Politics

01.20.12

‘Nightline’ Zings Gingrich, but Will South Carolina Buy It?

ABC’s blockbuster exposé didn’t tell us more than we already knew after the breathless buildup. But will it hurt or help Gingrich with South Carolina’s Republicans?

After 13 hours of ABC News’s sustained self-promotion—the oft-repeated money shot of Marianne Gingrich discussing “open marriage,” the endless opining on rival networks, the former speaker’s angry debate-ready outburst, and even correspondent Brian Ross’s tete-a-tete with the ladies of The ViewNightline’s blockbuster interview with the ex-wife, on the eve of the South Carolina primary, didn’t offer much beyond what we already knew: Newt Gingrich, at various times in his life, has behaved like a creep.

The candidate’s adult daughters tried to defend and explain, saying they wish Marianne nothing but the best, but that Newt is a different person.

Marianne, looking tired, sad, and perhaps a tad frumpy (at least compared to the replacement wife) in a blue striped sweater and matching necklace, was credible, if embittered, as she recounted her former husband’s caddish and loutish tendencies. These included good-night phone calls to their Georgia home to tell her he loved her while lying next to his mistress, House staffer Callista Bisek, in the bedroom of the Gingriches’ Washington apartment; demanding a divorce a couple of months after Marianne was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis—also by phone, when she having a birthday dinner with her 84-year-old mother; boasting to her that Callista was going to help him become president, and otherwise exhibiting the sort of pathologically narcissistic symptoms that are all too common among our elected officials.

In case anyone needed to be reminded of Gingrich’s outrageous hypocrisy, ABC helpfully spliced in footage of the then-adulterous speaker, in a breathtaking feat of compartmentalization, pursuing the impeachment of Bill Clinton for arguably less egregious behavior, denouncing the Clinton-Gore administration as having “less moral authority than any administration in history,” and continually defending the sanctity of marriage as a political talking point.

It was, in other words, a thoroughly damning presentation that is likely to repel some Republican voters (who also might be conflicted and feel sorry for Gingrich because the attack comes from “the elite media”). Still, if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a million—and Nightline’s exposé is apt to depress Gingrich’s vote total during Saturday’s balloting. 

The candidate’s human shields—Kathy Lubbers and Jackie Cushman, his adult daughters from the first failed marriage—tried to defend and explain, saying they wish Marianne nothing but the best, but that Newt is a different person (“closer to God,” as Jackie claimed). But in the end their testimony wasn’t especially compelling. Ross, meanwhile, sought balance by including the account of an abortive FBI sting in which Marianne was said to be trying, Fergie-like, to sell access to her powerful husband for large sums of money. But the investigation went nowhere and Marianne, in the interview, denied and laughed it off.

And so Gingrich’s campaign for president continues.