The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Should Candidate Gingrich Be Evaluated by His Marriages?


In some ways, Newt Gingrich is having one of the best days of his campaign: He’s surging in South Carolina, Rick Santorum’s Iowa win is proving almost meaningless, Romney is stumbling, and Rick Perry is endorsing him.

And then there’s this from ABC News: “Marianne Gingrich told ABC News, ‘He wanted an open marriage and I refused.’”

Should this be a big deal? Last night, when Drudge first broke that ABC had interviews Gingrich’s ex-wife, with no details on her comments, I tweeted, “SHOCK BREAKING EARTH-SHATTERING GAME CHANGER: MAN’S EX-WIFE DOES NOT THINK WELL OF HIM . . . DEVELOPING HARD . . .”

I thought, before seeing these new details, that Gingrich’s marital woes were largely “priced in” to his standing as a candidate in the GOP field; nobody seems to be voting for Gingrich because they thought he was such a swell husband. A desire for an open marriage, however, may seem a bridge too far to some Republican primary voters. We will know soon.

Earlier this year, Dennis Prager ran two columns on NRO offering very detailed and contemplative thoughts on what a candidate’s marital difficulties reveals to voters. He began:

But there is a larger issue that needs to be addressed first: What does adultery tell us about a person?

For many Americans, the answer is, “Pretty much all we need to know.” This certainly seems to be the case with regard to presidential candidates. The view is expressed this way: “If he can’t keep his vows to his wife, how can we trust him to keep his vows to his country?”

I am a religious conservative, but I know this statement has no basis in fact. It sounds persuasive, but it is a non-sequitur. We have no reason to believe that men who have committed adultery are less likely to be great leaders, or that men who have always been faithful are more likely to be great leaders.

Chances are, at some point, you have admired, or at least applauded the work of, a political figure who has strayed from his marital vows. For Republicans, the list includes Rudy Giuliani, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bob Livingston, Mark Sanford, John McCain. If you’re on the other side, Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards, Anthony Weiner. Outside the realm of politics, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Jude Law, David Letterman, David Beckham.

The variety of prominent men who have strayed doesn’t make their acts any less wrong or hurtful. But just as every person is a combination of good impulses and bad impulses, their lives are a series of good decisions and bad decisions. While we outside the marriage have every right to express disapproval and anger over dishonesty, callousness towards one’s spouse, and recklessness, it doesn’t necessarily mean that every other decision they’ve made was wrong. Mark Sanford’s awful judgment on his trip to Argentina doesn’t negate the validity of his vision of limited government.

Prager noted that Oskar Schindler was a married man with a mistress; his interest in someone outside his wife hardly tells us everything we need to know about his character, judgment, courage, trustworthiness, etc.

Should Newt’s past marital discord suggest he’s unfit to be president? Well, compared to what? How many conservatives would prefer a liberal president who is faithful to his wife over a conservative president with a mistress? (The life of an elected official, particularly a job as consuming as the presidency, seems like a formula for marital trouble.)

Having said that, the Clinton presidency would appear to be Exhibit A of how a president’s philandering can cause problems for himself, his family, his administration, his party, and the country. Republican voters who want to cut Gingrich some slack and believe that he’s a changed man and a better husband now, the memory of Clinton’s troubles may be a nagging doubt in the days and weeks ahead . . .

Tags: Newt Gingrich


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