An Alternative View on Gingrich’s Debate ‘Win’

I can't be the only one who cringed at his applause line: "To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary a significant question in a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine."

While I largely agree with the conventional wisdom expressed in Doug Mataconis’ declaration that Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina debate by grandstanding against the liberal media, I wonder how much of that is the fact that he was pandering to a raucous crowd sympathetic to that attack? Granting that I find Gingrich to be a despicable human being and am therefore predisposed to reject his arguments, I can’t be the only one who cringed at his applause line:

To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary a significant question in a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.

Well, I’d say carrying on an adulterous affair with one of your employees while simultaneously leading an impeachment campaign against the president of the United States for lying about getting oral sex from one of his employees might be just a wee bit closer.

To be sure, it’s quite possible that South Carolina Republicans have already factored in Gingrich’s sleazy past, is willing to forgive him for it, and thinks he better represents their values than a flip-flopping Massachusetts moderate. Even one who has had only one wife and one religion to Gingrich’s three.

But I’m betting quite a number of undecided voters–including a significant number of Republican women–disagree.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Quick Takes, US Politics,
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.

Comments

  1. gawaine says:

    OK, I don’t like Gingerich, but there’s a big difference between committing perjury (a crime) when being investigated for another crime, and committing adultery.

    One makes you a criminal, the other a bad human being.

    While neither attribute is ideal in a president, they’re not the same.

  2. Peacewood says:

    James, you say that Newt’s performance was inflated by playing the crowd — in other words, by being raucous, inflammatory, and belligerent. I’m actually inclined to agree with you, on this one.

    The thing is, in which state from here on out is it a bad idea to be raucous, etc. before a Republican crowd? New York and California, maybe. Certainly not anywhere else in the South or Southwest, possibly not even the Midwest.

    Given that, Newt’s performance can probably fairly described as normative rather than an aberration.

  3. MM says:

    @gawaine: True that perjury is illegal while adultery (typically) is not, though that’s not how the impeachment process was portrayed to the public. The “it wasn’t about the sex, it was about the lying” defense came after the “he literally soiled the oval office ” and “how can I be expected to explain oral sex to my [insert adorable cute innocent age here ] child?” arguments.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @gawaine: Yes, but we’re talking about conduct that’s “despicable,” not what’s legal. I’d argue Gingrich’s conduct was more despicable, even if legal. Indeed, Clinton is still married to his first wife!

    Further, it’s not as if Gingrich reluctantly went after Clinton for breaking the law; he was an enthusiastic moralist, even on matters of sex.

  5. OldSouth says:

    The issue before Congress in the impeachment was Clinton’s perjury and abuse of power, over several subjects including the Whitewater scandal. Clinton also spent his time and energy while in the office of President embroiling himself in utterly irresponsible behaviors, e.g. pursuing affairs with subordinates many years his junior and then attempting to destroy the lives of any who dared reveal the misbehavior.

    The oral sex in the Oval Office bathroom, and the subsequent blatant public denials that tore at the fabric of the Presidency itself, was really a bit of a sideshow. More chilling was the revelation the rape of Juanita Broaddrick and its cover-up that came to light in the midst of it all.

    None of this to excuse Gingrich’s affair during these days. He was simply in the wrong to engage in that behavior, full stop.

    Still, one must wonder, why was Bill Clinton forgiven all by the Democrats and is now lionized, and Gingrich is now considered fair game and fresh meat all these years later, with much mock indignation displayed.

    Gingrich has been, apparently, happily married for the past eighteen years, and enjoys a happy relationship with his adult children. This is usually indicative of the acquisition of some maturity.

    Given the fact that his ex-wife, from whom he was divorced over eighteen years ago, is still eagerly wielding the sword of vengeance at any opportunity, might that not support the notion that Mr. Gingrich was wise to part company with her, while he still could? Has no one asked the simple question: Perhaps she was a terrible person, a misery to live with?

    I don’t plan to support Mr. Gingrich in my state’s upcoming primary. I am, however, much more appalled at the behavior of ABC and Stephanapolous (Bill Clinton’s eager shill in the 1990s) in 2012 than at Mr. Gingrich of the mid-1990’s. He appears to have grown up a bit. His ex-wife has continued to deteriorate, and the press has turned even more blatantly corrupt–something I thought couldn’t happen, as I assumed they had already hit bottom. Silly me.

