Ken Connor

"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." No doubt this truism was at the top of Newt Gingrich's mind as he responded to John King's lead off question in the CNN Republican debate in South Carolina last week.

Mary Ann Gingrich, the second ex-wife of thrice married Newt, alleged in an interview with ABC News that the former Speaker of the House asked her for an "open marriage" when his affair with then aide and now third wife Calista Bisek was discovered. Rush Limbaugh, himself on marriage number four, came to Newt's defense, contrasting his alleged behavior with that of Bill Clinton by pointing out that Gingrich "at least had the politeness to ask for permission." Limbaugh's quip aside, King no doubt thought he had Newt in a difficult spot and was expecting to see the former Speaker squirm.

But the ever nimble Newt turned the tables on King and managed to turn political lemons into electoral lemonade by going on offense. Flatly denying the accusations, Gingrich exploded with indignation, calling the question "despicable," "vicious," and "appalling." The audience roared with approval, booed John King, and gave Newt a standing ovation. The scene was reminiscent of the recent exchange between Gingrich and Juan Williams, who during a Fox News debate drew the crowd's disapproval when he suggested that the candidate's comments about food stamps and the work ethic of inner-city kids was belittling to racial minorities and the poor. Once again, Gingrich turned the tables on his interlocutor, responding that while politically incorrect facts might be unpopular, President Obama has put more Americans on food stamps than any other president, and that he believes offering employment opportunities like janitorial work (his daughter Jackie's first job) to at-risk kids would teach them important lessons about the value of a day's work and lower their risk of dropping out of school. The crowd roared its approval.

Gingrich has often complained of "gotcha journalism," in which the media is more interested in asking questions designed to embarrass the candidate rather than elicit information or illumination. George Stephanopoulos recently attempted to back Mitt Romney into this kind of corner with a question concerning the constitutionality of the Griswold v. Connecticut Supreme Court ruling, apparently in an attempt to paint Romney as anti-contraception. As with King and Williams, this strategy backfired, Stephanopoulos drew boos, and Romney emerged unscathed.


Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.