Evangelicals Flocking Toward Newt Gingrich
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. “I’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,” 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 “secular-socialism,” which weakens society, allowing for the spread of radical Islam.