  6. Eric says:

    While Gingrich is a douche, he did have a rather small point with “[t]o take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary a significant question in a presidential campaign.” This directly fed to a soundbite he can use against the liberal media being against him and that he appears he has lots of fight in him.

    And his view on his ex-wife’s tell all confession? Well, c’mon. He did compare himself with almost every single important person in history.

  7. MBunge says:

    “Well, I’d say carrying on an adulterous affair with one of your employees while simultaneously leading an impeachment campaign against the president of the United States for lying about getting oral sex from one of his employees might be just a wee bit closer.”

    Hypocrisy is the most adolescent of sins.

    Let’s review the Clinton/Gingrich comparison.

    Newt was having an affair with a woman he ended up marrying. Clinton was sexually exploiting an intern young enough to be his daughter and then discarded her.

    Other than betraying his wife, I don’t believe anyone has ever accused Newt of any other legal or ethical violations regarding his affair. The list of ethical violations surrounding Clinton’s behavior is extensive and culminates in an actual crime.

    Gingrich’s personal failings were almost entirely kept personal and out of the public’s business. Clinton…well, you know.

    This isn’t to excuse Newt’s infidelities or his arrogance or even his hypocrisy. But the vitriol directed at Gingrich over this matter is weirdly out-of-proportion given the utter lack of blame still publicly attached to Bill Clinton. It would be one thing to bring it up if Newt were in the midst of some diatribe on the sanctity of marriage, but it’s not limited to that context.

    Or to put it another way, there’s something very illustrative in how political elites are more pissed off with Newt’s hypocrisy than they are with criminal behavior by a U.S. President.

    Mike

  8. jib says:

    This is true for the whole debates. Almost 40% of SC is black and Hispanic. It does not matter in a repub primary but it will in the general. If repubs insist on out doing each other as the great white hope and lose all those votes then as little as 18% of whites vote for Obama puts SC is in play.

    This is true all across the south and southwest. It is why the difference between Obama losing or winning in an electoral college landslide is closer than most people realize.

  9. James Joyner says:

    @MBunge: I believed and believe that Clinton should have been removed from office for his crimes and that he was morally unfit to be president to boot. I believe Gingrich should face no criminal penalty, having committed no crimes in relation to his affairs, but ought face public opprobrium for his actions and is likewise morally unfit to be president.

    Apart from his infidelities and hypocrisy, Gingrich was also a serial violator of congressional ethics rules that he himself championed and used to oust Democratic leaders.

  10. MBunge says:

    @James Joyner: But would you not agree that, in general, Newt has become the depository of most of the Beltway Elite’s unresolved shame and anger over the whole Clinton Impeachment? They don’t blame Bill and they don’t blame themselves but they sure as shootin’ blame Newt.

    Mike

  11. Rick Almeida says:

    @MBunge:

    Gingrich’s personal failings were almost entirely kept personal and out of the public’s business.

    Except for being the only Speaker of the House to be sanctioned by the House Ethics Committee – while the House was controlled by the Republicans.

  12. michael reynolds says:

    Clinton was let off the hook by the asinine overreach of the coup attempt . . . er, Impeachment. It’s seen that he paid too high a price and is thus absolved. Further it was made explicitly partisan. What’s happening with Gingrich is intra-party.

  13. MBunge says:

    @Rick Almeida: “Except for being the only Speaker of the House to be sanctioned by the House Ethics Committee – while the House was controlled by the Republicans.”

    And had WHAT to do with Newt’s affair?

    Mike

  14. mantis says:

    I agree that James must answer Mike’s expert psychological analysis of the unnamed “Beltway Elite.”

    But seriously, if you believe that attention is being paid to Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s serial philandering and his despicable treatment of his ex-wives because “Beltway Elites” feel guilty that Bill Clinton wasn’t impeached 13 years ago, you are a rather silly person.

    “Beltway Elites” (assuming you mean the Washington press corps) feel no shame, are constantly looking for a new shiny object to obsess over, and are attracted to any scandal, especially involving sex, like moths to a flame. One need not engage is ridiculous Psych 101 analyses to understand their behavior.

    One also wonders what Mike’s explanation would be for all of the people talking about this who were not “Beltway Elites” in the late 1990s. Are they also motivated by shame for not impeaching President Clinton? For instance, is Dave Weigel of Slate, who was 18 years old and in college when Clinton was impeached, motivated by shame for his beltway elitism in the 1990s when he writes about Gingrich?

