Adulterous GOP Presidential Hopefuls

Steve Benen observes that, after the extensive coverage given to Bill Clinton’s numerous extramarital affairs and, more recently, to the state of the Clinton marriage, it is only fair for the press to cover the sex lives of Republicans.

Lurking just over the horizon are liabilities for three Republicans who have topped several national, independent polls for the GOP’s favorite 2008 nominee: Sen. John McCain (affair, divorce), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (affair, divorce, affair, divorce), and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (divorce, affair, nasty divorce). Together, they form the most maritally challenged crop of presidential hopefuls in American political history.

My gut tells me that the McCain and Giuliani affairs won’t much matter and that Gingrich’s will probably keep him from running. Neither McCain nor Giuliani present themselves as standard bearers of the social conservative movement and both have the “hero thing” to bolster their moral standing. Conversely, the circumstances surrounding Gingrich’s misdeeds are particularly disgusting [Update: See here] and he does tout the “Republicans and more moral than Democrats” line.

Further, while few of the Left ever believe this, the problems with Clinton were not so much his inability to keep his zipper up but rather his abuse of power and flouting of the law. Most of the women he had “relations” with were either subordinates or otherwise in a position to be harmed by rebuffing his advances. In the Lewinski case, he then lied about it under oath, lied in a press conference to the American people, and proceeded to cover it up. So far as I know, none of those things are true of any of the three men named here.

UPDATE: I should note, since I wasn’t blogging at the time and that, even if I were, people haven’t read all my posts, I strongly disagreed with the (unanimous) Supreme Court ruling in Clinton v. Jones (1997) that ultimately created the conditions whereby Clinton lied under oath and came to support the repeal of the special prosecutor law somewhere during the 1990s. I did, however, support impeachment and conviction given what transpired.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Eneils Bailey says:

    Could be dangerous to provoke a “tit for twat” argument here.
    There is enough to serve up on both sides.

  2. legion says:

    I don’t think it would hurt McCain much. I’m unsure about Gingrich – On the one hand he’s so arrogant and full of himself, I don’t think he’d ever believe himself to be vulnerable, but on the other hand, he’s been uncharacteristically quiet during the last several years’ Republican resurgence….

    As for Giuliani, I think you underestimate just how ugly his divorce was… the sniping and pettiness on both sides was legendary. If anyone wanted to keep Rudy out of the race, their best bet would be to start quietly funding his ex now… I’m sure she’d be happy to run the gossip circuit & shaft him some more if he ever makes a move for a national campaign…

  3. James Joyner says:

    legion: It was nasty enough to keep him out of the 2002 Senate contest he would in hindsight have surely won. Still, I think he’s largely innoculated from anything that happened pre-9/11 by his leadership in its aftermath. One has to be very, very careful in how one goes after perceived heroes.

  4. Andy Vance says:

    Most of the women he had �relations� with were either subordinates or otherwise in a position to be harmed by rebuffing his advances.

    You’ve got to be effing kidding me. Try Googling “Calista Bisek” and “Cristyne Lategano-Nicholas.”

  5. James Joyner says:


    I don’t have time to Google everyone to whom Clinton has ever been linked. I’m just referring to the big names that were the subject of scandals big and small during his presidential run.

  6. Jimmie says:

    This is a nothing of an article. Obviously, most voters could care less about whether a President is also an avowed adulterer or they wouldn’t have elected one in 1996.

    I’d be concerned, perhaps a little, if one of those folks were still sniffing around the women like a bull in heat, but none of them are.

    I don’t imagine that Democrats will get much traction out of this issue, as the article implies. After all, all the Republicans need to do is to recycle hundreds of thousands of Democratic quotes used to defend President Clinton and the issue goes away.

  7. jwb says:

    James Joyner: nice dodge. If you’d actually Googled the names, you would have found that Ms. Bisek was a Congressional aide whom Gingrich was banging and later married. I believe that would qualify as “subordinates or otherwise in a position to be harmed by rebuffing his advances.” Cristyne Lategano-Nicholas was sleeping with Guiliani, and was incidentally also his press secretary. A phrase comes to mind: “subordinates or otherwise in a position to be harmed by rebuffing his advances.” Yes, I believe that fits.

    Meanwhile, this blog and the rest of the media have managed to ignore the fact that a medium-level Bush official was convicted on four charges relating to Abramoff. Care to run a story on that? I can only imagine how the blogs would have gone apeshit if such a thing had happened to a Clinton official.

  8. I think this issue is bigger and smaller than you make it out to be. Can you imagine the social conservatives coming out in force for an admitted alcoholic and cocaine user? They did, twice and got the candidate elected both times. They even arguably saved his candidacy in the primary stage in South Carolina. Of course they weren’t the only group that got him elected.

