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Reports: Gingrich's Ex-Wife Says He Wanted An 'Open Marriage'

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his then-wife, Marianne, leave their home on Jan. 7, 1997.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his then-wife, Marianne, leave their home on Jan. 7, 1997.

If Newt Gingrich got a boost for his prospects in South Carolina on Thursday with rising poll numbers and an endorsement from rival Rick Perry, his second ex-wife, Marianne, seemed to be doing her best to dampen his prospects with an interview on ABC's Nightline Thursday night.

In an excerpt released by ABC Thursday morning, Marianne tells Brian Ross that her ex lacks the moral character to be president. In what ABC says is her first television interview since the 1999 divorce, Marianne did not seem to hold back. As Brian Ross reports:

"In her most provocative comments, the ex-Mrs. Gingrich said Newt sought an 'open marriage' arrangement so he could have a mistress and a wife.

"She said when Gingrich admitted to a six-year affair with a Congressional aide, he asked her if she would share him with the other woman, Callista, who is now married to Gingrich.

" 'And I just stared at him and he said, "Callista doesn't care what I do," ' Marianne Gingrich told ABC News. 'He wanted an open marriage and I refused.'

"Marianne described her 'shock' at Gingrich's behavior, including how she says she learned he conducted his affair with Callista 'in my bedroom in our apartment in Washington.' "

The Washington Post reported similar details about an open marriage in its own interview with Marianne. She also told the newspaper about a family-values speech Gingrich gave shortly after asking her for a divorce:

" 'How could he ask me for a divorce on Monday and within 48 hours give a speech on family values and talk about how people treat people?' she said."

These sorts of disclosure seem unlikely to play well with socially conservative voters in South Carolina.

The second ex-Mrs. Gingrich has spoken out before. In August of 2010, she gave a long interview to Esquire.

"Back in the 1990s, she told a reporter she could end her husband's career with a single interview. She held her tongue all through the affair and the divorce and even through the annulment Gingrich requested from the Catholic Church two years later, trying to erase their shared past," Esquire reported then.

In that interview Marianne also seemed eager to point out the discrepancies between Gingrich's public and private lives:

"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," she told Esquire. "He believes that what he says in public and how he lives don't have to be connected," she says. "If you believe that, then yeah, you can run for president."

Over at Slate's XX factor, Jessica Grose questions whether the 11th-hour disclosures could actually generate sympathy for Gingrich:

"Marianne's interview may even have a positive effect on South Carolina voters. They may see her as a bitter woman who's just attempting revenge-by-network news, and this may galvanize their wavering support for Newt. They may not even believe whatever Marianne has to say."

That could be. In any case, the ABC excerpts surfaced in plenty of time to make their way into Thursday night's GOP debate at 8 p.m. EST on CNN.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Debra Rosenberg