CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Newt Gingrich, seeking to maintain his momentum, tapped back into the deep reservoir of resentment in American conservatism Thursday night by lecturing a debate moderator for the second time this week.
It was another explosive moment to cap the most eventful day of the Republican primary season. Iowa's Republican party kicked off the day announcing that former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa) had won the Jan. 3 caucuses, instead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Texas Gov. Rick Perry withdrew from the race and endorsed Gingrich. And then it emerged that Gingrich's former wife, Marianne Gingrich, was accusing the former House speaker of asking her to take part in an "open marriage" to allow him to keep a mistress.
CNN's John King, Thursday's debate moderator, chose to ask Gingrich about his ex-wife with his very first question of the night, setting off a volcanic reaction from the Georgia Republican. Gingrich fixed King with a vicious glare and chastised him like a boarding school headmaster reproving a wayward student.
"I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office," Gingrich said. "And I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that."
Just as happened in Monday's debate in Myrtle Beach, when Gingrich went after welfare recipients and big government, the crowd in the debate hall rose and gave Gingrich a standing ovation. But Gingrich was not finished speaking, fully aware that he had been given an opportunity to increase the momentum that his explosive comments on Monday bestowed on his candidacy.
"Every person in here knows personal pain. Every person in here has had someone close to them go through painful things," Gingrich said. "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.
"I am, frankly, astounded that CNN would take trash like that and use it to open a presidential debate," he said.
King was on his heels, and protested weakly that CNN had not been the first to report the story. That just opened the door wider for Gingrich.
"John, it was repeated by your network," replied Gingrich, visibly upset. "You chose to start the debate with it. Don't try to blame somebody else. You and your staff chose to start the debate with it."
Mid-lecture, Gingrich did actually address the accusation itself: "The story is false. Every personal friend I have who knew us in that period says the story was false," he said.
But then Gingrich went back to hitting the media, saying that ABC News didn't quote his friends because "they would like to attack any Republican."
"I'm tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans," Gingrich concluded, drawing more enthusiastic cheers inside the hall.
One of Gingrich's top backers in the state, Katon Dawson, derided Gingrich's ex-wife afterwards: "Marianne's been out there doing this for years," Dawson said.
Earlier in the day, Gingrich refused to even engage the issue, telling reporters he would not answer questions about it.
"I'm not going to say anything about Marianne ... I'm not getting involved," he said, adding that his daughters were willing to talk to the press about the issue.
Gingrich's two daughters, Kathy Lubbers and Jackie Cushman, told ABC News that their father had assured them that Marianne's accusations were false.
"We spoke with him about that, Brian, and he said it's simply not true," Lubbers told ABC. "The truth is our father and Marianne had a difficult marriage. They had a difficult divorce. ... The American people have moved on. Our father has moved on.
In the debate, it was CNN's decision to go with the "open marriage" question off the bat that gave Gingrich an easy out to hit them for having misplaced priorities and an outsized focus on the sensational.
Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) agreed with Gingrich's critique. Paul campaign chairman Jesse Benton said that "opening the CNN debate tonight with questions about the former speaker's personal life is highly inappropriate given the many serious issues this country faces."
But Benton, in a statement, said that Paul takes issue with "Gingrich's attacks on capitalism, the money he took from Freddie Mac and his support for TARP and the individual healthcare mandate."
"Our problem with Newt Gingrich is not that he lied to his wife, but that he lied to the American people," Benton said.
ABC was set to air the full interview with Marianne Gingrich late on Thursday after the debate concluded. As a result, Gingrich's messy personal past will continue to be a focus the day before the primary and into the weekend.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said that while Christian voters believe in forgiveness and redemption, the revelations about Gingrich's second divorce were of concern.
"As more of this comes out it's troubling," Perkins said.
But Randy Brinson, an evangelical organizer and founder of Redeem the Vote, said that his group has a list of 1.4 million South Carolina voters and was seeing a big move toward Gingrich among that constituency.
