Newt the Victim

WALTERBORO, S.C. – On the drive over to a “Lowcountry Sportsmen for Newt” event – a BBQ-catered affair on timber tycoon Randy White’s 1500 acres – I listened to Rush Limbaugh analyze the developing story of ABC News interviewing Newt Gingrich’s second wife Marianne.

“Everybody’s had an angry ex-spouse!” said Limbaugh. Callers agreed with him, assuming that Marianne Gingrich was embittered and not to be trusted. “When a horse is dead, you dismount,” suggested one Dittohead.

Limbaugh was only echoing a sentiment you can hear in the Republican base. There’s still a sense, among some conservatives, that Herman Cain was unfairly brought down by lying, gold-digging women. “Gloria Allred took her women back to the sandbox” after the scandal ended, said Limbaugh. Once I got to the Sportsmen event, after a golf cart deposited me at the right location, I noticed that supporters had heard of the ABC story and didn’t care.

“It’s so old,” grumbled Bert Benton, an accountant and self-described Reagan Democrat. “If she felt like this, so strongly, she could have talked about it months ago.” (Note: She actually did, in an Esquire profile of the candidate.) “It’s just like what happened to Herman Cain, or when someone has a relationship and then five years later says ‘I was raped.’”

Jim Anthony, a probable Ron Paul voter who walked the rally with a “NO ROMNEY” sign (“he’s soulless,” he explained), flirted with the idea of approaching Gingrich in the receiving line and joking about the story – “ask him, any advice for an open relationship?” But he decided against it. “It’d be tacky.” Who cared about the story, anyway?

Gingrich gave a brief speech and took a few questions, but only made subtle asides about the ABC story. When his family was pondering a campaign, they knew that some days, the media would be ruthless. Later, in a common riff about “the Pursuit of Happiness,” he explained what the term meant in the 17th century.

“It did not mean hedonism and selfishness,” he said.

If you misread the Marianne interview – the parts ABC has released – you could think that he entered an “open marriage” with Callista. That wasn’t Limbaugh’s interpretation: Gingrich, he reasoned, was talking about taking a mistress. And a man so offended by hedonism surely wouldn’t engage in any of this.