Before he dumped Marianne for Callista, Newt Gingrich approached his second wife of 18 years with the possibility of an open marriage.
I ask you: how awesome is that?
In an interview airing tonight on Nightline, Marianne recalls Newt complaining to her. “You want me all to yourself. Callista doesn’t care what I do.”
Assuming Marianne can more or less be believed, let’s update what we now know of the former speaker’s personal history:
1. Gingrich dumped his first wife, Jackie, while she was being treated for cancer.
2. Some 12 years into his second marriage, he started sleeping with a much younger Hill staffer.
3. Six years into the affair, he asked wife No. 2 for an open marriage.
4. When she declined, Newt pressed ahead with a divorce—shortly after Marianne was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
5. The dissolution of Newt and Marianne’s union occurred as the then-speaker was galumphing around the country loudly proclaiming President Clinton to be morally unfit for office.
My God, it’s like a bad telenovela—only starring homely people.
I have to admit, while the tales of Gingrich’s mistreatment of the women in his life are, of course, appalling, I also find them utterly irresistible—and more than a little satisfying. Not because I care about Gingrich’s rank hypocrisy. Unlike many journalists, hypocrisy isn’t what gets my blood boiling. All politicians are hypocrites to one degree or another. They have to be.
No. What entrances me about these Newtonian love stories are how perfectly they jibe with the former speaker’s broader character portrait: namely, that of a pure, unadulterated narcissist, a man whose sense of himself as a world historic figure leads him to believe that whatever is good for him must be what is good. Period. In Gingrich’s worldview, the end justifies the means—and the end is invariably the advancement of Newt Gingrich’s personal aims.
The entire sweep of Newt’s personal life brings to mind a line from Whit Stillman’s 1990 film, Metropolitan, in which one of the cast of young, rich Manhattanites scolds another, “When you’re an egoist, none of the harm you do is intentional.”
I’d say that this line could apply to all aspects of Newt’s life except that, in many of his political dealings, Newt absolutely intends to cause harm. Demonizing the opposition is frequently his aim, and his aim in that department tends to be quite good.
But with his wives, one gets the sense that Gingrich never set out to hurt anyone. He simply didn’t give a damn—or at least enough of a damn to make an effort to minimize damage to the other person on his way out the door.
Lots of people cheat on their spouses. Lots of people leave their spouses. It takes a special kind of ego to carry on a lengthy affair with another woman, then grandiosely suggest to your wife: so howzabout you content yourself with just a slice of Newt pie and agree to share the rest?
Hypocrisy, infidelity, dishonesty, immorality—none of those interest me here. When it comes to Newt, the ultimate driver—and the biggest danger—has always been the man’s total self-absorption and near-messianic self-regard.
That ought to make even the most devout Newt fan a little nervous.