The Marianne Gingrich story "may backfire," Brinson said.
Romney's top aides were mum in the spin room after the debate. "I'm not going to touch it," adviser Stuart Stevens said when asked about the "open marriage" question and Gingrich's response.
"I'm not going to make any comment," said former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.), who spent 20 minutes on a conference call this week bashing Gingrich's leadership in the House.
Privately, Romney aides were confident that while Gingrich got another standing ovation, his lashing out at King would hurt him.
One Romney adviser told The Huffington Post during the debate that Gingrich's comments were "good inside the hall, but will not work on Main Street, and main line churches."
And Austin Barbour, one of Romney's national finance chairmen, said that "a candidate's personal background should and is considered by voters."
"Personal principles matter to voters. Don't attack the moderator for trying to let the voters hear your response on issues that matter to voters," Barbour told HuffPost.
Another veteran Republican consultant in Washington called Gingrich's rebuke of King "very strong," but still predicted that "he comes up short in [South Carolina] and finishes number two."
Polls have shown Gingrich rapidly erasing Romney's double-digit lead over the past few days, and the race here looks like it will indeed come down to the wire. A CNN poll released late Thursday, however, showed Romney maintaining a 10-point lead, with 33 percent, compared with Gingrich's 23 percent.
Romney performed well in the debate, as he usually does, but again took some hits over his income tax returns. Gingrich's campaign released their candidate's returns at the beginning of the debate, guaranteeing that it would come up. And Romney said he will release his in April, the first time he has definitively said so.
"I'll release my returns in April, and probably for others years as well," Romney said.
King pressed Romney on why he wouldn't release past returns before the Saturday primary. When Romney equivocated, there were scattered boos in the audience.
Gingrich did not go unscathed. Santorum made the same argument against Gingrich that the Romney campaign has been making the past two days -- that Gingrich is too volatile and too undisciplined to be president.
"Grandiosity has never been a problem with Newt Gingrich, he handles it very, very well," Santorum said. "And that's really one of the issues here, folks. A month ago he was saying, 'It's inevitable that I'm going to win the election, I'm destined to do it.' I don't want a nominee that I have to worry about going out and getting the picture the next day and I have to worry about what he's going to say next. That's what I think we're seeing here.
"Newt's a friend, I love him, but at times you've just got, you know, sort of that worrisome moment that something's going to pop. We can't afford that in a nominee," Santorum said.
Gingrich responded by embracing Santorum's critique.
"You're right. I think grandiose thoughts," Gingrich said. "This is a grandiose country of big people doing big things. And we need leadership prepared to take on big projects."
The Romney campaign immediately sent out a research document titled, "I think grandiose thoughts." It chronicled Gingrich's past comparisons of himself to historical figures, including Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Henry Clay, Charles de Gaulle, William Wallace, Pericles, the Duke of Wellington, Thomas Edison, Vince Lombardi, the Wright Brothers, and Moses.
Elise Foley contributed to this report.
Background on Newt Gingrich's campaign:
Speaking the day before the Delaware primary, Gingrich hinted he was considering ending his presidential run: "I think we need to take a deep look at what we are doing," Gingrich said in an interview with NBC News during a campaign stop in Delaware. "We will be in North Carolina tomorrow night and we will look and see what the results are." According to NBC, the former House speaker said he would need to "reassess" based on the results of Tuesday's primary in Delaware, a state where Gingrich has spent a great deal of time campaigning in recent weeks. Gingrich indicated that the state's 17 delegates were crucial to his viability as a candidate.
"The money is very tight, obviously," Newt Gingrich admitted about his struggling campaign after laying off about a third of his staff, including his campaign manager. Gingrich is trying new ways to raise money, including charging supporters $50 to take a photo with him.
Another week, another major loss for Gingrich. Although he largely bypassed campaigning in Illinois, instead spending primary day in Louisiana, his numbers at the end of the night were remarkably poor. Gingrich finished in fourth place, behind the also-struggling Ron Paul. Unsurprisingly, Gingrich maintained he had no intention of leaving the race. He continued to question Mitt Romney's conservative bonafides, tweeting on primary night that there was "still time for a conservative."
