GINGRICH’S PATRIOTISM LED HIM TO CHEAT ON HIS WIVES…. It seems likely that disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) realizes his scandalous personal life will affect his presidential ambitions. The question, then, is what he intends to do about it.

He’s not the first presidential candidate to run as an admitted adulterer, but Gingrich’s past — multiple wives, multiple affairs, divorces under painful circumstances — is arguably the ugliest of any presidential hopeful in American history. As David Frum noted, “It’s not the infidelity. It’s the arrogance, hypocrisy, and — most horrifying to women voters — the cruelty. Anyone can dump one sick wife. Gingrich dumped two.”

Aware of his problem, Gingrich has a new line to explain his misdeeds. Here’s the explanation he offered radical TV preacher Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network. (thanks to R.B. for the tip)

“There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate. And what I can tell you is that when I did things that were wrong, I wasn’t trapped in situation ethics, I was doing things that were wrong, and yet, I was doing them.”

If Gingrich thinks the public will find this persuasive, he’s completely lost his mind.

He cheated on his wives, in part because he worked “too hard” for the country? His excuse for a scandalous personal life is patriotism?

To be sure, I’m inclined to draw a distinction between Gingrich’s private life and his public life, and my concerns about his role in politics have far more to do with his bizarre policy ideas than his offensive personal misconduct.

But this is relevant, not only because he’s seeking the votes of moralists, but also because Gingrich is claiming a certain moral high ground, literally lecturing Americans about religious values, while condemning others’ personal lives.

Even for Gingrich, this is just remarkable. The guy haggled over the terms of his divorce from his first wife while she was in the hospital, recovering from uterine cancer surgery. He had already proposed to his second wife before he was divorced from his first. In the ’90s, it happened again. Gingrich had an affair with a 33-year-old congressional aide — while spearheading the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton — and asked his third wife to marry him before he was divorced from his second, who was also ailing.

And yet, Gingrich still feels comfortable running around saying things like, “The Democratic Party has been the active instrument of breaking down traditional marriage.”

John McCain was able to go through the entire 2008 campaign without having to address his previous adultery. Gingrich, whose past is far worse by comparison, won’t be nearly as fortunate.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.