  15. Clinton also spent his time and energy while in the office of President embroiling himself in utterly irresponsible behaviors, e.g. pursuing affairs with subordinates many years his junior and then attempting to destroy the lives of any who dared reveal the misbehavior.

    I’ve often thought that unrecognized irony ought to be a toxic substance, so that we would occasionally get to hear stories of people being rushed to the hospital to be treated for irony poisoning.

  16. MBunge says:

    @michael reynolds: “Clinton was let off the hook by the asinine overreach of the coup attempt . . . er, Impeachment.”

    Sigh.

    I guess I just have to resign myself to having to fight this Clinton impeachment myth for the rest of my life.

    In any above-board corporation in this world, a credible allegation that the married CEO is boinking an intern would be investigated. In some businesses, the boinking would be enough to cost the CEO their job. In others, the matter might be hushed up or swept under the rug. However, some kind of investigation would occur. It might be formal or informal but it would happen. If in the course of that investigation the CEO not only lied to the investigators, his board of directors, executive staff and shareholders but utilized every ounce of corporate authority he possessed to sustain those lies and obstruct the investigation, the CEO would lose their job every single time. No business would or could tolerate that sort of behavior. The idea that Bill Clinton was not at least equally responsible for his impeachment is a poisonous one.

    Or to put it another way, the public eventually didn’t care about Bill Clinton’s misdeeds because they swallowed the argument that it didn’t affect their lives. You know what else the public doesn’t care about because they don’t believe it affects their lives? That the U.S. government tortured people and members of the previous Presidential administration may very well be war criminals.

    Mike

  17. MsJoanne says:

    @MBunge:

    So, Newt having an affair and marrying his tart is better than Clinton having an affair and staying married? And let’s not forget, Newt did the same thing to his first wife with his second wife before going on and doing his third wife while still being married to his second wife. But as long as he married his next little missie, all is well? That’s some twisted righteousness you have there.

    But that’s ok by you because Newt’s squeaky clean other than those few indiscretions, uhm, except for that ethics sanctioning thingie…and basically being run out of Washington by his own party.

    It seems to me that you hate Democrats to the point of twisting any values you might have.

  18. CB says:

    @MBunge:

    nicely put.

  19. MBunge says:

    @mantis: “For instance, is Dave Weigel of Slate, who was 18 years old and in college when Clinton was impeached, motivated by shame for his beltway elitism in the 1990s when he writes about Gingrich?”

    Does he treat Gingrich differently than he does Clinton? If not, then I’d say he’s free of the charge that he’s internalized the social and culture mores of the Beltway Elite on the issue. If he has nothing but disdain for Gingrich over his 90s actions and considers them completely relevant to today, yet treats Clinton’s actions of that decade in a different way, then I’d say he’s adopted the standards of the community of which he has become a part.

    Mike

  20. michael reynolds says:

    @MBunge:
    Bill Clinton was not a CEO. The matter at hand was not a policy set by a board of directors but the will of the American voters who had first elected Bill Clinton, and then made it quite clear that they did not want the GOP to evict him from office. He left office with sky high approval ratings.

    Businesses are not democracies. We elected Mr. Clinton. We did not want the GOP un-electing him. Period.

  21. PJ says:

    1. David Vitter received 87.6% in the 2010 Republican primary for his Louisiana Senate seat. He then got 56.56% in the general election.
    Value voters really don’t care about values. They won’t care enough about Newt cheating.

    2. Republicans trust Fox News and nothing else. Fox News got (73/17, +56), ABC News, that ran the interview, on the other hand got (14/70, -56). (PBS -30, CNN -49, MSNBC -51, CBS -54, Comedy Central -59)
    It’s a cultist echo chamber. If the reporting isn’t done by Fox News, just rant on about how the MSM is after you and you will most likely actually gain from it, because if the liberal media is after you then you must do something right and it wants to bring you down.
    If Fox News does the reporting, then I guess it’s over. (Which is why the Murdoch primary is all that counts.)

  22. One thing to watch coming out of South Carolina will be the exit polling and how big the gender gap between Gingrich and Romney turns out to be. In all the polling I’m seeing Gingrich is doing absolutely horribly among Republican woman, lord only knows how bad he’s doing among women who consider themselves independents.

