By Roland S. Martin
When someone asks when the Republican Party abandoned its longstanding position as the party of family values, we will all be able to say it was shortly after 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on January 19, 2012, in Charleston, South Carolina.
When the invited audience of 2,300 Republicans stood up and applauded Newt Gingrich’s angry and defiant response to the opening question from CNN’s John King about allegations leveled by the ex-wife of the former speaker of the House, it was clear that the GOP, always judgmental about marital fidelity with Democrats, threw that out of the window.
The GOP’s desire to beat President Barack Obama at any cost, and its unwillingness to coalesce around Mitt Romney, clearly outweighs its view on rampant adultery by one of its leading presidential candidates.
Those willing to make excuses for Gingrich’s cheating on his second wife, Marianne, with his current wife, Callista (he also cheated on wife No. 1 with Marianne, who later became wife No. 2) are quick to say that the Christian faith requires forgiveness. And that is absolute right. But when has Gingrich apologized to President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore for his routine missives declaring both of them morally corrupt? When has Gingrich ever said publicly that while he was ripping other to shreds, he was doing the same to his marriage vows to forsake all others?
The nation clearly was made aware of Clinton’s extramarital affairs while serving in the White House with the impeachment trial. But nothing of the sort was said about Gore. Yet that didn’t prevent the bombastic Gingrich from lobbing his morally bankrupt grenades towards the Clinton-Gore White House. Now we know that while he was doing that, he was deeply involved in a torrid affair with Callista, then a Capitol Hill staffer.
What was amazing Thursday night is that we were in South Carolina, the Bible Belt, where evangelicals hold significant sway. Just last year, Republicans were aghast when the governor, Mark Sanford, was busted for engaging in an international extramarital affair, hiding away in Argentina and lying about his whereabouts. Details of his sordid affair made national headlines and embarrassed the state and the national party.
South Carolinians were disgusted with his behavior, and the potential presidential candidate who was a darling of Bible-thumpin’ social conservatives ended his tenure in shame, losing his wife in the process.
So why was the GOP so quick to leap to their feet as Gingrich castigated King for even asking the question? No doubt they will say it was his denunciation of the media for asking such a tawdry question. Others will say that Newt’s multiple affairs were common knowledge and since he was a declared changed man, we all should move on.
But how can someone like Gingrich stand up in debates and forcefully talk about the sanctity of marriage when he has no history of believing what he is saying? How can any social conservative talk about the moral fiber needed in a presidential candidate when the man many of them love has none?
It’s highly likely that when the group of influential social conservatives met in Texas last weekend to coalesce around a candidate, Gingrich’s rampant cheating was too much for them to overlook and that’s why they settled on Rick Santorum.
The GOP loves to scream from the mountaintop about family values, but when a Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana continues to sit in the U.S. Senate after it was revealed he often used an escort service, then their protestations ring hollow. And there are many other Republicans who have had to come forward, some unwillingly, to own up to their transgressions.
See, when Republicans are busted for cheating on their spouses, they will quickly play the forgiveness card. Yet isn’t a failure to have character and integrity at home a sign of how someone will act in the workplace?
And it must gall the GOP to watch Obama often dote on his wife, and make clear that even while in the White House, his family is a top priority.
Gingrich is correct in stating that many of the folks in the audience understand personal pain. But when Newt himself, and his party, has shown little concern in the past about such pain when it has affected someone in the other party, their pleas for understanding looks like shameful pandering.
So to the Republican Party, your high-minded and sanctimonious positions about others not having morals and values should end. If you are willing to accept Newt Gingrich with all of his failings, then you had better open your arms for a whole lot of other sinners who have also sought God’s redemption.