Infidelity, divorce, and Newt Gingrich: Can voters get past his record?
At a time when half of marriages end in divorce, it may be that GOP hopeful Newt Gingrich can overcome his checkered marital history of infidelity and divorce. Or not.
Ronald Reagan was America's only divorced president. And several men who occupied 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – Bill Clinton perhaps most notably in contemporary times – were unfaithful to their spouses.Skip to next paragraph
But there’s only one candidate seeking the nation’s highest office this year who has both knocks against him: Republican Newt Gingrich.
Mr. Gingrich’s opponents are bound to make an issue of it. Politico reported Tuesday that guests staying in a Des Moines hotel found a flier slipped under their doors from a group calling itself Christian Leaders in Government. It asked: “If Newt Gingrich can’t be faithful to his wife, how can we trust him to be faithful to conservative voters?”
IN PICTURES: Newt, now and then
Anonymous slander campaigns aren’t a new thing, especially in contests in early caucus and primary states. True or not, they can pick up steam there, and groups like the as-yet-unidentifiable organization – or maybe individual – responsible for the Gingrich flier can do damage before anyone knows who is behind the effort. But in 2012, with voters concerned about a series of serious pocketbook issues, from jobs to taxes to health insurance, will they be swayed by the personal shortcomings of the candidates? And if they are, how does Gingrich address the matter in a thoughtful way that satisfies Americans?
If Gingrich were to secure the nomination – he is rivaling presumed front-runner Mitt Romney in recent national polls despite a financial and organizational disadvantage – he would surely have to discuss his past personal choices, say campaign watchers.
“He’s going to have to address it,” says David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, in Carbondale. “I think it will come up. It’s part of his narrative and his story, and he’s going to have to talk about it.”
But Mr. Yepsen says voters aren’t likely to dwell on Gingrich’s past – though he is twice divorced, and left his first wife following her treatment for cancer. He left his second wife for a staff member who is now his third wife, Callista.
“People want to move on,” Yepsen says, from the politics of personal destruction. “We want solutions to the larger problems. I think that’s what’s attracting a lot of people to Newt Gingrich. He’s a thoughtful guy. He has ideas.”
Yepsen, who wrote about politics for the Des Moines Register for more than three decades, adds: “He’s the only candidate I’ve ever seen where audiences take notes.”
Not everyone agrees. Salon’s Joan Walsh outlines Gingrich’s flaws and foibles in a Tuesday column. She concludes: “The seemingly affable professor and author is a hothead with many political liabilities and almost as many enemies. He’s committed so many political and ethical transgressions that his baggage has baggage.”