Newt Gingrich has said that there's probably no circumstance that would lead him to leave the race before the convention, quoting a passage from the Bible. Not all of his delegates, however, are making the same comittment - several have switched over to rival Rick Santorum.
Gingrich's campaign was hurt by losses to Rick Santorum in Alabama and Mississippi, states he'd predicted he would win. But Gingrich has insisted that he'll remain in the race and take down Mitt Romney, perhaps by partnering with Rick Santorum. Elise Foley reports: He came nowhere close to counting himself out, but Gingrich spent significant time during his speech, and on Fox News later, discussing how his remaining in the race could hurt Romney -- barely going after Santorum and instead talking about how they could work together to hurt the "Massachusetts moderate." Later, a senior Gingrich adviser floated the idea of a Santorum-Gingrich ticket, suggesting the campaign may be weaker than aides let on.
Gingrich won his home state of Georgia on Super Tuesday, but saw a weak finish in the other contests that day. The candidate's path to victory, or at the least staying in the race, now hangs on the South. Gingrich's Southern Strategy is to double down on Alabama and Mississippi, and abandon campaign efforts in other states. However the Southern primaries might not be the last chance for the former House Speaker. From the AP: Even a poor showing next week may not force Gingrich out of the race. Much could depend on whether billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who has contributed millions to a political action committee backing Gingrich, writes yet another check.
On Super Tuesday, Newt Gingrich is hoping to revive his campaign with a win in his home state of Georgia. Georgia has 76 delegates up for grabs, the most of any Super Tuesday state.
Reversing early statements, Newt Gingrich's staff announced that he wouldn't campaign in Michigan. Instead, Gingrich is pinning his hopes - and his campaign - on Super Tuesday states including Oklahoma. But the campaign's funding - and Gingrich's own financial issues - have come under increasing scrutiny, HuffPost's Christina Wilkie reports: Gingrich's presidential campaign is basically broke. The latest financial disclosure reports show that his campaign closed out the month of January with $1.73 million in debt and a scant $1.79 million in cash on hand, just enough to cover expenses that included private jets and unusually large personal reimbursements. The highly publicized injection of more than $11 million from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson into a super PAC backing Gingrich's campaign has fueled the perception that Gingrich is flush, but Adelson's money won't keep the lights on at campaign headquarters. Instead of withdrawing from the race, as candidates typically do when they run out of money, Gingrich has barreled ahead. In the past month, he has hired additional staff, made costly trips to California and Arizona, and scheduled a week's worth of campaign appearances in Tennessee and his home state of Georgia ahead of the March 6 Super Tuesday primaries.
Facing a loss of momentum in his campaign, Newt Gingrich delivered a fiery speech at the 2012 CPAC, The Huffington Post's Jon Ward reports: It was the same laundry list of topics and to-do's that have characterized Gingrich's speeches after primary contests. He gave similar remarks after his South Carolina win and after his Florida loss. Its thematic core was that he is a "mortal threat" to the establishment. An establishment candidate cannot win the general election, Gingrich said, because "they don't have the toughness, they don't have the commitment and they don't have the philosophy necessary." "We intend to change Washington, not accommodate it," he said.
Newt Gingrich's campaign didn't get any breaks when three states went to the polls on Feb. 7. He finished behind Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum in both Colorado and Minnesota, and failed to even qualify for the Missouri ballot, after dedicating the majority of his resources and time to future primary events. Without another debate until Feb. 22, Gingrich needs other opportunities to regain momentum - such as a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday. Gingrich's campaign says he will also focus on running in Southern states.
