The XX Factor

Could Newt Gingrich’s Desire for an Open Marriage Really Ruin His Chances?

Newt Gingrich sits with his ex-wife, Marianne and his mother, Kathleen.

Photo by POOL/AFP/Getty Images

Newt Gingrich’s second ex-wife, Marianne, is giving a bombshell interview on ABC’s Nightline tonight. Marianne gave a dishy, fabulous interview to Esquire about a year and a half ago, so it’s unclear what new dirt she will reveal about her ex-husband. Some conservative commentators are claiming that ABC is deliberately airing the Marianne interview ahead of the South Carolina primary in order to ruin Newt’s chances at the GOP nomination just as he’s “getting close to upsetting the Romney apple cart.” Indeed, Newt has momentum. But Marianne’s going to have to say something truly inflammatory for it to make a difference to Newt enthusiasts, beyond the fact that Newt wanted an open marriage, which is what Nightline is showing in its preview of the interview.

After all, Marianne has already told the world that Newt left her after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and I’d wager that many primary voters are already aware that he is on wife number three, Callista. Either they’ve bought the redemption narrative that he’s selling–Catholic Callista has made Newt into an upstanding, church-going individual who has seen the error of his ways–or they just don’t care about a candidate’s personal life. The ones who don’t already know about Newt’s sordid past aren’t likely to be swayed by his past misdeeds, either. Take this passage from Ariel Levy’s profile of Callista Gingrich in The New Yorker. Levy spoke to a woman and her daughter, both Gingrich supporters, who weren’t aware that he had left two ex-wives in his wake:

I asked why they supported Gingrich. “I’ve read a lot of his books, and he’s a very intelligent person,” the daughter, a student at Northern Virginia Community College, said. Her mother, who went to work for the Navy after homeschooling her four children, said she was unaware that Callista Gingrich was the former Speaker’s third wife—and that he’d had an affair with her for six years before divorcing his second wife, Marianne, and that he’d had an affair with Marianne before he left his first wife, Jacqueline Battley, the mother of his children. The woman and her daughter agreed that Gingrich’s committing adultery was between him and God. “But, I mean,” the mother said, “I’d prefer he hadn’t.”

Marianne’s interview may even have a positive effect on South Carolina voters. They may see her as a bitter woman who’s just attempting revenge-by-network news, and this may galvanize their wavering support for Newt. They may not even believe whatever Marianne has to say. Unless Marianne has photographic evidence of Newt drop kicking several puppies and then peeing on Ronald Reagan’s headstone, I don’t think the interview will make much of a difference.