited so long to run for office is he was hoping everyone forgot about his past as easily and completely as he did.
    He was nothing less than an obstacle as Speaker.
    Marital history is fair game, it is a view into how one makes, and follows thru on their promises to another.

  22. Paul says:

    Maybe Newts should have converted to fundamentalist Mormonism rather than Catholicism. Then he could have just been married to all of them at the same time. Problem solved.

  23. Mcculley says:

    Newt, did not prosecute Clinton for infidelity it was perjury like what Martha Stewart went to jail for. And Clinton was found guilty, once again you people fail to understand what happen in the Clinton case. This is a sure sign of why you don’t understand that it was Democrat policies that caused the economic collapse. Why New York State wallows in a poor economy when the rest of the nation starts growing again. You lack intellectual discipline in your thinking and that my guess is why most of you posting on this vote Democratic. And that is why Pew Research found that Republican voters know more about the issues than people who vote Democrat.

  24. myown says:

    “…it was Democrat policies that caused the economic collapse.”

    Sure some Democrats went along, but anyone who doesn’t think Republican policies from Reagan to Bush of deregulation of Wall Street and big banks, tax-cuts and a needless war didn’t drive up the deficit and cause the financial collapse is living in an intellectual desert or watching only FOX News (who are the worst informed).

  25. PNElba says:

    “Pew Research found that Republican voters know more about the issues than people who vote Democrat”

    How about a link to that Pew poll. I’d be really interested in using my intellectually deficient skills to analyze it.

  26. JDM says:

    “They push for rules — often based deliberately on their religious views — that will define other people’s freedoms when it comes to marriage, adoption, military service, abortion, sex education, contraception, and a wide variety of other issues.”


    Just about word-for-word, Eleanor Clift, and the lady next to her just said these words on Mclaughlin Group.

    I guess you guys get your faxes from the same source.

  27. PNElba says:

    Job growth was strongest in New York, which added 29,500 new jobs during November, followed by South Carolina, which added 16,600 new jobs, and Georgia, which saw 13,000 new jobs created.

    New York state has a lower (or equal) unemployment rate than 25 other states.

  28. JDM says:

    “faxes” is so 20th century.

    I meant “emails”

  29. Two Cents says:

    Maybe Newt would have felt better if that was how the debate closed, rather than opened?

  30. tootightmike says:

    It’s all fair game here, but we should always remember…The Puritans got here first and ruined everything.

  31. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Has anyone noticed how perfectly coiffed Newt’s wife is? She looks great but I suspect more thought has been put into the style than to just make HER look good.
    I suspect the style was purposely designed to make Newt more attractive. Let’s face it, Newt looks like Charlie Brown with a disproportionately big round head. Callista’s hair style is very round and so standing next to Newt he appears much more normally proportioned.

    I believe there was some Queer Eye for the Round-Headed Guy involved and I’m looking forward to the TV show in the fall.

  32. Mervel says:

    I agree with Brian about the response of the crowd. On the face of it, it is bizarre.

    But remember evangelicals get divorced at higher rates than non-Evangelical Christians and non-Christians in general in the US. You could make the case that they are supporters of divorce. They are simply reflecting the US divorce culture. Look at the major Televangalists today, (who are very popular in S.C), they are largely divorced men and women.

    So among that sub-culture voting group, they will have no problem with divorce as long as you say you are sorry for your youthful indiscretions back when you were 55. In Newt’s case I do think his continual adultery reflects his personality, there is a reason that the most conservative members of congress got rid of him as speaker, he is erratic.

    What is fascinating is why Rick Santorum is not more popular down there? From all we can tell agree with his social conservatism or not, he does walk the walk, or Romney for that matter as far as family values go.

    I think Newt loved that question though.

  33. Mervel says:

    Modern Evangelicalism is also a part of the 60’s.

    I argue a lot (in a friendly way) with evangelicals; when I seriously bring up making divorce more legally difficult in the US if the couple have children, they are stridently against that, as long as gays don’t get married, do what you will with marriage itself.

  34. PNElba says:

    As I understand it, many evangelical religions believe in “faith not acts”. It doesn’t really matter what you do in life as long as you have faith. I get the feeling that this rule only applies to republicans however.

