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Would Women Support Newt Gingrich for President?

3 years ago
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It's November 2012 and voters have a choice between President Barack Obama and former Speaker Newt Gingrich. Given the gulf between their personal lives, what's a social conservative to do? More to the point, what would moderate and independent women do?

Stop, you say, Gingrich may not run for the Republican nomination and even if he does, chances are he won't win it. But Gingrich says he'll decide by the end of the month whether to set up an "exploratory committee" to raise money. The recent performances by a parade of prospects at the Conservative Political Action Conference make clear both why he is seriously entertaining the idea and why many Republicans continue to hold him in high regard, despite all.

And for people of a certain age, there is a lot of all: The extramarital affair with a House committee staffer who is now his third wife, the personal and political failings that prompted him to leave the speakership and Congress, the inflammatory rhetoric that has made him so polarizing. (To hit a few highlights, he called Sonia Sotomayor racist, claimed Obama has a "Kenyan anti-colonialist" worldview and said that "Woody Allen having non-incest with a non-daughter ... fits the Democratic platform perfectly").

Still, polls consistently put Gingrich at third or fourth place in a tight cluster of top-tier GOP prospects, some of whom might not run. Republicans haven't forgotten that in 1994 Gingrich led the party to its first House majority in 40 years. He has a lot of credit in the bank. It doesn't hurt that he and his wife are a celebrity couple in GOP circles, creating a stir wherever they go.

Over the three-day CPAC conference, one 2012 prospect after another brought to mind the word "generic." The two who broke out of the mold were Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Gingrich. Daniels gave a dense and high-minded speech about facing down the "Red Menace" of debt. Gingrich was Gingrich: hurling colorful insults at Obama, Democrats and their policies, flinging out ideas that included replacing the Environmental Protection Agency with an Environmental Solutions Agency and proposing that Obama receive an invitation to be CPAC's keynote speaker next year – if he meets certain conditions like signing a repeal of his signature health care law.

That led my colleague David Corn to tweet: "Calls on Obama to sign a repeal of #HCR. That's like calling on Newt to remarry wife No. 1." Just the type of joke that would dog Gingrich in a presidential campaign.

Gingrich's first wife was his high school math teacher, seven years his senior. According to The New York Times, friends of both said he tried to discuss divorce terms with her while she was in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery and she threw him out. The incident has become an indelible part of his life story (though Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler says it is a myth).

Later, as GOP-driven impeachment proceedings stemming from the Monica Lewinsky affair unfolded against President Bill Clinton, came the news that Gingrich – then married to his second wife -- was having an affair with a much younger Capitol Hill staffer named Callista Bisek. She became his third wife. He later admitted he had cheated on both his first and second wives, and apologized.

Gingrich, 67, and Callista, 44, have a high-profile partnership producing homages to conservative causes and heroes. The latest books from Gingrich Productions are about Ronald Reagan and George Washington. The subjects of the latest films are Reagan, terrorism, religion in America and how Pope John Paul II's 1979 trip to Poland helped lead to the fall of Communism there (Gingrich became a Catholic two years ago after having had his first two marriages annulled). Fans can keep up with their travels, their restaurant meals and their films, books and articles at Newt.org or on Twitter (@NewtGingrich and @CallyGingrich).

Gingrich's latest flirtation with a presidential run is a powerful marketing tool for his products and brand, and maybe that's all it is. Christiane Amanpour interviewed him Sunday on ABC's "This Week" about what he would have done differently from Obama in Egypt, and conscientiously mentioned his new Reagan book before she began. On Friday, Gingrich will speak at the Hawaii GOP Lincoln Day Dinner in Honolulu – and he'll also sign books with Callista.

CPAC was another combo event. The Gingriches entered the ballroom for his speech Thursday to the thumping beat of "Eye of the Tiger," making their way to the stage through a crowd that was cheering, applauding and on its feet. Later they drew several cameras and a long line for a book-signing.

On the assumption that Gingrich is interested not just in commerce but in winning the White House, here's one thing I noticed: Onstage at CPAC, Gingrich made a very quick passing reference to Callista in the course of thanking the activist who introduced him. Other wives were featured more prominently. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, gave a short speech to introduce her husband. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota introduced his wife in the audience and had her stand up to be applauded. "It's always important to remember to introduce the really important person in your life," he said.

Would it be projecting overly much to wonder how many women would have recalled Gingrich's past (with irritation) if he had introduced his young, trim, ice-blonde, perfectly groomed wife? One Republican activist told me his wife would leave him if he worked for Gingrich. The website for the Christian conservative group Concerned Women for America recently featured a story headlined "Steal a spouse, pay the piper: South Dakota lawmakers vote to keep alienation of affection law."

Those are, obviously, anecdotes. There's little data at this point on how the GOP field fares by gender. One recent Quinnipiac poll was large enough to have some indicative demographic information on Republicans and Republican leaners. Gingrich, in fourth place in a hypothetical nomination race, drew 18 percent of the men and 11 percent of the women surveyed. Sarah Palin, at the other end of the gender gap, drew 25 percent of the women and 14 percent of the men.

Some who see a future president in Gingrich nevertheless also see the potential for political failure. "He's a brilliant man," Mackie Christenson, a conservative activist from Leesburg, Virginia, told me. "He has more ideas in an hour than most people have in a lifetime. He's a student of history. He gets it." But she added: "I don't think we can get through the personal life problem. I regret it because I think he'd be great. And his wife would be an asset."

