The Latest Front in the GOP's Gingrich Dilemma: Women

As Republicans grapple with whether he's reliable enough to back, women -- from ex-wives to ex-colleagues -- are on both sides.

At some point after former congresswoman Susan Molinari ripped Newt Gingrich in a conference call arranged by the Mitt Romney campaign, but before we knew that ABC was about to air a potentially fatal interview with one of Newt's ex-wives, the Ripon Society circulated a timely reminder. Though "people don't normally associate Newt with being a champion of women's rights," Ripon Forum editor Lou Zickar said in an email, Gingrich does have some female fans in politics.

The evidence? Three congresswomen praised Gingrich at a breakfast last fall for elevating women to prominent roles while he was speaker of the House. Zickar quoted the women and included a video of their remarks. It sounded like an endorsement by the society, which preaches reform, inclusion, and the gospel of Teddy Roosevelt, so I asked. The answer was the usual torrent of conflicting reactions Gingrich evokes in so many people, all concentrated this time in one man.

Zickar responded that he is "officially uncommitted" in the Republican presidential race. He said in a follow-up email that while he is officially uncommitted, "I do think that no one is doing a better job of articulating a Republican vision for America -- and a Republican argument against President Obama -- than Newt Gingrich."

In a subsequent email, however, Zickar added that Gingrich reminded him of Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights. "He's the best driver in the race and you're cheering him on, but you're also waiting for him to jump out of his car and start screaming that he's on fire," Zickar told me.

"The biggest worry with Newt is that if he does melt down, it won't happen during the campaign and it won't happen when he becomes the nominee. The worry is that it will happen after he's in the White House. And then everyone who cheered him on and supported him will ask, 'What do we do now?'"

The Republicans have quite the Newtonian dilemma. As their choices narrow and time grows short, they can't know whether, "despite his erratic leadership and bombastic behavior over the years," as Zickar put it, "he's a changed man and has the temperament to be president."

Marianne Gingrich has shared her views on some of those questions in her ABC interview, including his wish for an "open marriage" so he could have a wife and a mistress. That gives South Carolina voters some interesting news to use in making decisions about Gingrich, who had a six-year affair with current wife Callista while married to Marianne.

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Jill Lawrence is a national correspondent at National Journal. She was previously a columnist at Politics Daily, national political correspondent at USA Today and national political writer at the Associated Press.

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