  35. Newt has been an ardent defender of “traditional marriage.”

    *HE*, not the scapegoat media, has made this an important part of his own campaign. He reaps what he sows. I’m sure that’s in the Bible somewhere.

  36. Walker says:

    Yeah, along with “judge not, lest ye be judged.”

  37. Mervel says:

    His divorces are actually helping him right now.

  38. Bob S says:

    The audience reaction had nothing to do with with Newt’s marital fidelity. What he did express was the audience’s disgust with media in general and CNN in particular.

  39. Philip Wiliams says:

    The CNN moderator should have practiced this question and had a better response, if he really thought it was worth asking. If he had practiced it with staff before he could have handled it better, and perhaps could have gotten an answer. Newt can’t seriously think it won’t come up again or isn’t germane for a Presidential candidate.

  40. Mervel says:

    Newt’s response was staged, it was exactly what he wanted. His response could be propelling him ahead of Romney in S.C..

    Newt hopes it will come up again so he can rail against the media, and there is a second benefit, there are many divorced people in the world today, Newt’s plan is to connect with them and ask how would any of you like your divorce and previous marriage dug into and exposed?

    He is not worried about his past marriages. Also discussion of those distracts his real problems.

  41. JDM says:

    54% favorable rating fo Newt.

    14% favorable rating for media.

    Kind of says it all.

  42. Walker says:

    JDM’s latest post tells you everything you need to know about him. First, that “14% favorable rating for media” figure, is from a poll of South Carolina Republicans only, and thus, hardly surprising.

    And the source? CNS News– “The Right News, Right Now.”

    CNS News was founded when “Study after study by the Media Research Center, the parent organization of, clearly demonstrate a liberal bias in many news outlets. ( )

    And Media Research Center?

    “As ‘America’s Media Watchdog,’ the MRC seeks to bring balance to the news media. Leaders of America’s conservative movement have long believed that within the national news media a strident liberal bias existed that influenced the public’s understanding of critical issues. On October 1, 1987, a group of young determined conservatives set out to not only prove — through sound scientific research — that liberal bias in the media does exist and undermines traditional American values, but also to neutralize its impact on the American political scene. What they launched that fall is the now acclaimed — Media Research Center (MRC).”

    ( )

  43. Two Cents says:

    12 out of 10 people do not understand fractions.

  44. JDM says:

    I heard NPR trying to pump up Romney this morning.

    It’s clear who Obama wants as an opponent. ABC, CBS, CNN, NPR, PBS, et. al. will suddenly become Mitt’s best friend.

  45. Walker says:

    Obama should have no trouble dealing with either Romney or Gingrich, especially after they have relentlessly torn each other to shreds for several more months.

  46. oa says:

    Nobody cares about marital history, except the church ladies in the media. Clinton’s approval ratings went up. Newt won. Swingers rule!

  47. Mervel says:

    This is a Republican primary so it makes sense that you would be polling S.C Republicans. Newt played that wonderfully, the divorce question got him the victory, I almost wonder if that was a set up?

    Obama will have a harder time with Gingrich than Romney. It least with Gringrich we will have a clear choice and a fun interesting campaign. A debate between Romney and Obama would be a snore. A debate between Gingrich and Obama would be great.

    Obama and Hillary did a pretty good job on each other during the primary and it didn’t hurt Obama. Actually it will help to get all of the junk out before the general election.

  48. Gary says:

    Walker: “JDM’s latest post tells you everything you need to know about him.” Your post reveals much more about YOU than JDM.

  49. myown says:

    Gary, I agree. Walker consistently provides referenced and objective data.

  50. Brian Mann says:

    First, everyone — keep it civil. Talk about the candidates, talk about ideas, talk about politics, but don’t talk about each other.

    Now, to JDM’s point — the idea that the mainstream media has settled on one candidate as the stronger against Barack Obama is wrong, I think.

    In a new blog post this morning, I argue that no one has a clue where this is going, or who’s in the lead, or what’s going to happen.

    To the extent that there is a consensus in the MSM, it’s that Gingrich would be a far weaker candidate against Obama.

    But again, I think reporters and pundits are as confused at this point as everyone else.

    Happy Sunday everyone.

    Brian, NCPR

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