Appalling and Disgusting
The truly memorable moment of the South Carolina primary debate last Thursday night occurred within the first 10 minutes.
It wasn't a back-and-forth between two of the four candidates, either. The gotcha moment came when CNN’s moderator – John King – opened the debate by asking former Speaker of House of Representatives Newt Gingrich to respond to the claims of his second wife that he sought an open marriage.
Reminiscent of President Ronald Reagan demanding time to respond in a New Hampshire debate by telling the moderator that he was paying for the microphone, Newt pounced on the unwitting Mr. King. Mr. Gingrich claimed that opening a presidential debate with such a tawdry question was both appalling and disgusting.
Was it? Certainly from Mr. Gingrich's perspective, having to answer these questions, basic inquiries into the quality of his character, would be better off avoided.
Newt grabbed the momentum with his frontal assault on the liberal media, shifting the focus away from his own moral fitness and onto the easily despised left-leaning CNN.
Speaker Gingrich basked in the waves of applause that washed over him; in fact he seemed emboldened to heighten his indignation.
After the debate, Mr. King was asked about the confrontation. He explained this as a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation. Had he avoided the question altogether, any credible analysis would have accused CNN of shoddy journalism.
Newt's righteous indignation seemed to focus on the fact that Mr. King led the debate with this question. It was that premise, according to Newt, that appalled and disgusted him.
Only someone possessing Speaker Gingrich's ego and hubris would believe that. No matter where in the debate – whether beginning, middle, or end – this question would have arisen, Mr. Gingrich would have been lying in wait to be appalled and disgusted.
You see, this is the area Newt wants to avoid discussing at all costs. He can talk away his past political indiscretions; he's been doing it for decades.
Never mind that he was essentially fired as speaker by freshmen Republicans for a combination of ethical lapses and undisciplined policy investigations. On each of those points Mr. Gingrich has a practiced and thoughtful response.
Never mind that he supported a bill sponsored by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D., CA) regarding climate change. He can explain it.
Ignore the fact that for the last 10 years, Newt has advocated for mandated health insurance coverage for Americans, a policy position that places him squarely beside President Barack Obama and counter to the majority of GOP voters nationwide. He has an answer for it.
Forget that he took over a million dollars in lobbying fees from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the federally-backed home mortgage institutions that were at the center of the collapse of the economy in 2008. He can tell you why.
What he cannot explain is the fact that he has a history of marital infidelity. He cheated on wife # 1 during her cancer treatments. He then cheated on wife # 2 after her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. It suggests that Callista, his current wife, ought to be looking over her shoulder, or at least avoiding doctor visits.
In Newt’s World, questions of character and morality must be avoided. Newt's Achilles’ heel is best demonstrated by his reaction to the Monica Lewinsky scandal during the Clinton Administration.
Mr. Gingrich was quick to remind us all of President Reagan's high moral standing and granite-solid character. The best moments were Newt's call for impeachment, since President Clinton's conduct was so egregious and disrespectful to our nation's standards.
While in the midst of this morality preaching, Mr. Gingrich was likely committing acts of adultery on his own. Knowing that, other people would be smart enough to keep their mouths shut. Not Newt, he had an explanation.
Somebody clearly had a right to be appalled and disgusted over questions of character and marital infidelity at the debate.
Sadly, it wasn't Newt Gingrich.