    The issue is about character. W was seen to have acknowledged his past problems, gotten his past behind him so it wasn’t impacting his present, was truly repentant of what he had done. The real social conservative is very familiar with the terms forgiveness and grace (as they can understand the value of those terms in their own life).

    Just before the 2004 election (in fact during the early voting time) a liberal friend of mine and I got tired of the endless campaign debates that we knew would not change either of our minds. So instead we played a different game. We each had to come up with something that would make us not vote for Bush/Kerry. My first reason was founded on finding out that Bush had fallen off the wagon. Because that could potentially cloud his judgement to the point that a sober but misguided Kerry would be a better president than an out of control Bush (I admit it is a close call).

    Should Clinton have been impeached for getting a BJ from someone other than his wife in the oval office bathroom? No. The fact that it was a potentially coercive situation (can you say sexual harassment if any fortune 500 CEO was getting BJ’s from interns) makes it harder, but impeachment is still not right given that it seemed totally unforced (though looking at Monica of questionable taste on Bills part). Perjuring himself does rise to an impeachable offense in my books and the the way I read the words of the constitution (but to be fair, Bill just agreed to the punishment associated with perjury, he didn’t admit guilt, his guilt was never adjudicated and so he remains innocent of perjury until proved guilty).

    Now there is another standard that is lower than what justifies impeachment and that is for winning my vote. Having an affair does not show the type of character I would support for higher office.

    It shows you don’t necessarily follow up when you give your word, so why should I believe any campaign statements.

    It shows poor judgement in thinking about the short term gratification of the little head instead of thinking about the long term issues with the big head. This is not a desirable attribute.

    It shows a lack of spine to address issues with your spouse rather than try to hide the problem from your spouse with an affair.

    While I might question the moral wisdom of an admitted swinger whose spouse freely joined into the swinging lifestyle, it would indicate more character than the guy who snuck around and had an affair behind his wife’s back. Morally the swinging might be repugnant to me (and quite frankly I would think they are missing out on some great sex by going the swinging route), but at least they were willing to expose it to the light.

    I haven’t heard enough about any of these three’s private life to develop a judgement on how that private life reflects their character. I would think that Gingrich’s problem is less any affair and more that he inspires animus against him but not great passion for him (sort of like Hillary).

  9. Jimmie says:

    yetanotherjohn, you chose you candidate based on an article in the National Enquirer??

    Holy cow.

  10. floyd says:

    unfortunately, the electorate is put-off and suspicious of decency and conviction. what have you got on alan keyes?

  11. Christopher says:


    Are you really a conservative, or just faking it?

    Clinton DID NOT get impeached for getting a bj in the oval office, or for his affair with her. Where were u living during this entire episode, NYC and reading the NYT?!?

    The reason I suspect your political leanings was that this was exactly what the liberals argument against impeachment was.

  12. ICallMasICM says:

    Hard to say – you’d have a weird juxtaposition if Mrs. Clinton was the Dem candidate and Giuliani or McCain were the GOP candidate. Secondly while I don’t doubt that either of the divorces weren’t sordid enough they certainly weren’t front page news when they happened – at least in Giuliani’s case outside of NYC. To the best of my knowledge they all included relatively mature adults and not Paula Jones or Monica. Somehow I just don’t see it being a big issue especially if Mrs. Clinton is running and the MSM in full campaign mode for her.

  13. Christopher,

    I have yet to have a liberal accuse me of not being a conservative, though I have had several conservatives accuse me of not being a conservative because my logic brings me to a different than party line conclusion.

    I don’t think you read my comment very carefully.

    I’m not sure how you get from
    “Perjuring himself does rise to an impeachable offense in my books and the the way I read the words of the constitution ”


    “Clinton DID NOT get impeached for getting a bj in the oval office, or for his affair with her. Where were u living during this entire episode, NYC and reading the NYT?!?”

    I agreed that the BJ or even potentially the harassment weren’t impeachable (and he didn’t get impeached because of those), but the perjury was impeachable (which is what he got impeached on).

    Sorry, I don’t read the national enquirer, so I don’t know if any of the stuff I talked about was covered there. But yes, I do think that how someone handles things in their personal life is part of what should be considered if they are who you want to support for a public office. Maybe you think that someone who would lie to his wife should not have their honesty about public life questioned. While it is certainly not an absolute bar (you have to look at the totality of the circumstances, when it happened, etc) I think it should be in the mix.

    My key point is that saying social conservatives couldn’t support someone because they had an affair or a divorce is a rather 2 dimensional view of social conservatives. As would thinking that they would only consider “gossip” type items about a candidate.