Opening Newt’s Marriage
By GAIL COLLINS
Right now, you are probably asking yourself whether two divorces, a history of adultery and an ex-wife who says you asked for an open marriage would be enough to disqualify a person from becoming president of the United States.
O.K., pretend that was what you were asking yourself.
Sex was one of the topics very much on the minds of voters as South Carolina prepared to go to the polls on Saturday. Also, there was the big debate, in which Newt Gingrich said that asking about the open marriage thing was “despicable.” That was also when Mitt Romney slipped and referred to health reform in Massachusetts as “Romneycare,” which I enjoyed very much.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the campaign, Herman Cain announced that he was endorsing “the people” for president. On behalf of the people, I would like to say that, if elected, we promise to balance the budget, release Mitt Romney’s tax returns and pass a law against driving to Canada with an Irish setter tied to the roof of the car.
But about sex. Marianne Gingrich, Wife No. 2, told ABC News in an interview that Newt had called her up while she was visiting her mother, told her he was having an affair, and then proposed an open marriage. Newt denied the open marriage part and referred all questions to his two daughters by his other former marriage.
This seems like a lot to dump on the daughters. When we the people are president, we are definitely passing a law against requiring children to field media inquiries about their father’s other wives.
South Carolina is probably not the ideal state in which to be accused of breaking the matrimonial bonds, then smashing them and jumping up and down on them until they’re just a pile of marital powdery dust. But Newt has framed his sexual history — the parts he isn’t totally denying — in terms of a redemption story. (“I’ve had to go to God for forgiveness.”) Everybody likes a story of the fallen man who rejects his wicked ways and starts a new life. Remember how well George W. Bush did with the one about renouncing alcohol on his 40th birthday? There is, however, a lot of difference between giving up drinking on the eve of middle age and giving up adultery at about the time you’re qualifying for Social Security. Cynics might suggest that Newt didn’t so much reform as poop out.
Still, he has several things working in his favor, one of which has got to be the public’s lack of appetite for thinking about Newt Gingrich’s sex life at all.
Another is that his hound dog persona is old news. Marianne even told the break-up story to Esquire a while back. That version included the memorable description of how Newt had explained that she was a Jaguar, while he needed a Chevrolet, like his Washington squeeze, Callista.
This would appear to be a Newtian version of “it’s not you, it’s me.”
Conservative Gingrich fans lined up to argue that his bedroom behavior made no difference. Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist “and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team” opined on the Fox Web site that it actually made Newt a better candidate: “So, as far as I can tell, judging from the psychological data, we have only one real risk to America from his marital history if Newt Gingrich were to become president: We would need to worry that another nation, perhaps a little younger than ours, would be so taken by Mr. Gingrich that it would seduce him into marrying it and becoming its president.”
Voters very seldom penalize politicians for sexual misbehavior — unless it’s of a type that suggests the pol in question is a little … off. (See: sexting pictures of your underwear, having tickling parties with your young male aides, telling your staff you’re going on a hike and then flying to see your girlfriend in Argentina. Really, when you look back, we have been through a lot.)
Beyond the hypocrisy of this sort of behavior from a guy who wants to protect the sanctity of holy matrimony from gay couples, there also seems to be a streak of almost crazed self-absorption that runs through the Newt saga. Who would ditch a spouse of 18 years in a phone call? Shortly after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis? And, of course, he broke up with his first wife while she was battling cancer. Do you see a theme developing here? This is the same guy who proudly announced “I think grandiose thoughts” during the last debate.
Campaigning after the ABC News interview broke, Gingrich said: “Callista and I have a wonderful relationship. We knew we’d get beaten up. We knew we’d get lied about. We knew we’d get smeared. We knew there would be nasty attack ads. And we decided the country was worth the pain.”
The country is so grateful for your sacrifice.