Newt Gingrich's presidential bid suffered another setback after a brutal loss to Mitt Romney in the Nevada caucus. Gingrich came in second place with just over 20 percent of the vote. Nevertheless, Gingrich again promised he would stay in the race all the way to the convention. His apparent strategy is to achieve a serious of wins between now and then, but experts say the upcoming caucuses and primaries in February will be difficult for the former speaker to win. The Huffington Post's Sam Stein reports: The month of February, which brings with it a slate of primaries and caucuses that favor either Romney or Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), promises to be brutal for Gingrich. His campaign is reportedly low on cash. He has no formal infrastructure in place in most states and didn't even make it on Virginia's ballot. Pressed on all these points, however, his responses drifted between insolence and confusion.
After a disappointing 14-point loss to rival Mitt Romney in the Florida primary on Jan. 31, Newt Gingrich pledged once again to continue his campaign all the way to the convention. The campaign distributed signs to the crowd that read '46 States to Go.' Gingrich told supporters, "We are going to contest every place and we are going to win, and we will be in Tampa as the nominee in August." Gingrich took his campaign on to Nevada, where Romney is favored to win the upcoming caucus. In a blow to Gingrich's White House bid, conservative celebrity Donald Trump endorsed Romney Tuesday, after false reports circulated that Trump would back Gingrich.
Newt Gingrich went into Florida with a wave of momentum after an upset win in South Carolina, but has been unable to maintain frontrunner status. The latest poll shows Gingrich's support is sinking, with just 29 percent of Floridians backing the candidate. Presidential rival Mitt Romney has ramped up attacks against the former Speaker, hitting Gingrich hard during the last GOP debate and with negative ads running throughout the Sunshine State. Multiple polls show Romney now leading Gingrich by a comfortable margin. Still, Gingrich said he is in the race for the long haul, and will not drop out after Florida regardless of the results. He has promised repeatedly to take his campaign "all the way to the convention."
As Newt Gingrich surges, questions resurface about the ethics charges filed against him during his time as Speaker of the House in the 1990s. GOP rival Mitt Romney has called on Gingrich to release the full report from the ethics investigation, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has hinted she has damaging dirt on Gingrich. Gingrich has resounded by saying he was exonerated of all charges, that the $300,000 fine was for the cost of the investigation, not a penalty fine, and that he voluntarily resigned in order to put the issue in the past.
Newt Gingrich's ex-wife Marianne Gingrich appeared on ABC News in January to share inside information about the presidential hopeful. Marianne again recounted Gingrich's infidelity during their marriage, and then said Gingrich asked her to enter into an open marriage so he could continue consorting with Callista Bisek, his current wife. From ABC's interview: GINGRICH: I said to him, we've been married a long time. And he said, yes, but you want me all to yourself. Callista doesn't care what I do. ROSS: What was he saying to you, do you think? GINGRICH: He was asking to have an open marriage, and I refused. ROSS: He wanted an open marriage. GINGRICH: Yeah, that I accept the fact that he has somebody else in his life. ROSS: And you said? GINGRICH: No. No. That is not a marriage. Gingrich claimed the story as false, and said he offered ABC News the chance to interview personal friends that could prove it was false. But the Gingrich later campaign later admitted the former Speaker's response was a lie, ABC reported. Days after Marianne revealed just how far Gingrich tried to take his infidelity, he won South Carolina's primary election with 40 percent of the vote, including the conservative, 'values' voters that make up a large chunk of the state.
Newt Gingrich scored a big victory in South Carolina's critical primary, winning with 40 percent of the vote and a double-digit lead over Mitt Romney. Gingrich carried the momentum into Florida, where polls show he continues to rise and is closing in on Mitt Romney for the lead.
