The kids and I gathered around the television set, eager to watch the debate and see the next step of this South Carolina drama. So much had happened yesterday. Santorum claimed victory in Iowa, Perry dropped out, and — oh yeah — Gingrich’s second wife gave a supposedly explosive interview that was going to blow the lid off his candidacy. She claimed that Newt asked her for permission to have an affair with his current wife in an “open marriage” arrangement.
When moderator John King began the debate by asking Gingrich about these allegations, anger flashed across his face. He was ready.
“The destructive, vicious, negative nature of the news media makes it harder to . . . attracted decent people to run for office, and I’m appalled you’d begin a Presidential debate with a question like that.”
Yes, of all the complaints we have against the media, our main beef with them is that reporters are making it hard to attract decent adulterers to become candidates.
Newt continued to roar, “In fact, that CNN would choose to begin a debate with this tawdry question . . . I can think of nothing more despicable!”
My 13-year-old daughter turned and said, “Well, I can think of one thing more despicable. . . . it’s not as bad to ask the question as it is to actually be the one breaking marriage vows.”
The crowd, however, had a different reaction than my family. On its feet, the audience thundered its appreciation for Newt’s righteous indignation.
The substance of the answer was preposterous, of course. This is the man who was calling Clinton to resign because of lying over his sexual indiscretions. He also accused the Clinton administration of lacking moral standing and gravitas. I bet every one of those audience members screaming for Newt mostly likely called for Clinton’s resignation even before it was known he lied under oath.
Why was his terrible answer widely and uncritically received as “hitting it out of the ballpark”?
Because the answer was not about whether he asked his wife for an “open marriage,” it was about managing the political fallout from the accusation.
As David Frum tweeted: “It’s manifestly true that Gingrich wanted open marriage. He had one! Only dispute is whether he told his wife about it.”
Disclaimer: My husband and I are co-founders of Evangelicals for Mitt.