You've probably heard the rumors that presidential candidate and '90s Trivial Pursuit answer Newt Gingrich divorced his first wife while she was being treated for cancer, then dumped Mrs. Gingrich #2 for his current wife Callista. To dispel the notion that he's a serial cheater and all-around terrible person, Gingrich has dispatched his daughter Jackie Gingrich Cushman on the campaign trail to "set the record straight" about her father. The problem is, newly uncovered legal documents show the nasty rumors are at least partly true. Add another check to the "horrible monster" column.
Cushman was 13 when her father divorced her mother, Jackie Battley. She points out that Gingrich didn't divorce her mother while she was dying of cancer — she was just having a benign tumor removed. In her usual campaign speech, Cushman says her father never "abandoned his wife and children," and directs voters to Newt.org to get the real story. The page links to a column by Cushman and says:
The column reveals that 1) It was her mother that requested the divorce, not Newt, and it was months before the hospital visit in question; 2) Her mother was in the hospital to remove a tumor, but it was benign, and she is still alive today; 3) Newt visited the hospital for the purpose of taking his two children to see their mother, not to discuss a divorce.
Gingrich supporters can now proudly declare that their candidate never harassed a dying woman in the hospital (as far as we know). However, after tracking down Gingrich's divorce documents, which have been tucked away in a county clerk's desk since 1994, CNN found that Gingrich was actually the one who pursued a divorce. On July 14, 1980, he filed a complaint that read "the marriage of the parties is irretriebably (sic) broken." Battley responded by asking the judge to reject the filing, saying, "Defendant shows that she has adequate and ample grounds for divorce, but that she does not desire one at this time." She won't comment on the divorce today, but in 1985 she told the Washington Post, "He can say that we had been talking about it for 10 years, but the truth is that it came as a complete surprise." Leonard H. "Kip" Carter, a former friend who dropped Gingrich over how he treated his family at the time, says that Gingrich told him he wanted a divorce because, 'You know and I know that she's not young enough or pretty enough to be the wife of a president."
In his dogged pursuit of a wife hot enough to be first lady, it seems Gingrich also forgot to provide Battley with support for their two teenage daughters. She said in the filing:
Despite repeated notice to plaintiff and requests by defendant, plaintiff has failed and refused to voluntarily provide reasonable support sufficient to include payment of usual and normal living expenses, including drugs, water, sewage, garbage, gas, electric and telephone service for defendant and the minor children ... As a result, many of such accounts are two or three months past due with notices of intent to cut off service and gas and electricity.
Carter says the church collected donations for the family and Gingrich "wouldn't give them a dime" until a judge ordered him to make monthly payments, which would seem to support the idea that he "abandoned" the family, financially at least.
Of course, all of this happened years ago, and what politicians do in their personal life is really none of our business (though Americans stopped subscribing to this idea around the time when people thought rocks made adequate pets). Cushman says her father isn't proud of the way he handled his first two marriages:
He's talked about how he's made mistakes in his past. He's talked about how he's had to ask for God's forgiveness. He's talked about reconciling with God and with others.
While these experiences might have taught a lesser man to "judge not lest ye be judged," apparently consulting with a higher power only supercharged Gingrich's ability to determine how other people should live their lives. Any of the Republican candidates can lecture gay folks about immorality, but only Gingrich can speak with the authority of a man who knows what it is to attack the sanctity of marriage.
Gingrich's Daughter Defends Father On Campaign Trail [MSNBC]
Setting The Record Straight [Townhall]
Newly Recovered Court Files Cast Doubt On Gingrich Version Of First Divorce [CNN]