Advancing a Free Society

Closing the Gender Gap: Not Newt’s Strong Suit

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The headlines of the past week have provided a bit of good news to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Gingrich, whose campaign was written off for dead when his campaign staff resigned this past summer has surged in the polls. According to a just-released CNN national poll, Gingrich is essentially tied with Mitt Romney in the race for the GOP presidential nomination.

The good news for Newt is very bad news for Republicans. Why? Simply put—Newt Gingrich is like political kryptonite to women. And a 2012 Republican nominee who can’t close the gender gap all but guarantees that President Barack Obama will win another term in the White House.

There is no doubt that Newt Gingrich is one of the brightest figures in the GOP. His impressive intellect has been showcased during each of the Republican Presidential debates. But Gingrich is not running for Dean of the Republican Party. He’s running to be the Party’s nominee—someone who can compete across the country with Mr. Obama for the votes of women.

One topic that will unlikely be addressed openly during the debates or the primary season is the soap opera that is Newt Gingrich’s life. Gingrich's first wife was his high school math teacher, seven years his senior. While she was in the hospital recovering from uterine cancer surgery, the first-term Congressman tried to discuss divorce terms with her. She promptly threw him out of her hospital room.

A few months after Gingrich’s divorce was finalized in 1981, he married wife number two. Wife number two was replaced by his current wife, Callista (a House committee staffer, 23 years his junior, with whom he had an extra-marital affair) in 2000. In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network earlier this year, Gingrich addressed his past infidelities by saying, "There's no question at times in my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate." That excuse – “I was just screwing around --behind my wife’s back-- because I love my country so much”—is not going to win Mr. Gingrich any fans among the religious right. And it’s not exactly the type of character that will find a sympathetic audience among women.

The baggage that Gingrich brings to the table has not gone unnoticed. Fliers are now being distributed in Iowa by evangelicals that raise the issue of adultery during his first and second marriages. "Is Nothing Sacred to Newt?" asks the flier, circulated by a group called Iowans for Christian Leadership in Government. The flier concludes with, "If Newt Gingrich can't be faithful to his wife, how can we trust him to be faithful to conservative voters?"

Republican House Members still feel a kinship to Newt—because of his leading role in the Republican Revolution of 1994. But they don’t see the Presidency in Gingrich’s future. As one prominent Republican recently told me on background, “I love Newt. But women see Newt and they see a serial cheater. He would be a very tough sell with women voters.”

If Republican voters are looking for a great thinker, a competent debater and an intellectual heavyweight to take on President Obama, they need look no further than Newt Gingrich. But if they also want to beat Obama in 2012, Newt Gingrich is a guaranteed loser for the Party next November.

In 2008, 56 percent of women voted for Barack Obama; 43 percent of women voted for John McCain. Does anybody really think the thrice-married, serial cheating Newt Gingrich can make inroads in winning over this critical demographic group?