The much-anticipated Nightline interview with Newt Gingrich's ex-wife Marianne aired last night — and it was the pffffffttt heard round the world. She'd claimed in the past that she could "end her husband's career with a single interview," but she certainly didn't release her Kraken when it would have done significant damage, just as Newt's poll numbers are climbing and the South Carolina primary is tomorrow.
Rather than tell us anything new about Newt, Marianne's conversation with ABC's Brian Ross mostly revealed that it really sucks to be cheated on by your power-hungry narcissist of a husband. The supposed revelations that she did make weren't technically revelations at all, since she'd already revealed them once before, in her 2010 interview with Esquire. But she still makes for a very interesting interviewee.
The part where she talks about the "open marriage bombshell" (see the above clip) is definitely the most damning, but once you move past the "OMFG OPEN MARRIAGE" shock, it's really not as scandalous as it sounds. I mean, yes, he was asking for an open relationship in the sense that he'd be allowed to keep Callista as a mistress, but he probably wasn't intending to let Marianne have a lover of her own. So basically, he was just asking her to turn a blind eye—which people have been doing in their marriages for centuries. Sleazy, yes, but we already knew he was sleazy. It's just too bad he didn't propose they take Callista on as a sister-wife, because that would've been a real career ender.
Marianne also mentions the sad fact that he asked her for a divorce just months after she'd been diagnosed with MS, which is eerily reminiscent of the well-known way in which he ditched his first wife while she was recovering from cancer to run off with Marianne. You do have to hand it to the guy. He may be a raging asshole, but he is nothing if not consistent.
There was other dirt hurled in Newt's general direction too. For instance, did you know Newt asked her for a divorce over the phone? Not cool, but certainly not shocking. Marianne also talked about how Newt would call her at night from their home in D.C. and talk to her while Callista was lying in bed next to him.
The only word I can muster for this revelation is "gross." And yet, while this little sordid detail delivers the 1,097th nail into the coffin that holds the idea that Newt is a nice man, it doesn't really make his basic crime of infidelity any more offensive than it already was. Though I must say, the more we know about Newt's affair, the worse Callista looks.
Newt, to no one's surprise, is outraged at the mere mention of any of this open marriage business, claiming there's zero truth to it. He sent his daughters to do some damage control on Nightline, and basically their half-assed defense of him is that it was a long time ago, and now he believes in God, and he's a different person. Uh huh.
They try to dismiss Marianne as someone working out an old grudge, but something doesn't sit right about that. She may not be his biggest fan, but she certainly doesn't come off as a raging madwoman who can't let go of the past. The fact that she has talked so little about him publicly since their split says a lot. In fact, according to the New York Times, the fact that she ended up going public with this information at this particular time was kind of a happy accident that resulted from ABC first wanting to interview her about an ethics investigation she was involved in during the 90s. And she's not saying anything so outrageous or unbelievable that there's any reason to doubt her basic version of events.
But I guess—even if the terms of their split are up for dispute—what's so unsatisfying about this Nightline interview is that it focuses so much on the divorce when the truly damning information that Marianne has on Newt is her deep and nuanced understanding of just how batshit insane he really is. John H. Richardson, the writer of the original Esquire piece, posted some thoughts about this whole to-do yesterday, and he sums up the situation nicely:
The real problem is that the marriage dispute is actually the most forgivable part of Gingrich's behavior. … But the story Marianne told in Esquire went much, much deeper - a story of wildly erratic behavior that went back to the very first night they met, full of manic ups and downs, secrets and betrayals and passionate reconciliations. More important was his behavior in Congress, the ferocious and manic drive that accomplished much (for better or for worse, depending on your point of view) but collapsed in a breakdown so severe his own Republican peers had to force him out of power.
If you revisit the Esquire piece, which is well worth the read, the paragraphs that strike the most fear into your heart are not the ones detailing Newt's romantic mistakes. They're ones like this, when Marianne responds to being told that Newt wants to be president:
She gives a jaundiced look. "There's no way," she says. She thinks he made a choice long ago between doing the right thing and getting rich, and when you make those choices, you foreclose other ones. "He could have been president. But when you try and change your history too much, and try and recolor it because you don't like the way it was or you want it to be different to prove something new ... you lose touch with who you really are. You lose your way."
And that is telling, particularly when you look at how Newt is reacting to all the publicity Marianne's allegations have been getting. Watch him snap at John King's question about the open marriage issue at the beginning of last night's debate.
"To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary. A significant question in a presidential campaign, is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine." Umm, interviewing someone a presidential candidate was married to for 18 years and going over facts that have already been pretty well established—in some cases even by Newt himself—isn't exactly sketchy journalistic behavior. But what's amazing is that he doesn't seem to be the open marriage allegations that upset him; he seems more generally offended by the very idea that his ex-wife exists and can provide an alternative to the narrative about himself that he's so carefully created.
But he can take a deep breath because really he's got nothing to worry about. It's like Marianne tossed a grenade into his foxhole and when it blew up, it turned out it was full of colorful confetti. Being called out by mainstream media outlets in a way that he can spin as malicious—which he did expertly last night—legitimizes his shaky candidacy, and it also allows him to rally all the conservatives who are outraged because they think the media is secretly in bed with Barack while it's on the phone with Newt telling him it loves him.
Newt has done plenty of awful things in the past—that were all in full public view—and he's still managed to make it this far. Now that Marianne, the one person who might have been able to throw something at him that stuck, has said her piece, and her piece didn't amount to much, he's got nothing left to fear except his own big mouth. So, now all we can do is sit back and wait for him to press his own self-destruct button—which hopefully will happen any day now.