I’ve been having some fun with the Republican presidential candidates lately. It’s funny, how much these guys get right — when they attack each other, that is. But I haven’t had nearly as much fun with a couple of candidates as I could. Until now.
Yes, it’s too easy. Certainly, it’s low-hanging fruit. But this is politics. There’s no such thing as a shot so easy that you shouldn’t take it. So, let’s go there. And let’s start with Newt Gingrich.
Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich in 1999 asked his second wife for an “open marriage” or a divorce at the same time he was giving speeches around the country on family and religious values, his former wife, Marianne, told The Washington Post on Thursday.
Marianne Gingrich said she first heard from the former speaker about the divorce request as she was waiting in the home of her mother on May 11, 1999, her mother’s 84th birthday. Over the phone, as she was having dinner with her mother, Newt Gingrich said, “I want a divorce.”
Shocked, Marianne Gingrich replied: “Is there anybody else?” she recalled. “He was quiet. Within two seconds, when he didn’t immediately answer, I knew.”
The next day, Newt Gingrich gave a speech titled “The Demise of American Culture” to the Republican Women Leaders Forum in Erie, Pa., extolling the virtues of the founding fathers and criticizing liberal politicians for supporting tax increases, saying they hurt families and children.
The the man who called my marriage a “temporary aberration” apparently thought the same thing of his marriage vows. That’s why he didn’t get around to asking his wife for an “open marriage” after he’d already opened himself. (About the same time he — or his then-mistress/now-wife Callista — opened his fly.) No surprise here. After all, this is Newt we’re talking about.
Don’t get me wrong here. I’m condemning open relationships. It’s not for me, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work for other people. It does seem to me, though, if you’re going to go that route it should be something mutually agreed upon by both partners before getting the show on the road.
None of this is a surprise. After all, Marianne has been a ticking time-bomb in Gingrich’s presidential campaign, and yesterday evening there were rumors that the “Marianne Bomb” was about to go off. The only question was whether it would go off before or after the South Carolina Primary.
Newt Gingrich’s second wife (out of three) has long maintained that she has the power to end his campaign with a single interview. Leaking out on the Drudge Report in drips and drabs tonight are indications that Marianne may well have given that interview to ABC News, which is reported to be conducting an internal debate on whether to air it before Saturday’s South Carolina primary.
ABC’s Brian Ross interviewed Gingrich about the matter:
GINGRICH: I said to him, we’ve been married a long time. And he said, yes, but you want me all to yourself. Callista doesn’t care what I do.
ROSS: What was he saying to you, do you think?
GINGRICH: He was asking to have an open marriage, and I refused.
ROSS: He wanted an open marriage.
GINGRICH: Yeah, that I accept the fact that he has somebody else in his life.
ROSS: And you said?
GINGRICH: No. No. That is not a marriage.
Politically, I’m not sure which would have been the best way to play this. On one hand, releasing it before the South Carolina Primary could only hurt Newt and help Romney. A Gingrich win in South Carolina would put Romney’s status as the all-but-anointed GOP nominee in question. Anything that could halt Newt’s post-debate surge in the polls would remove that threat.
Rick Santorum is another potential winner here. Evangelicals, a big part of the Republican base, are tearing themselves up over whether to support Gingrich or Santorum. Newt’s adulterous history is a big part that argument. The current Mrs. Gingrich — who could make any Stepford wife look frumpy — has been dragged into the fight, and labeled a “Mistress for eight years.”
In making his case for Rick Santorum as the conservative consensus’ alternative to Mitt Romney at a conference in Texas over the weekend, evangelical leader James Dobson reportedly brought up the marital past of Newt Gingrich, calling his wife, Callista, a “mistress of eight years.”
“Dobson first talked about how great Santorum is,” a source told Politico. “[He said,] ‘I want to tell you that I’ve gotten to know Karen [Santorum] and she is just lovely. She set aside two professional careers to raise these seven children. She would make a fabulous first lady role model. And Newt Gingrich’s wife, she was a mistress for eight years.”
(Sure. Except for living in sin with an abortionist 40-years her senior back in the 80s, I’m sure she’s a lovely person.)
Well, she was. Some of the participants in the Dobson meeting were offended, and pointed out that “Callista Gingrich had only been married once.” Ooooookay. But, here’s the thing. The guy she married was somebody else’s husband for most of the time they were dating. Her Wikipedia entry states that they started dating in 1993 she testified to as much in 1999, the year Newt filed for divorce. (Now, to be fair, Wikipedia also says Marianne began dating Gingrich in 1980, before Gingrich divorced his first wife, the late Jackie Battley, his former high school geometry teacher.) Supposedly, Bill Clinton found out about the affair and called Newt out about it during that whole impeachment business.
Given timing, if there’s any political operatives behind this one, they’ve gotta be Republicans. I can’t imagine Democrats wanting Newt out of the race, given his liabilities. If anything, Democrats would have waited until after the South Carolina primaries, and hoped Gingrich won or made a strong showing. Bringing this out after a Gingrich win in SC, would have weakened Gingrich after he weakened Romney, leaving Santorum practically the last man standing, now that Perry and Huntsman have gone home.
But what to make of Marianne’s story? Well, we already know her story. She told it to Esquire in 2010.
Early in May, she went out to Ohio for her mother’s birthday. A day and a half went by and Newt didn’t return her calls, which was strange. They always talked every day, often ten times a day, so she was frantic by the time he called to say he needed to talk to her.
