Could 'open marriage' claim help Gingrich win South Carolina?

January 20, 2012|By James Oliphant
(David Goldman/AP )

In the increasingly volatile race for the Republican presidential nomination, at least one analyst suggests that Newt Gingrich’s ex-wife’s claims about his infidelity will help power him to a win in the South Carolina primary.

Why? Because Gingrich was served “a fastball down the middle” on the matter at Thursday night’s debate and “just knocked it out of the park.” So says Matthew Dowd, the GOP strategist who was on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Friday.

“This moment was a gift for Newt Gingrich,” Dowd said.

To recap: CNN’s John King wasted no time confronting Gingrich about allegations by Gingrich’s second wife, Marianne, to ABC News that he had asked for an “open marriage” during his affair with Callista Bisek, who would ultimately become his third wife.

Gingrich was ready. King had to know that he was giving the former House speaker the one thing he loves the most: the opportunity to expound upon the deficiencies of the mainstream media. And he did just that. He might have well been Claude Rains complaining about gambling in “Casablanca.”

“I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office,” Gingrich said, his outrage dialed all the way to 11. “And I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.”

The attendees at the North Charleston Coliseum rose to their feet and hooted and hollered their support.

“Is that all you want to say, sir?” King asked.

Not by a long shot. “Every person in here knows personal pain,” Gingrich said. “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.”

There was more.

“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.”

Gingrich went on from there to aim his fire past CNN and ABC to all of the media, which, he suggested, only targets the GOP.

“I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans,” he exclaimed. (Gingrich, until last year, was an analyst-for-hire on Fox News Channel.)

By the close of the exchange, it felt like the crowd would have run King out of the coliseum on a rail if it could have. Not only was Gingrich able to make everyone forget what the question was in the first place, he had been able to render his opponents onstage, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, nearly invisible. By the time King asked them about the allegations, they all looked like they wanted to collectively hail a cab.

It remains to be seen whether Marianne Gingrich’s allegations will harm Gingrich in Saturday’s primary, but her much-publicized interview with ABC’s “Nightline” Thursday turned out to be a rehash of what had already been reported all throughout the day, with no new bombshells.

Gingrich has been coming on strong in recent polls. And Dowd on Friday said his toe-to-toe with King could put him over the top.

“On a vulnerability that many people thought he had, he had just knocked it out of the park,” Dowd said. “He could easily because of that answer last night win tomorrow in South Carolina.”

If that occurs, he said, history will be made. Never before have three different candidates won the first three nominating contests of the cycle. (Santorum declared himself the winner of the Iowa caucuses Thursday, although the contest remains in dispute.) And Gingrich’s surge comes as Romney is showing new vulnerability, bogged down by issues pertaining to his personal fortune and his tax liability.

“This thing has become another wide-open race,” Dowd said.

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