What Newt’s Open Marriage Request Does to the Callista Fairy Tale

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Sharing calamari, and other things. Photo: Mary-Louise Price; Photos: Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images (Gingrich), JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images (Gingrich's head), iStockphoto (Calamari)

So, if Newt Gingrich's second wife is to be believed, the presidential candidate who wanted romantic arrangements best described with the prefix poly isn't the Mormon. Whatever damage this may do to Gingrich at the polls remains to be seen, but the revelation that he wanted an open marriage isn't really that surprising, whereas the idea that Callista was totally onboard with it is. "Callista doesn't care what I do," Marianne quotes Newt as telling her, which could be problematic because, in large part, Newt Gingrich's phoenixlike rise from the moral ashes is premised on Callista caring very much what he does. Even way back in his adulterous days in the nineties, Newt seemed to know this: After all, according to Marianne, he "told her that his mistress and current wife Callista was going to help him become president one day."

"It didn’t look like help to me,” Marianne said. But at least for a small part of this election season — back in those heady December days of Newt's Iowa surge, and maybe again tomorrow in South Carolina — she seemed to have been proven wrong.

Sure, Callista started out as the evil homewrecker — but in the eyes of the conservative base, that could be excused because she so clearly seemed to want nothing more than to be the perfect pearl-wearing helpmate. She helped Newt find religion. She helped him grow up. She helped him finally get the institution of marriage right! And, as Ariel Levy's The New Yorker profile makes clear, she's been crucial behind the scenes in managing the temperamentally difficult candidate.

The takeaway for voters inclined to be sympathetic to Newt, then, was that there might have been a few bumps at the outset, but what Callista really desired was a traditional marriage of her own. Certainly not, as we are now led to believe by Marianne, that she was cool with sharing, which carries with it an ick factor, even for people way outside the Evangelical base. Or that, at least, she was allegedly willing to tell him that — after all, according to Levy's reporting, Callista has Newt firmly in hand, so perhaps playing the part of the less-territorial, constricting paramour was a Machiavellian stroke of long-game genius.

Either way, Marianne's interview could be more directly damaging to Callista's image than Newt's. As Jessica Grose wrote on DoubleX, "Unless Marianne has photographic evidence of Newt drop kicking several puppies and then peeing on Ronald Reagan's headstone, I don't think the interview will make much of a difference." And there's some evidence (both anecdotal and in his surging poll numbers) that South Carolinians, at least, are shrugging about the ABC interview. But since Callista functions as a stand-in for Newt's own new, improved moral compass, well ... at least it will give the Gingrich campaign fodder for the convenient "blame the wife" excuse, if and when everything finally and completely goes pear-shaped.

Earlier: Why the GOP Base Accepts Newt and Callista’s Unconventional, Modern Marriage
Political Playbook: When Failing Campaigns Blame the Wife