He wanted to talk in person, he said.
“I said, ‘No, we need to talk now.’ ”
He went quiet.
“There’s somebody else, isn’t there?”
She kind of guessed it, of course. Women usually do. But did she know the woman was in her apartment, eating off her plates, sleeping in her bed?
She called a minister they both trusted. He came over to the house the next day and worked with them the whole weekend, but Gingrich just kept saying she was a Jaguar and all he wanted was a Chevrolet. ” ‘I can’t handle a Jaguar right now.’ He said that many times. ‘All I want is a Chevrolet.’ ”
He asked her to just tolerate the affair, an offer she refused.
He asked her to tolerate the affair. That’s not far off from asking for an open marriage. In fact, it’s not that far off from what a lot of political couples in Washington probably do. This is a town where marriage is as much about politics and image as anything. else (Doubt it? When was the last time a bachelor won the presidency, or even bothered to run? Answer: James Buchanan, who won the presidential election of 1856, served from 1857 to 1861, and is rumored to have been queer.) Plenty of couples probably have an understanding: “Do what you want, but don’t bring anything home and don’t embarrass me.”
Newt’s actions during their divorce proceedings lend credence to Marianne’s statement.
When they got to court, Gingrich refused to cooperate with basic discovery. Marianne and her lawyer knew from a Washington Post gossip column that Gingrich had bought Bisek a $450 bottle of wine, for example, but he refused to provide receipts or answer any other questions about their relationship.
Then Gingrich made a baffling move. Because Bisek had refused to be deposed by Marianne’s attorney, Newt had his own attorney depose her, after which the attorney held a press conference and announced that she had confessed to a six-year affair with Gingrich. He had also told the press that he and Marianne had an understanding.
“Right,” Marianne says now.
That was not true?
“Of course not. It’s silly.”
During that period, people would come up to Marianne and tell her to settle, that she was hurting the cause.
If you ask me, Marianne was settling during the eighteen years she was married to Newt.
Anyway, you’ve gotta admire Newt’s maneuvering on the divorce. In one fell swoop, he got his mistress to admit to the affair, and then held a press conference announcing that he and Marianne had had an understanding. If you were then to take Newt’s word for it, that all put him in the clear. He get’s his mistress to admit to an affair. Then he announces that he and Marianne had an understanding. So, he doesn’t have to admit to an affair, because he didn’t have an affair. Couldn’t have, if they had an understanding.
But, there was no understanding. You can bet on it. Asking your wife to “tolerate” an affair is, at the very least, akin to asking for an open relationship (and may have been a euphemism for just that), but it’s asking for it well after the fact. And if Marianne knew of the affair, in that knowing-without-knowing way that cuckolded spouses often do; living in hope, and coping with knowledge with out confirmation. That does not add up to an understanding.
Why is Marianne speaking now? Because she knows Newt Gingrich about as well as a spouse of 18 years possibly could, what he is and what he is not. She knows what Jenny Sanford, member of the same club, knows.
Former First Lady of South Carolina Jenny Sanford appeared on MSNBC Thursday to talk about the upcoming GOP primary, and Chris Matthews asked her whether Newt Gingrich’s messy marital past should impact his presidential candidacy.
“I think anybody’s behavior in their personal life does have to impact what they do in their professional life,” she said. “Because I think it comes down to the simple question of character. I think character matters. It matters in your family, it matters in your business, it matters in everything you do each day of your life.”
…”I think that actually seeing one of his wives speaking about him in an unflattering manner, it has got have an impact in some respect,” she said. “It does call into question his character certainly on the personal side. And, you know, as a voter, I encourage people to look at both sides, the personal side. And if you’re going to overcome somebody’s moral failings or infidelities, you have to also look at where they stand ideologically and how much does their rhetoric match their reality. In my mind, Gingrich falls short on both fronts. So, he wouldn’t get my vote.“
But this second- or third-coming of Newt is either happening in spite of who he is or because of what the party he wants to lead has become. Perhaps both.
Multiple marriages and even adultery are not automatic disqualifications for the presidency. If they were, the country would have a very different roster of former presidents and candidates. But when a political party decides that moralizing about personal conduct is as important as public policy, it inevitably makes some of its leaders vulnerable to the worst charges of hypocrisy.
In this political cycle, it is Newt Gingrich who has been unable to escape the toxic combination of infidelity and sermonizing. The stories about his three marriages have been known for years, but every time he seems to have escaped the wrath of Republican voters, they rise again.
…For too many Republicans, it’s not enough that Americans are free to pray in the house of worship of their choice; they want all children to be required to pray in school. They want to impose their own ideas about sexuality and abortion on everyone. And they love to accuse Democrats of being insufficiently pious. (Rick Perry’s exit from the race on Thursday may mean no more ads accusing President Obama of a “war on religion” and liberals of believing faith is a sign of weakness. Or, it may not, depending on how desperate the other candidates get.)
When Republican officials then get caught violating one of the Ten Commandments, they make an enormous show of contrition and repentance and ask for the public’s forgiveness. But as the hypocrisy level continues to rise, that forgiveness may become much harder to provide.
Newt will get the votes of those South Carolinian GOP primary voters who were going to vote for him anyway. But those who have doubts may find themselves pausing to consider the latest story about who Newt Gingrich really is.