During the 2016 presidential race, Donald Trump suggested that Hillary Rodham Clinton had not been faithful to her husband, who, famously, was not faithful to her. It was an ugly and stupid moment in a campaign full of ugliness and stupidity. But out came Rudy Giuliani to praise Trump for taking the fight to Mrs. Clinton, while Newt Gingrich alternated between criticizing Trump and praising him for his approach to the issue. It was really something to hear that kind of moralistic tut-tutting from Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and Newt Gingrich — the cats with nine wives.
And now, President Trump apparently intends to send Newt Gingrich’s third wife, with whom the former speaker had a six-year affair while married to another woman, to the Vatican, as the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. I can’t help but think of Hedley Lamarr interviewing Wild West felons, asking one what crimes he had committed.
“That’s not much of a crime.”
“Through the Vatican.”
“Kinky. Sign here.”
The third Mrs. Gingrich seems like a pleasant enough person. She does not have any particular qualification for an ambassadorship, much less an ambassadorship to the Holy See, where she would be responsible for a very specialized kind of diplomacy. She is presumably a sincere Catholic (Gingrich credits her with his own conversion), and she sings in the choirs at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. She majored in music at Luther College in Iowa. And she worked in government, for a time, eventually becoming the chief clerk for the House Agriculture Committee. This is a time of non-obvious career processions (say, from a reality-show performer with two porn-film appearances to president of the United States of America) but going from clerk on the ag committee — a decade ago — to the Vatican? One would want to see a good reason for that.
Newt, for all his big-thinking virtues, is not that good reason.
Newt Gingrich was an important figure in U.S. politics and will go down in the history books as one of the most consequential speakers of the House, up there with Sam Rayburn. He was also a man whose personal and political indiscipline undermined the Republicans’ ability to get very much done following the landslide election of 1994, which gave the GOP the chance to confront a diminished Bill Clinton with augmented forces. During the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Gingrich led the effort to impeach the president while having an affair with the woman who would become the third Mrs. Gingrich. The second Mrs. Gingrich had become that after Gingrich had an affair with her while married to the first Mrs. Gingrich. Dick Armey, who was the No. 2 in the House GOP behind Gingrich, later told Marvin Olasky that President Clinton knew about the affair and essentially blackmailed Gingrich with it. Even setting aside the private questions of family, these things are not without consequences — not where the men entrusted with the government of the United States are concerned. Meditate upon the fact that a man who once invented an imaginary friend to lie to the New York press about his sex life — and who later named his youngest child after that imaginary friend — now controls a navy and a nuclear arsenal. It is easy to imagine how it is that President Trump has a blind spot when it comes to the propriety of dispatching Mrs. Gingrich to the Holy See.
Gingrich has done a great deal to incorporate his wife into his wide-ranging punditry empire. She is identified as an author of books and a producer of films. None of this, even given the most generous interpretation, adds up to a Vatican ambassadorship. And some of it is more than a little embarrassing. During the campaign, some of my conservative friends who should have known better added their names to a list of “Scholars and Writers for Trump,” where they appeared alongside no less an intellectual luminary than Callista Gingrich, identified as co-author of Rediscovering God in America. The book cover identifies Newt Gingrich as the author of the book, “featuring the photography of Callista Gingrich.”
So, there’s that.
But what about the adultery?
We ought to forgive, of course. God’s infinite grace, being infinite, certainly covers adultery, and any mortal man who ever has experienced a moment’s introspection must pray that he comes to know His mercy rather than His justice. Mea most maxima culpa and all that. Forgive, yes.
For private citizens, surely. There remains within the Catholic tradition the issue of scandal, which means something different in the theology texts than it does in the New York Post. “Scandal” in the Catholic sense means setting a bad example, something that might lead to the spiritual ruin of another — “normalizing,” to take a word of the moment. King Henry II walked barefoot through the snow to pray at the tomb of St. Thomas Becket in Canterbury as an act of public penance. I have a hard time imagining the Gingriches flying coach.
In the service of realpolitik, exceptions are made. But Callista Gingrich is not Henry Kissinger. She is not an irreplaceable diplomat with unique gifts specially suited to her moment in history. She’s a former ag-committee clerk married to a retired politician turned Fox News pundit. We do not need to fit her for a scarlet letter, but there is no particular reason to dispatch her to the Holy See, either.
— Kevin D. Williamson is National Review’s roving correspondent.