Newt Gingrich’s marriages: Should they matter?

at 06:30 AM ET, 11/21/2011

The (re)rise of former House speaker Newt Gingrich in the 2012 Republican presidential race has re-started a debate over his at-times-tumultuous personal life and how much it could — or should — impact his chances of winning the nomination.


Republican presidential candidate former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition presidential candidate forum, in Des Moines, Iowa, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
The facts are these: Gingrich has been married three times.

He and his first wife, Jackie, divorced in 1981. (The circumstances surrounding the split up — including a debate about whether Gingrich informed his wife of his plans during a time when she was hospitalized — remain a point of debate.)

Gingrich’s marriage to his second wife, Marianne, ended in divorce in 1999 after he acknowledged an extramarital affair with a congressional staffer named Callista Bisek, who is now Gingrich’s third wife.

What’s less clear is just how much Gingrich’s turbulent — and very public — personal life will mean to the socially conservative voters he is trying to court in Iowa and beyond.

“Every candidates’ past is going to matter,” Bob vander Plaats, a leading Iowa conservative, said on MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown” program on Friday. “We want to know is (Gingrich) truly repentful? Has he learned? Is he ready to move on? Is he more mature?”

Gingrich has been largely reluctant — not surprisingly — to talk much about his past marriages. “There are things in my life I’m not proud of, and there are things in my life I’m very proud of,’’ Gingrich told the New York Times in February, echoing his normal response to such questions.

But, late last week, Gingrich unveiled a new website on which he goes into far greater detail about his personal life.

“Newt has been honest and forthright about the fact that he has had moments in his life that he regrets, that he has had to seek reconciliation, and go to God for forgiveness,” reads the site. “Newt believes that by continuing to be honest and forthright about his past failings, voters will come to understand the man that he is now and conclude they can trust him to represent the American people in the White House.”

The new website is evidence that Gingrich understands that, with his rapid rise in polling, comes far greater scrutiny — and that to survive as a top-tier candidate, he must win the battle over what his past means for his future.

“It is entirely reasonable for there to be an evaluation of each candidate’s character and capability," said former Pennsylvania Rep. Bob Walker, a Gingrich supporter. “You have to wonder if some of history’s greatest leaders could withstand today’s micro-scrutiny.”

Gingrich, dealing with the world as it is, appears to be casting himself as someone who has learned from the mistakes — both professional and personal — he has made and is now a changed man.

“Nixon reinvented himself repeatedly over the course of a very long career,” said Oklahoma Republican Rep. Tom Cole. “Newt has done this as well. Now he is doing it again.”

Rich Galen, a former Gingrich staffer, said that the fact that Gingrich has had multiple marriages is not “new news to the Washington-based press corps,” which makes it less potentially harmful than Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s hunting camp, or “(Herman) Cain’s ignorance and treatment of women”.

Added Galen: “There will be some people who will not vote for him because of his divorces. Most, I suspect, will see this as life in the late 20th- and early-21st century.”

Ayotte backs Romney: Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has landed the endorsement of the highest-ranking GOP elected official in New Hampshire, after Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) backed him over the weekend.

Ayotte was just elected in 2010 — her first electoral victory — so she may not carry the clout of a former senator or governor like Judd Gregg or John Sununu. But she is still a big prize for Romney (not to mention the fact that Romney already has support from both Gregg and the elder Sununu).

Romney continues to poll as a heavy favorite in the Granite State, which will hold the first-in-the-nation primary on Jan. 10.

Family members accuse Kildee of half-century old crime: In one of the more bizarre potential political scandals you will ever hear about, family members of longtime Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.) are alleging that he molested his male second cousin more than 50 years go.

The boy was 12 at the time of the first alleged incident, and his mother, step-father and sister have come forward with the allegations.

In a statement, Kildee accused his estranged family members of being mentally ill and trying to blackmail him.

“This is a concerted effort by distant relatives, two of whom have a long history of mental illness and multiple run-ins with the law, along with political adversaries, to destroy my reputation by lying about something that never took place more than 50 years ago,” Kildee said.

The timing of the allegations is particularly interesting, given that Kildee has already announced he will not seek reelection next year, bringing to a close a 36-year congressional career. His nephew, former Genesee County treasurer Dan Kildee (D), is among those running to replace him.

Another Democrat who may be running for the seat, state Sen. John Gleason, suggested late Sunday that the congressman was “out of line” to suggest his political opponents may be behind the allegations. Gleason in recent years has been mentioned as a possible primary opponent for Kildee.

The allegations were first reported by a freelance journalist and posted to the Washington Times website.

Fixbits:

The “supercommittee” blame game begins, with Republicans pointing to the White House and Democrats pointing to Grover Norquist. Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, now the mayor of Chicago, offers a defense of Obama.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) goes after Gingrich’s record on abortion.

Sen. John “I voted for it before I voted against it” Kerry (D-Mass.) calls Romney a world-class flip-flopper.

Mike Huckabee continues to position himself as a Romney supporter.

Romney credits the secrecy of his strategy with his success.

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman has his turn on Saturday Night Live.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), as he has before, blames U.S. foreign policy for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Republicans’ effort to overturn the Democrats’ aggressive congressional map in Illinois is now in the hands of federal judges, who could render a decision in the coming days.

A new poll in Michigan shows Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s (D) lead slipping a little, but she still leads former congressman Pete Hoekstra (R) 48 percent to 42 percent.

Must-reads:

Supercommittee members brace for failure” — Paul Kane, Washington Post

Mitt Romney, An Iowa No-Show, Faces A Backlash From Republicans And Democrats” — Michael Falcone, ABC News

Iowa activists reevaluating Newt Gingrich’s candidacy” — Dan Balz, Washington Post

GOP candidates court conservative Christians in Iowa” — Perry Bacon Jr., Washington Post

Can conservative media stop Mitt Romney” — Jeremy W. Peters, New York Times

Read more on PostPolitics.com

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