Newt Gingrich’s marriage(s) problem

Newt, Newt the marriage brute…

The Washington Post – Chris Cillizza

It’s no secret to anyone who has paid even passing attention to the 2012 Republican presidential race that Newt Gingrich has been married three times.

But, revelations today from his second wife, Marianne, that Gingrich wanted an “open marriage” have the potential to pick the scab off of the former House Speaker’s personal life less than 48 hours before the South Carolina presidential primary.

“I think it opens up the portal more widely on the whole character issue,” said one senior Republican strategist granted anonymity to speak candidly. “If this were one incident of domestic strife it would one thing but this demonstrates a pattern so I think it could be really bad.”

Throughout the race, Gingrich has been open about his personal foibles, which include an extramarital affair with his current wife, Callista, while still married to Marianne.

Asked today about the allegations made by his second wife, Gingrich called them “tawdry and inappropriate”. And, in a statement released by the campaign, Gingrich’s two daughters from his first marriage said: “The failure of a marriage is a terrible and emotional experience for everyone involved. Anyone who has had that experience understands it is a personal tragedy filled with regrets, and sometimes differing memories of events. …We will not say anything negative about our father’s ex-wife. He has said before, privately and publicly, that he regrets any pain he may have caused in the past to people he loves.”

Polling done last month suggested that most voters didn’t care much about Gingrich’s personal life. Almost three-quarters (72 percent) in a December Washington Post-ABC News poll said Gingrich’s “marital history” made no difference in their vote; four percent said it made them more likely to vote for him, 19 percent said it made them less willing to cast a ballot for the former House Speaker.

At issue is whether voters will regard Marianne Gingrich’s comments as largely old news delivered by someone with whom the former Speaker has no relationship or whether her allegations will lead to a re-examination of his personal life.

The former analysis could actually help Gingrich, turning him into something of a sympathetic figure. We saw that sort of scenario play out in South Carolina in 2010 when gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley was hit by allegations of an extramarital affair . She fought back aggressively and instead of it hurting her campaign, it strengthened it.

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