The major headline on the Drudge Report said it all: NEWT ON TOP. Largely written off as a potential Republican candidate for president as recently as last month, Newt Gingrich has suddenly surged to the head of the pack. But do his past moral failures disqualify him from leading a party that claims to stand for strong, conservative family values?
It’s obvious that Gingrich’s rapid rise in the polls is tied to his excellent performance in the debates, just as Gov. Rick Perry’s rapid fall from the top is directly related to his poor showing. And while former Gov. Mitt Romney continues to perform well, he has not been able to convince his detractors that he is a true moral conservative. At the same time, surprise frontrunner Herman Cain has been dogged by accusations of sexual harassment.
But can you be a true moral conservative and violate your marriage vows, not once but twice? And are the accusations against Cain, even if true, any more serious than Gingrich’s affairs and divorces, with the added fact that Gingrich is now married to the woman with whom he committed adultery? (This was also the case with his second wife.) Or do glaring moral failures such as these have little or nothing to do with his ability to lead the nation? (After all, Ronald Reagan was divorced and remarried too, albeit only once.) Or has Gingrich learned from the error of his ways and emerged a better man?
On the positive side, Gingrich is a political statesman with vast experience and knowledge, a man who could easily dominate President Obama in a debate. In the current campaign, he has not waffled in his positions, he has not put his foot in his mouth, he has focused attention on defeating Obama rather than sniping at his Republican opponents, and he has been quick to call out the media for its all too obvious bias. And for years, he has consistently pointed to the importance of faith and has spoken without apology about the need to recover our Judeo-Christian heritage.
On the negative side, the man who helped craft DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, has been married three times, leading to the very relevant question, Which is more destructive to the institution of marriage, heterosexual adultery and divorce or homosexual unions? We should also remember that while Gingrich was leading the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton he was committing adultery. This is not simply a moral failure but one that speaks of real hypocrisy, not to mention that all adulterous affairs involve deceit and disloyalty.
On the other hand, rather than defending or denying his past transgressions, Gingrich has acknowledged and renounced them. Considering that the great majority of potential Gingrich voters will be professing Christians, should they extend him forgiveness? Or is forgiveness granted but trust earned?
In a 2007 radio interview with Dr. James Dobson, Gingrich said, “There were times when I was praying and when I felt I was doing things that were wrong. But I was still doing them. I look back on those as periods of weakness and periods that I'm not only not proud of, but I would deeply urge my children and grandchildren not to follow in my footsteps.”
Has Gingrich learned from the error of his ways, gotten to the roots of his destructive behavior, and moved forward as a loyal husband and devoted father and grandfather, worthy of serving as the leader of our nation? Or can we put our confidence in someone who engaged in such immoral and hypocritical acts in the past? Or is this whole discussion completely irrelevant?
As one of my Facebook friends asked, “Are we electing a president or appointing a church elder?” After all, many Americans are far more concerned with the economy and foreign policy than with the private lives of their presidents, and it can be argued that you can be a good family man and a lousy president or a lousy family man and a good president.
I personally believe in the power of forgiveness and the potential of redemption and restoration, and, in many ways, I hold Newt Gingrich in the highest regard. At the same time, I have serious concerns.
What about you? Would you vote for him as president?
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.
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