One of Gingrich’s divorces draws new scrutiny

Generally, when disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s (R) first marriage draws attention, it’s because of questions about timing. Gingrich has been accused, for example, of haggling over the terms of his divorce from his first wife while she was in the hospital, recovering from uterine cancer surgery. What’s more, there’s evidence he had already proposed to his second wife before he was divorced from his first.

But CNN reported yesterday on a new wrinkle.

Newt Gingrich claims that it was his first wife, not Gingrich himself, who wanted their divorce in 1980, but court documents obtained by CNN appear to show otherwise. […]

The documents, and interviews with people close to the couple at the time, contradict the Gingrich claim about who wanted the divorce.

It’s very tempting to say this simply doesn’t matter. Politicians are entitled to a degree of privacy, and questions about a divorce from three decades ago are arguably out of bounds.

But as compelling as that may seem, I’d argue this is a legitimate point of inquiry. First, Gingrich’s campaign brought this up — there’s a section on its website devoted to “answering the attacks,” and it argues that Jackie Gingrich “requested the divorce, not Newt.” All of the available evidence suggests that’s a lie. It’s one thing to lie 31 years ago; it’s something else to lie yesterday.

Second, Gingrich is inviting scrutiny of his marriages when he talks about marriages. I’d be far more inclined to cut this guy some slack if he hadn’t run around saying things like, “The Democratic Party has been the active instrument of breaking down traditional marriage.”

Want to try that again, Newt?

With the Iowa caucuses exactly one week away, the larger question is whether voters will find any of this interesting. I rather doubt it. Folks who are inclined to back Gingrich are probably already aware of his scandalous, cringe-worthy personal life, and have decided to overlook it. These new details suggest the Republican presidential candidate is still lying about some of the circumstances, but Gingrich backers appear willing to separate the private from the public.

Still, for on-the-fence Iowans, who might be looking at Gingrich but who have concerns about his character and integrity, a story like this one probably doesn’t help.