In case you missed the news because you were out celebrating the cancellation of the Keystone XL Pipeline, Marianne Gingrich, Newt Gingrich's second ex-wife, has given an exclusive two-hour interview to ABC News reporter Brian Ross that, according to one hyperventilating report, is set to "rock the trail."
As ABC internally debates the "ethics" of running the interview on the eve of the pivotal South Carolina Republican primary (the damage has already been done, even if they suddenly cancel the planned Thursday night Nightline interview), the question du jour is what this will do to Newt Gingrich's GOP election chances?
My answer might surprise you. If the normally combative Gingrich does not bow out or implode under the intense media scrutiny, the Marianne Gingrich revelations might actually help him. Here's why:
1. The Clinton Precedent.
As America well remembers, Bill Clinton was besieged by all kinds of revelations of extramarital misconduct when he was first running for President in 1992. These allegations threatened to derail his candidacy in the early primary state of New Hampshire. Though he did not win the Granite State, Clinton's strong second place showing there caused him to be labeled "The Comeback Kid." Even with allegations that "tailed" him right through the primary season, Clinton subsequently went on to win the Democratic nomination and the presidency.
Like Clinton, Newt Gingrich is transparently duplicitous and two-faced. However, also like Clinton, Gingrich is smart and capable. Most important, like his Southern soul brother in sin and redemption, Gingrich knows how policy sausage is made. He's quite good at it. He knows when to hold 'em. He knows when to fold 'em. He gets things done. And his record in balancing the budget and ending welfare as we know it speaks for itself.
Unfortunately, for all his smarts, Gingrich lacks Clinton's smooth, endearing "Bubba" charm. He is abrasive, petty, and cocky when he needs to be suave, magnanimous, and humble. These defects may cost him, though not as dearly as some presume. In lieu of his present wife coming to his defense (in the way that Hillary Clinton came to Bill Clinton's defense on "60 Minutes"), Gingrich has enlisted his own daughters. How that strategy plays out might determine Newt's fate in the Palmetto State.
2. The Electorate Already Knows that Gingrich is Corrupt.
To paraphrase a Wall Street adage, corruption is already "baked into" the Gingrich stock. You say that Gingrich is a backstabbing, self-aggrandizing, check-bouncing, draft-dodging shyster? Old news. Voters know that the "erratic," "chaotic" Gingrich is full of himself, and full of hot air, but they also know he has a strong record of achievement.
Gingrich supporters must feel the same as those who voted for France's Sarkozy and Italy's Berlusconi, two other self-important clowns of global, if not tall, stature. It's always a balancing act with such larger-than-life super egos: how much boorish behavior can one stomach in the interest of getting something accomplished?
Frankly, those who like Newt Gingrich are not going to be dissuaded by Marianne Gingrich's revelations, unless she accuses the former Speaker of having sex with poodles and transsexuals... simultaneously. Corrupt lobbying, er, "history" consulting? Check. Ethical breaches? Check. Serial philandering, often while wives are seriously ill? Check. Transsexual poodle sex? Okay, you might have something there, Marianne.
In other words, the former Mrs. Gingrich better tell us something new and mind-blowing or she is going to make the transparently loathsome Speaker seem like a beleaguered ex-husband who had every right to dump his "bitter" and vindictive ex-wife.
3. Marianne's Gingrich's Suspicious Timing.
You mean to say, Mrs. Ex-Newt, that only now have you felt compelled to tell the world about the discrepancy between Mr. Gingrich's words and deeds? On the eve of the most important primary of his life? Moreover, a primary in which he has, in recent days, dramatically narrowed the poll gap between himself and Mr. Romney?
The heretofore impenetrable Romney facade of invincibility has started to take serious hits in recent days, as Gingrich's vociferous attacks on Romney's record at Bain Capital, and, more important, the percentage of tax that Mr. Romney actually pays (a projected 15 percent rate based on the going capital gains rate), have become public. Gingrich has landed some hard rights to the Romney glass chin. If the Marianne Gingrich distraction had not appeared, the Romney-Gingrich race might have tightened back up to a statistical dead heat by Saturday's voting.
I believe that this still could be the case, though there might be hiccup during the Thursday news cycle, as Newt deals with his ex-wife's allegations. Why such a rosy projection? Because Republican voters already have a preternatural disdain for American mass media (GOP TV, er, Fox News, excluded). The ABC News interview only confirms their wild suspicions of a conspiracy to attack genuinely conservative candidates and causes. Newt should actually hope the interview runs before Saturday because it might rally South Carolina's wavering conservative voters to his side.
Regardless, Republican voters are no longer willing to throw candidates overboard based on ethical lapses alone. Herman Cain might have fondled dozens of women while CEO of Godfather's pizza, but he lost credibility because he displayed a breathtaking ignorance of basic facts. If you are seen as smart and capable, and repeatedly deliver the goods, a lot of personal failings can be forgiven this election cycle. Clinton, Gingrich, and a whole host of American public figures (from Kobe Bryant to Ben Roethlisberger) are testament to that.