  23. PJ says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    In all the polling I’m seeing Gingrich is doing absolutely horribly among Republican woman, lord only knows how bad he’s doing among women who consider themselves independents.

    I’m not seeing that.

    The latest PPP poll has Gingrich losing Republican women (31-32).
    Insider Advantage has Gingrich losing women (32.7-29), but that poll also includes Democrats and Independents (Gingrich is winning Democrats (46.8-28.4) …)
    ARG has Gingrich winning women (29-28).
    All of them are within the margin of error.

  24. @PJ:

    Marist’s latest poll of South Carolina has Romney winning women 39% to 21% for Gingrich

    CNN/ORC’s latest poll of South Carolina has Romney winning women 34% to 16% for Gingrich

    CNN/ORC’s latest poll of Florida has Romney winning women 44% to 16% for Gingrich

    Those are the three most recent I could find crosstabs for and all three came out before the Marianne Gingrich interview

  25. PD Shaw says:

    As someone with favorable views of both Clinton and Gingrich as two of the most talented politicians of the 90s, I cannot overlook the tragic flaws and gross narcissism of both. I really don’t want either of them front and center of American politics in this century. And this insistence on establishing some moral equivalency in reacting to both is a large part of it.

    I don’t want to go back there. I don’t want to keep re-examining how stupid Clinton was versus how stupid the Republican Congress was ad infinitum; its Hell.

  26. PJ says:

    @Doug Mataconis: The three polls I’ve cited, PPP (Jan 18-19), InsiderAdvantage (Jan 18), and ARG (Jan 17-18), are all more recent than Marist (Jan 16-17) and CNN/Time/ORC (Jan 13-17). So it looks like women are returning to Gingrich rather than leaving him.

  27. Scott O. says:

    @MBunge:
    Let’s review the Clinton/Gingrich comparison.

    Newt was having an affair, which led to his 2nd divorce, with a woman congressional staffer 3 years younger than his oldest daughter. Subsequently, he ended up marrying the young lady.. Clinton was sexually exploiting had a brief affair with an intern young enough to be 7 years older than his daughter and then discarded her.

    FIFY

  28. PJ says:

    To add:
    The CNN/Time/ORC Florida poll has Romney 43-18 overall, so women 44-17 doesn’t show a gender gap.
    Since South Carolina is an open primary, the South Carolina polls are of likely voters in the Republican primary, not of Republican likely voters, so none of them really can be used to measure Gingrich’s support among Republican women, and I doubt that there will be a Republican women subgroup in the crosstabs from the exit poll.

  29. MarkedMan says:

    This is just further proof that for the vast majority (but not all: see James Joyner) of so called values conservatives, their constant refrain that private actions should be used to judge public worth is just so much bunkum (Ed. Note: a sadly underused word). As long as you are on their team their is virtually nothing you could do that would cause them to turn against you. Provided, of course, that after any moral failing you click your heels together and say “Jesus” three times.

  30. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan: Amusingly, I’m a value conservative and radically non-religious.

  31. An Interested Party says:

    It is impossible to erase the putrid sleaze that drips off of Gingrich, no matter how much anyone wants to compare him to Clinton…speaking of comparisons, who could have ever guessed that adultery would be compared to torture and war crimes…

  32. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner: Hence my “Vast Majority” dodge. And of course I specifically exempted you. But fair enough: I have no real reason to believe that most , let aline the vast majority, of values voters let all sinners slide so long as they invoke Jesus whenever they are caught. It seems like an overwhelming number to me, but on the other hand they annoy me mightily, and our minds often seem to magnify the annoyances.

  33. The really bizarre thing is that people who on Monday declare themselves a values party, will say on Wednesday that “Clinton made cheating OK.”

    There’s not too much internal consistency in that. I mean, they are Clintonistas now?

  34. PJ says:

    @Doug Mataconis: The first poll which includes polling done after the interviewed aired is now out. PPP (Jan 18-20) has Gingrich leading women (34-29), that’s +3 for Gingrich and -3 for Romney compared to PPP (Jan 18-19) (31-32). In the same poll, Gingrich is leading men (39-29), and the difference between genders isn’t within the margin of error (2.5), so there’s a gender gap, but it’s really small. And since South Carolina is an open primary, that gender gap may very well be due to Democrats and Independents.

