Spin Cycle

05.10.11

Newt and the Callista Factor

Wife No. 3, wary of the political spotlight

Is Callista front-page news?

The New York Times thinks so, declaring Tuesday that the former speaker of the House “is counting on the third Mrs. Gingrich for his political redemption… Depending on one’s point of view, she is a reminder of his complicated past, or his secret political weapon.”

The downside is obvious: Callista Bisek is the House staffer who had an affair with Gingrich while he was leading the impeachment drive against Bill Clinton. She was, in short, the Other Woman.

But Callista is also the woman responsible for her husband’s conversion to Catholicism—they made a film about Pope John Paul II--and his effort to redefine himself in his sixties as a good family man. I saw them together signing books at the CPAC conference a couple of months ago, and in his public remarks Gingrich does begin many sentences with “Callista and I”—as he did when I asked him about his timetable for making a 2012 decision.

When I was on Laura Ingraham’s radio show, she found the Times piece to be snarky and questioned the Page 1 display, saying Michelle Obama doesn’t get this kind of scrutiny.

But I don’t think there’s any way around the media spotlight. In the modern age, like it or not, Callista Gingrich is running for first lady. Voters will make an up-or-down decision on her husband, but they will want some exposure to the woman who would live in the East Wing.

That puts Gingrich’s wife in the awkward position of Judith Giuliani, who helped break up the former mayor’s second marriage and was thrust forward as his new partner in the 2008 campaign. She never really faced the media glare, since Rudy’s campaign didn’t last long.

It’s hardly novel any more for politicians to be asked about infidelity, a subject that Clinton famously had to confront in 1992 when the Gennifer Flowers story exploded (and more than once during his presidency, as the whole world recalls). But the questions for Gingrich will revolve around hypocrisy, given his role in the impeachment battle.

The Times quotes Jackie Cottrell, a friend of Callista Gingrich, as saying: “They would say they wished they had met in a different time in their lives under different circumstances. But it’s important to note that they brought their family together in a loving way.”

If Callista doesn’t like the way she is being portrayed in the media, she has the power to do something about it. Both she and her husband declined to be interviewed by Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg, but there’s nothing stopping them from sitting down with someone they trust—say, on Fox News, for starters—and telling their story the way they want it told.