BEAUFORT — Marianne Ginther, the second wife of Newt Gingrich, sat for an interview that will air tonight on ABC’s Nightline. In an already released clip of the interview, Marianne claims that Newt asked her for an “open marriage” during his six-year affair with then-congressional staffer Callista Bisek.
Time for me to give some attention to wife #3, I decided.
At a rally yesterday in Warrenville, SC, a woman shouted, “Mr. Gingrich, your wife would make a beautiful First Lady.” I have seen Callista Gingrich at a few events in South Carolina, and yes, she is beautiful.
She is also poised. Always outfitted in tailored suits, typically either red or black. Her make up is always flawless. Her hair is platinum blonde, and carefully coiffed with a substantial supply of hairspray so that not a single strand has even a prayer of moving.
For all her beauty and poise, she lacks a sense of warmth and presence.
As she moved from the campaign bus to the stage at a Beaufort, SC town hall, a flock of security shrouded her. She donned a tight smile on her face, one she held for most of the event. Before getting on stage, she stood by her husband with a distant gaze. Once on stage, she kept her head turned toward her husband as he spoke. Every now and then she looked out across the audience, but in a sweeping motion just above the crowd’s heads, never making direct eye contact. Her facial expressions rarely changed, and when she broke into a grin, it was at each of Newt’s choreographed jokes.
When I asked a group of women about Callista, almost in unison they exclaimed that they didn’t really know much about her. They knew that she was “very pretty,” but not much else.
I asked whether they paid much attention to the candidates’ spouses, and whether spouses impacted their opinions of the candidates. Pam, who did not want to offer her last name, is a Beaufort County resident. Pam seemed the epitome of Southern aristocracy with her perfectly highlighted hair, oversized Chanel sunglasses, striking wedding ring, and a full-length camel-colored coat.
Pam said that she did not factor the spouses in at this point in the primaries because things are still so “undecided, and up in the air,” but she did say that she would pay closer attention as the field narrowed. She noted, however, that spouses have mattered more to her in the past when she didn’t particularly care for the wife. When asked to whom she was referring, she said, “Oh, about the mid-90s, if you know what I mean?”
During an audience questions segment at Gingrich’s rally today in the military town of Beaufort, an audience member asked a winding question in which he eventually said that Newt’s “character was questionable.” The question lasted approximately 45 seconds and constantly threatened to dive deep into Newt’s sordid marital past.
Each of those seconds must have lasted an eternity for Callista. Each second was heavy with the baggage of affairs and two divorces — political grenades for most politicians, but especially for those campaigning for the Republican party in a deeply evangelical state. Despite the weight of the question, Callista’s face did not show one hint of expression. Just a tight smile and a distant gaze.
After the rally, the press asked Newt about Marianne. I took the opportunity to once again look at Callista. I am not sure what I was expecting to see on her face, but there was nothing to be revealed. Same tight smile, same distant gaze.
Newt said his two daughters — from his marriage with first wife Jackie Battley — had provided his campaign’s response in a letter to ABC. After a second question about Marianne, Gingrich abruptly shut down the interview.
The Gingriches then retreated to their bus hand in hand. They walked past me, and I caught just the briefest moment of direct eye contact with Callista. I felt like I had just experienced a true rarity.