In South Carolina, Newt Gingrich quickly rose again, catching up with frontrunner Mitt Romney. HuffPost's Mark Blumenthal reports, six new polls show Gingrich and Romney running essentially even among likely Republican primary voters. Gingrich's campaign got a boost on Jan. 19 when Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced he would drop out of the presidential race and endorse the former speaker. "Newt is not perfect, but who among us is?" Perry said. From the AP: While the ultimate impact of Perry's decision is unclear, it reduced the number of conservative challengers to Mitt Romney. The decision also reinforced the perception that Gingrich is the candidate on the move in the final hours of the South Carolina campaign, and that the front-running Romney is struggling to hold onto his longtime lead. Gingrich addressed Perry's endorsement in a statement: I am humbled and honored to have the support of my friend Rick Perry ... His selflessness is yet another demonstration of his deep sense of citizenship and commitment to the cause of limited government, historic American values and greater freedom for every American. On the same day Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann said she would not be backing Gingrich. In a statement released before Perry's announcement, Bachmann said she would endorse a candidate soon, but that person would definitely not be Gingrich. It is "strikingly obvious that one candidate could not be less acceptable to be our Party's nominee. He lacks the poise, experience and moral fiber to represent our principles and values," Bachmann said.
Throughout Gingrich's surge this autumn, he promised to run a positive campaign and not run negative attack ads against his opponents. But the strategy proved problematic for the candidate, made worse when frontrunner candidate Mitt Romney's super PAC launched a barrage of attack ads against Gingrich ahead of the Iowa caucus. Gingrich rapidly sank in the polls and ended up with a poor finish in Iowa. Mark Blumenthal reported: The rapid fall of Newt Gingrich from front-runner to also-ran was put into motion, at least in part, by an unprecedented wave of negative advertisements run in Iowa in December by his opponents and their allied Super PACs. The wave of ads left Gingrich complaining on Sunday that he had been "Romney-boated" and suggesting that his main rival would "buy the election if he could." How much impact did the negative ads have? The answer is difficult to quantify, since news coverage that repeated and added validity to many of the attack lines helped cut Gingrich's support nationwide. But the sheer volume of attacks advertising aired against Gingrich is staggering. As Gingrich's campaign began to take a downward spiral, he shifted away from his promise not to go negative. While campaigning in New Hampshire and South Carolina, Gingrich's attacks against Romney have escalated.
After falling in the polls over the summer, Gingrich began to challenge Mitt Romney for frontrunner status in November. HuffPost's Mark Blumenthal reported in mid-November: A survey of Republicans conducted by CNN and ORC International shows Gingrich supporters increasing from 8 percent in mid-October to 22 percent over the weekend, just 2 points behind Romney supporters (at 24 percent, although the small gap between the two is not statistically significant). Meanwhile, Cain's support in the CNN polls has fallen 11 points (from 25 to 14 percent). A new automated telephone poll of likely Republican primary voters from the Democratic-affiliated firm Public Policy Polling similarly shows Gingrich gaining 13 points (from 15 to 28 percent), but its results for Cain and Romney are different. PPP shows a smaller decline for Cain (from 30 to 25 percent) and puts Romney well behind (at 18 percent). Blumenthal went on to note that Gingrich's surge is different than those before it because they were accompanied by increases in the candidate's name recognition. Voters have long known who Gingrich is, but his favorability rating has grown steadily since hitting a low in June.
The Gingrich campaign took some big hits over a period of a few weeks this summer, first losing its stock of senior aides, then its finance team. These setbacks, which built on negative publicity driven by questions about Gingrich's personal spending habits (see slide 4), appeared to cement his status as a second-tier candidate. Earlier polling, before the field of GOP primary candidates had actually been fleshed out, had placed Gingrich as a top three contender. According to more recent reports, this slide also took a toll on his profitable political empire.
At the height of Gingrich's political relevance in the 1990s, the then-speaker of the House made a push for private charities to replace public welfare programs. He set up his own tax-exempt nonprofit to help lead the way, but subsequent reports showed that he didn't always walk the walk when it came to effectively moving funds from his organization to his charitable causes. HuffPost's Jason Cherkis reported in May: But tax records show that Gingrich's subsequent endeavors, however successful they've been at keeping Newt's name in the news, have been much less effective when it comes to the more traditional purpose of nonprofit organizations: Doing something useful for society. Gingrich, a prolific fundraiser, has been able to make it rain on Gingrich Holdings. The charitable ventures that bear his name, on the other hand, have suffered a drought. Click here and scroll down for more on the giving habits of the rest of the 2012 presidential candidates.
