CHARLESTON, S.C. – Will Newt Gingrich’s marital woes matter, and should they?
At a presidential debate on Thursday night, the former House Speaker angrily denied the accusation from his ex-wife Marianne that he asked for an “open marriage” before their divorce more than a decade ago.
“Every person in here has had someone close to them go through painful things. To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary a significant question in a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine,” he said, bluntly declaring the accusation was “false.”
He added, “My two daughters, my two daughters wrote the head of ABC, and made the point that it was wrong, that they should pull it. And I am frankly astounded that CNN would take trash like that and use it to open a presidential debate.”
Marianne Gingrich’s comments and Newt Gingrich’s stance at the debate are likely to be the most dominant issue in the campaign until South Carolina voters cast their ballots on Saturday.
Gingrich was cheered by the audience at Thursday’s debate for rebuking CNN”s John King for even asking the question. And some conservatives say his media-bashing in the last two primaries will be warmly received by Republicans here.
Saturday’s results will ultimately determine if that is true. Marianne Gingrich has suggested the former congressman was a hypocrite for having an affair and pursuing a divorce as he was giving speeches around the country on family values.
Republicans have long cared about moral values issues, particularly the evangelical Christians who are a dominant force in the party both here and nationally. Gingrich and other Republicans pursued an impeachment of President Clinton based on his lying about his affair with an intern.
And having a clean family image has been helpful to a wide range of candidates, including President Obama, who built a bond with Democrats here and nationally in part by emphasizing his strong marriage.
Gingrich has sought to cast the end of his two marriages in a story of redemption, arguing he has sinned and asked for forgiveness from God. Republican voters on Saturday will have to determine if they trust Gingrich’s story enough to give him a critical win here.
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. at @perrybaconjr