A leading religious conservative warned Newt Gingrich Wednesday that he risks losing the support of evangelical women voters if the Republican presidential hopeful refuses to publicly address his “turbulent marital history.”
“Mr. Speaker, if you want to get large numbers of evangelicals, particularly women, to vote for you, you must address the issue of your marital past in a way that allays the fears of evangelical women,” Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said in an open letter to the former House speaker. “You must address this issue of your marital past directly and transparently and ask folks to forgive you and give you their trust and their vote.”
Mr. Land urged the new GOP front-runner to take a page out of Arizona Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential playbook.
“Even my own mother, a rock-solid evangelical, was extremely uncomfortable voting for Sen. John McCain until he acknowledged to Rick Warren that the failure of his first marriage was the greatest regret of his life and it was his fault,” Mr. Land, referring to the high-profile evangelical pastor who hosted both Mr. McCain and then-candidate Barack Obama in an influential forum during the 2008 race.
Mr. Gingrich’s marital troubles, including two divorces have cast a shadow over his political career and presidential campaign, leaving many to wonder whether he can win over social conservatives in the nomination contest, which kicks off in Iowa where evangelicals play a major role.
Two of the Georgia Republicans three marriages are said to have fallen apart thanks to Mr. Gingrich’s extramarital activity. Mr. Gingrich has acknowledged cheating on one of them, with his current wife, Callista, while he served as speaker and pushed for the impeachment of President Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky affair in the late 1990s.
In a March interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Mr. Gingrich touched on his marriage problems, saying he had sought “God’s forgiveness” for his actions.
“There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate,” Mr. Gingrich said.
“What I can tell you is that when I did things that were wrong, I wasn’t trapped in situation ethics, I was doing things that were wrong, and yet, I was doing them,” he said. “I found that I felt compelled to seek God’s forgiveness — not God’s understanding, but God’s forgiveness.”
Mr. Land, though, suggested in his letter Wednesday that Mr. Gingrich still has his work cut off for him, while advising him to give a speech on his marital history in a “pro-family venue.”
“You need to make it as clear as you possibly can that you deeply regret your past actions and that you do understand the anguish and suffering they caused others including your former spouses,” Mr. Land wrote. “Make it as clear as you can that you have apologized for the hurt your actions caused and that you have learned from your past misdeeds. Express your love for, and loyalty to, your wife and your commitment to your marriage. Promise your fellow Americans that if they are generous enough to trust you with the presidency, you will not let them down and that there will be no moral scandals in a Gingrich White House.”