In May, Gingrich took some serious heat for a massive bill at Tiffany's jewelry store that seemed to contradict his professed fiscal conservatism. Politico reported at the time: In 2005 and 2006, the former House speaker turned presidential candidate carried as much as $500,000 in debt to the premier jewelry company, according to financial disclosures filed with the Clerk of the House of Representatives. Gingrich, who represented Georgia in Congress for two decades, retired in 1999. But his wife, Callista Gingrich, was employed by the House Agriculture Committee until 2007, according to public records. She listed a "revolving charge account" at Tiffany and Company in the liability section of her personal financial disclosure form for two consecutive years and indicated that it was her spouse's debt. The liability was reported in the range of $250,001 to $500,000. The controversy was revived a month later when it turned out that Gingrich actually had a second line of credit at Tiffany for as much as $1 million. None of these stories helped beat back reports that his campaign was then struggling to stay afloat amid a shortage of funds.
For all his efforts to appear as someone who's distanced himself from Washington politics, much of Gingrich's campaign rhetoric harkens back to his previous life as an elected official. During a debate in September, Gingrich pointed to one of his successes from the 1990s. "Let me say, I helped balance the budget for four straight years, so this is not a theory," Gingrich said. The former speaker has also sought to revamp the "Contract with America," a series of proposed governmental reforms and policy changes first unveiled in 1994 that its drafters, including Gingrich, said would help shrink government, promote lower taxes and spur entrepreneurial investment. At the end of September, Gingrich released his "21st Century Contract With America," an eight-year vision for the nation that would, among other initiatives, partially privatize Social Security and repeal President Obama's health care law.
Gingrich has established himself as a staple of inside-the-beltway politics, which can be a turnoff for many GOP primary voters. He's written many books, sold his speeches to adoring conservative fans and spearheaded the creation of campaign and fundraising apparatuses for Republican candidates and causes. Now as a candidate for president, Gingrich is faced with the task of convincing potential voters that he's not simply a Washington politics insider. HuffPost's Amanda Terkel reported earlier on one of Gingrich's strange efforts to confront this problem head on: Newt Gingrich likes to portray himself as an outsider, shunned from the exclusive inner circles of Washington, D.C. -- despite having once been the capitol's most powerful Republican lawmaker. Continuing this split persona on Tuesday, Gingrich gave a speech hammering the new "super Congress" and "Washington elites," but he chose to do so at one of the nation's most established conservative think tanks. During his speech at the Heritage Foundation, Gingrich delivered such populist lines as, "You lead Washington by leading America. You don't lead America by leading Washington," yet drew some scrutiny for his decision to deliver the speech at an elite Washington think tank, rather than on the stump in a primary state, like his rivals.
Newton Leroy Gingrich entered Washington politics as a Georgia congressman in 1979 and exited in 1999 after resigning his position as speaker of the House. His four-year speakership is most frequently noted in conservative circles for his success in pressuring President Bill Clinton to sign a conservative welfare reform package into law and overseeing a short period of balanced or near-balanced budgets. He also received a large share of the blame for the 1995 government shutdown, when the public saw him as a stubborn politician more willing to allow the government to run out of funds than to compromise. But beyond the capital he's cultivated in the conservative movement, Gingrich's real political credentials have always been undercut by his personal history. He's had three wives. He reportedly brought divorce papers to his first wife while she was in a hospital bed recovering from uterine cancer (though this narrative was denied by both Gingrich and his daughter, Jackie Gingrich Cushman, in a recent report). His eventual separation from his second wife was less dramatic, but no less memorable. According to an extensive profile in Esquire, he told Marianne Gingrich that she was a "Jaguar" and that "all I want is a Chevrolet." That brought him to his third marriage to Callista Gingrich, who was a House staffer when she began an affair with her eventual husband.