  35. @PJ:

    Polls that are done by live interviews rather than the punch-numbers-on-your-phone method that PPP uses show very different results, and consistently so.

  36. PJ says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Compared to their earlier polls Gingrich is gaining, and he is gaining among women.

    But, in the end, we’ll have the only numbers that count later tonight.

  37. PJ, again, there is a marked difference on this and other numbers between live interview polls and PPP’s use-your-telephone-keypad-to-answer-poll-questions method. We’ll see tonight what the truth is, but there is far more evidence in favor of the hypothesis that Gingrich has a gender gap problem than there is against it.

  38. PJ says:

    @Doug Mataconis: @Doug Mataconis: I’m comparing the previous PPP polls to the latest PPP poll. And the polling on the 20th show that Gingrich is gaining among women.

    Also, I’m not sure why a poll using the telephone keypad would introduce bias to gender.

  39. @PJ:

    Not bias so much as less accurate responses

  40. PJ says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    ARG has released a new poll.

    600 telephone interviews, Jan 19-20.
    Margin of error +/- 4%.

    Gingrich leads Romney (40-26), last poll (33-32).
    Gingrich leads Romney among men (38-25).
    Gingrich leads Romney among women (42-26).

    The difference between genders are within the margin of error.

  41. PJ,

    ARG’s polling has been wildly off base for a long time, which is one reason that RCP does not include them in its poll averages

  42. grumpy realist says:

    I think the different reaction to Clinton and Gingrich does have to do with the overreach by the Republicans. The impeachment was so over the top; the Republicans were obviously slavering at the mouth to accuse Clinton of everything up to and including kicking the family cat, with the result that the rest of the country said”ok, whoa, this has gone really overboard.” If Hillary had gone postal on her husband’s ass and dragged out the whole affair through the divorce courts, it probably would have had far more staying power. And remember, Clinton never ran around on a platform screeching about public morality.

    Gingrinch, on the other hand, is running for President NOW, and has such an air of sanctimonious hypocrisy that probably 98% of right-thinging women and 97% of right-thinking men want to brain him with something. I know I do myself. Americans are pretty well “let bygones be bygones”, but when you set yourself up as a pompous moralizing blowhard you just invite people to start taking potshots at your own slips. I don’t care how intelligent Newt is. I do care that he has never indicated any indication of taking responsibility for any of his actions, of humility, of having the empathy and grace of saying “I was wrong, I hurt my wives very badly and I should not hold other people to a higher standard than I hold myself.”

  43. PJ says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    The SC exit poll has Gingrich winning men (41-27) and women (36-30).
    The last PPP (based on 3 days of polling where things changed a lot towards the end) poll had Gingrich leading men (39-29) and women (34-29), that’s pretty close to the actual results.

    A gender gap, that’s most likely is outside of the margin of error, but nowhere near the gap from the CNN/ORC or Marist polls (where Romney lead women).

  44. doubter4444 says:

    @grumpy realist:
    Agreed.
    To The M. Bunges and OldSouth (an appropriately ironic name for this thread), I do wonder how old you are now – or rather were then.
    I lived through it as an career aged adult, and remember the details. And it was not about “the perjury” – it was about the sex.
    It was about Whitewater, which they could not prove.
    It was travel-gate, which was nothing.
    It was about Vince Foster, it was about ANYTHING the Republicans could do to destroy the Clintons.
    Remember – if you want -the the investigation was initially started about Foster, then expanded and expended and expended to the point where the public (rightly in my opinion) thought the investigation was existed solely to dig up something, anything on the president.
    And it pissed off the leaders of the movement (sterling characters such as Gingrich and Delay and others) that as they over reached, he seemed less and less assailable.
    Even Ken Starr finally admitted that it was a witch hunt.
    One that wasted over 70 million dollars on… perjury for trying to weasel out of getting caught with an intern. Again, during which the leader for the right was doing having an affair – WITH A STAFFER (as mentioned up thread).

    Everyone is entitled to opinions, for sure, and MBunge and OldSouth are free to harken back to the halcyon days of the Clintons. But the whole “it was the perjury” is pretty much a crock, so defending Newts behavior while condemning Clintons is not only dredging up really old news, it’s also a pretty flawed analogy.
    At least James I get – he thinks they both were despicable, and that’s fine. But to support Gingrich while vilifying Clinton is a joke.