Yes, it was Newt Gingrich who pushed for their expulsion — and as a result, the matter was put to a vote of the full House, where Crane and Studds became the first members ever censured over allegations of sexual misconduct.
Crane, a married father of six, tearfully confessed that the allegations were true. Oh, not good, I ventured to my staunchly Republican and seriously Catholic dad, who I knew had broken off friendships with guys who, as he put it, “liked to cat around.”
His response surprised me: Obviously, poor Crane was the victim, having been entrapped or libeled by the liberal media. Because, he said, it’s Democrats who have no morals. (As it happened, Crane was tossed out of office by voters in his conservative district, while Studds was spared in his more liberal one. See?)
Three decades later, I am unamazed that Republican primary voters are willing to look past the three wives and lively past of the former House speaker, particularly after a TV newsguy went after him right in front of Jesus and the American public. The only better scenario for Gingrich than having CNN’s John King ask him about his alleged “open marriage” request to his second wife, Marianne, would have been if King had asked a follow-up question twice as sassy.
The debate audience’s standing ovation after Gingrich blasted King for raising the issue helped propel the Georgian to victory in the South Carolina primary. But does Republican voters’ apparent nonchalance about Gingrich’s past mean that infidelity is the new divorce? That is, just as voters eventually accepted divorced political aspirants, are we now so inured to indiscretion that we can forgive a candidate’s moral lapses and still cite family values as a reason for supporting him?
Not exactly. The penalty for such transgressions depends on timing, how much voters liked the guy before and what the other options are. How such private issues are made public also matters, though partisans across the spectrum almost always see reporters as overzealous in going after sexual misbehavior, even if most of us run from such assignments.
In the case of former GOP candidate Herman Cain, allegations of sexual harassment and an affair seemed to get traction only in tandem with his lengthening string of foreign policy flubs. (This month, he told a crowd at the Stephen Colbert rally in Charleston, S.C., that it was, yes, the media that had driven him from the race, because he was too big a threat to the status quo.)