Let There Be Newt!
How the religious right is learning to love the adulterous, thrice-married former speaker.
By Michelle Goldberg
Like many evangelicals in Iowa, Steve Deace, an influential conservative radio host, is wrestling with the possibility that Newt Gingrich may be the most viable standard bearer for family-values voters in the next election. It's a conundrum, he says, that many others are also grappling with. AMaybe the guy in the race that would make the best president is on his third marriage,A he says. AHow do we reconcile that?A
One senses him trying. AI see a lot of parallels between King David and Newt Gingrich, two extraordinary men gifted by God, whose lives include very high highs and very low lows,A Deace says. David, after all, committed adultery with the ravishing Bathsheba, then had her husband killed, among other transgressions. The Bible makes room for complicated, morally compromised heroes. Now Christian conservatives, desperate for an alternative to Mitt Romney, are learning to do so as well.
AUnder normal circumstances, Gingrich would have some real problems with the social-conservative community,A says Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council. ABut these aren't normal circumstances.A
Until recently, there was an assumption that Gingrich's marital history would make it impossible for him to shore up religious conservatives, especially conservative women. Such voters dominate the Iowa caucuses, whose decision on Jan. 3 will do much to determine whether the Gingrich bubble is more enduring than those of Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain. AI'm one of those who said Newt would have a large gender gap, and that even though men might be more willing to forgive and move on, quite frankly I thought the women would be less likely to do so,A says Bob Vander Plaats, head of the Iowa FAMiLY Leader, the state's major religious-right organization. (The unconventional spelling of his group's name is meant to emphasize the subordination of the individual in family life.)
After all, it's not just that Gingrich is on his third marriage. He famously divorced his first wife while she was suffering from cancer--a cancer he'd previously used to garner sympathy in campaign speeches. He cheated on his second wife with congressional aide Callista Bisek, now his third wife, while leading the impeachment battle against Bill Clinton. Like Sen. Larry Craig, he of the attempted airport-bathroom tryst, Gingrich's personal life has become a liberal punchline, proof of Republican hypocrisy on family values. How can voters whose main priority is the restoration of the traditional family rally around him?
Yet on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, when most of the GOP candidates gathered in the First Federated Church in Des Moines for a FAMiLY Leader forum, the consensus was that Gingrich came out on top. Partly that's because he's been preparing his theocentric message for a while, particularly since converting to Catholicism, Callista's religion, in 2009, which he has said strengthened his appreciation for the role of faith in public life. In recent years, his writing and speaking have become increasingly religious and even apocalyptic, limning a great world-historical show-down between the forces of Christian civilization and those of what he calls Asecular-socialism,A which weakens society, allowing for the spread of radical Islam.
AA country which has been, since 1963, relentlessly in the courts driving God out of public life shouldn't be surprised at all the problems we have, because we've in fact attempted to create a secular country, which I think is frankly a nightmare,A he said at the FAMiLY Leader debate. …