Is Newt Gingrich's Wife a Political Liability?

Gingrich says he made mistakes--like infidelity--because he loved America so much

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Newt Gingrich admits he made some mistakes in his past--in part, he says, "driven by how passionately [he] felt about this country." The tricky part is that one of those mistakes eventually became his third wife. Gingrich told the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody that he believes "in a forgiving God" and "felt compelled to seek God's forgiveness" over marital infidelities.

Gingrich divorced his second wife, Marianne, to whom he was married for 18 years, to marry Callista Bisek, a congressional aide. They'd had a six-year affair that overlapped with Gingrich's pursuit of Bill Clinton's impeachment over his affair with an intern. Now that Gingrich is starting his presidential run, Callista "is, ironically, simultaneously the most public and the least known of the political partners bracing for the scrutiny of a presidential campaign," Politico's Ben Smith and Maggie Haberman write. Smith and Haberman attempted Monday to do what no journalist had done before--profile Callista. But all the operatives they spoke to don't know much about her. But she did go to college in Iowa, Politico writes, so maybe she can help win over skeptical voters in the state that holds the first Republican caucuses.

As for Gingrich's take, here's what he told Brody in the interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network:

There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate.  And what I can tell you is that when I did things that were wrong, I wasn’t trapped in situation ethics, I was doing things that were wrong, and yet, I was doing them.  I found that I felt compelled to seek God’s forgiveness.  Not God’s understanding, but God’s forgiveness.  I do believe in a forgiving God.  And I think most people, deep down in their hearts hope there’s a forgiving God.

That might be true, but few people down here on Earth are ready to forget Gingrich's past:

  • A Unique Reinterpretation of Infidelity, Outside the Beltway's Doug Mataconis observes in a post headlined "Newt Gingrich: I Cheated On My Wives Because I Love America Too Much."
  • He Just Can't Win, Public Policy Polling's Tom Jensen writes. Gingrich's name recognition is between 70 percent and 80 percent in most states. But voters who like Palin and Huckabee--the top two likely candidates--don't like Gingrich any better than they like centrist East Coaster Mitt Romney. "Gingrich really can't expect to get much of a bounce even if Palin and Huckabee don't end up running. And that probably means someone(s) from further back in the field who have a lot more room to grow as they become better known will become the conservative purist alternatives to Romney. Our numbers just don't suggest much of a path for Gingrich."
  • Tough Position  Slate's Libby Copeland points out that "being a successful political wife is hard enough, but the mistress who becomes the wife in full view of voters will never be as good as the one she replaced, if only because popular culture tends to elevate wronged women to sainthood." Copeland offers Callista a few tips to deal with the scrutiny. 1. Remember time is on your side--eventually you'll make news for something else. 2. Don't act like Rudy Giuliani's third wife, Judith, who wore a tiara to her wedding, spent tons of money, and was nicknamed "Princess" by a Giuliani staffer. 3. Act dignified even when people throw things at you, as happened to Camilla Parker Bowles. 4. Watch out for ladies auditioning to be Wife No. 4.
  • But Evangelicals Believe in Redemption, Brody writes. "There will be those Evangelicals who can’t get past Gingrich’s transgressions from earlier in his life. But let’s remember. Evangelicals know all about grace and redemption too and if Gingrich can connect on issues important to Evangelicals (especially in Iowa and South Carolina) then look out. He has a path to the nomination. Don’t write him off. He can compete strongly for the Evangelical vote."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.