Ken Blackwell, a former Ohio secretary of state and a senior fellow at the socially conservative Family Research Council, is among those who do not count Gingrich out. He calls him a brilliant "thought leader" who has apologized for his mistakes. "The primary process is there for a reason -- to test your strengths and see if you can overcome your weaknesses," Blackwell told me. "People will take overt shots at him. Last time I checked there are no perfect people. We are all fallen. The question will be, will his admission and his apology come through as sincere?"

Even if they do, that's heavy baggage to carry into a presidential campaign, especially given the ground Gingrich would have to make up with voters outside the GOP fold. The Quinnipiac poll found that overall, counting people in both parties, 3 in 10 had a favorable view of Gingrich while more than 4 in 10 had an unfavorable view.

It's hard to know how much of that is due to Gingrich's pugnacious partisan persona, and how much to his personal life. But there is one sure thing: The Republican who wins the nomination will be up against a president who is often praised as a devoted husband and father, and who will celebrate his 20th wedding anniversary a month before the 2012 election.

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87 Comments

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sterlingbykenny

how desperate can a woman be nowadays to marry a cheater/philanderer? catholics beware. if you lie to your wives,desert them in their time of need,what apatheic human being. a great politician. he belongs back in washington with that guy whosolicited sex from a male in an airport toilet. what a despicable way to live

March 13 2011 at 12:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
as1612

Back in the '90s, Ms. Jackie was my math teacher as well. To this day, I credit her with teaching me something useful in Geometry. When Newt became Speaker, Hard Copy came to our school and EVERY employee there wore a button that declared them to be Jackie Gingrich. That says a lot for the integrity of Ms. Jackie- everyone wanted to protect her and the girls. Where I'm from, everyone knows Newt and you either love him or hate him. Let's just say he won't be receiving a vote from me should he actually make it on the ballot.

March 05 2011 at 9:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
youngkh40

Three marriages and cheating on the first two while married to them makes him a conservative republican but doesn't make him Christian. He has done more to hurt traditional marriage than any gay marriage could do. Huckabee denying that Obama is an American when it has been proven that he is an American; Newt claiming to be a conservative christian and Sarah Palin just lying all the time doesn't speak well for the choices of conservatives.

March 02 2011 at 6:47 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
jackie

Having just read the Article regarding Newt and his Wife..and being an extremely educated and "Middle of the Road" Female...Its arrogant and not at all in the Best Interest of this Country for Newt to run for the GOP Nomination...We do have a need to hold our Leaders to a High Standard and we are ALL respomsible for the Chices we make...We.ve had enough of hearing about Politicians dirty "Laundry"..which we would all be subjected to again if He chooses to run.

February 27 2011 at 3:36 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
bware357

first off does he have any children from the 2 marriages before? Reason for this question is Newt had both of his previous marriages annuled. So he is not acknowledging the sacred marriages, the commitment he made to his wives and with God,or what marriage stands for and if there were children born out of either marriage, what does he call them? Believe you have to be responsible in your personal and professional life equally to have a even balance and to uphold your integrity. No I would not consider him a candidate for Presidency. Sorry!

February 23 2011 at 8:19 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to bware357's comment
Corie Hebron

The children of the previous marriages are legitimate, according to Catholic canon law. Legitimacy really has more to do with a LEGAL marriage in the eyes of civil law. A child born to a couple who are married by the laws of the state is considered legitimate. An annulment has to do with a SACRAMENTAL marriage. If the Church tribunal rules that the previous marriage(s) were never sacramental in the eyes of God, they may rule that a sacramental marriage never existed. That is what an annulment is. Sometimes the tribunal rules the previous marriage WAS sacramental, and an annulment is not granted (which means any subsequent marriage is considered adultery). However, an annulment has no bearing whatsoever in regard to civil laws concerning divorce, or the legitimacy of children.

February 27 2011 at 1:18 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
wilbur3147

I have alot of respect for Newt's knowledge and patriotism. He and the 94 congress did balance the budget as the house makes the budget not the president. Some one needs to make difficult choices and make big cuts or we are going under like it or not

February 23 2011 at 7:28 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
wilbur3147

I do but afraid it wont be posted. ted kennedy served for alot of years and alot of people would say he served his country well. But he had scandals, why cant newt have a chance

February 23 2011 at 7:25 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to wilbur3147's comment
pttypinkley

Wow, let's give Newt a chance, he's morally bankrupt, but who cares, President Clinton had an affair, why not? wilbur, that way of thinking is exactly why our country and our politics are so messed up. Weren't you taught, two wrongs don't make a right?

February 23 2011 at 7:34 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
RoxLight@aol.com

NO!!!!!! Not this woman!!!

February 23 2011 at 6:47 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
RoxLight@aol.com

This woman would not suport Newt whether he had affairs or not! Let's all remember the past in the political arena.

February 23 2011 at 6:41 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
fworfe

I doubt that anyone can make a good case for conservatives being any less moral than other segments of our culture. It's just that conservatives have mouthed off so loudly and consistently about everyone else's sins, that when they, themselves, do something kinky, it makes them look ridiculously pathetic. It is a mystery thus far unexplained by anyone. How can ultra-conservatives---who purport to represent a non-judgmental philosophy---spend their entire political, talk-show, pundit or commentator career harshly judging other people? Can any Christian take seriously anyone who claims to be Christian who represents virtually none of the principles of that religion? Not judging; just asking; you decide. If I were a conservative Republican I would have to wonder if my "leaders" are really what they claim to be, or are they just putting me on.

February 23 2011 at 6:10 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply

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