Newt Gingrich loses his cool over "open marriage" accusations

The Republican candidate may have shot himself in the foot with last night's tirade.

At last night's Republican debate in South Carolina, all eyes were on Newt Gingrich as he erupted over claims he wanted an "open marriage" with his second wife and lashed out at what he described as "the destructive, vicious, negative nature" of the media.

CNN's John King opened the debate by asking Gingrich if the allegations made by former wife Marianne were true. The stunned presidential hopeful was prompted by King who asked: ""Would you like to take some time to respond to that?" A red-faced Gingrich replied: "No, but I will," earning cheers and a standing ovation from the audience.

Newt's tirade continued as he blamed the media for making it "harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office" and said he was appalled that CNN began a presidential debate on that topic.

Unsurprisingly Gingrich vehemently denied the claims, stating: "To take an ex-wife and two days before the primary [raise] a significant question in the presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine ... I am frankly astounded that CNN would take trash like that and open the debate."

However, a combative Gingrich wasn't done yet. After King pointed out that it was ABC, not CNN, who aired his ex wife's claims of an "open marriage", Gingrich told him not to blame anybody else and stressed his disgust that the debate was opened with such a personal question. He then blamed the "elite" media for protecting President Obama.

However, despite earning a standing ovation from the South Carolina crowd when he angrily rebuked King, it appears Newt doth protest too much and his outburst may turn out to be a PR disaster, giving greater prominence to the allegations and therefore alienating the evangelical Christians who dominate South Carolina.

Fellow nominee Rick Santorum expressed worry over Gingrich's temper, saying that "these are issues of character to consider" and Ron Paul, who was more of a spectator than a participant in last night's debate, made a blatant attempt to highlight his own personal values, piously expressing his pride over his wife of 54 years.

Frontrunner Mitt Romney, with whom Gingrich is almost neck-and-neck in the polls, earned applause by taking the high road and saying: "Let's get on to the real issues. That's all I've got to say." However, he might have regretted moving off the subject of Newt's escapades so quickly as he was faced with yet more questions about his tax returns. A defensive Romney fumbled through his answer, vaguely promising to release the past year's tax return in April.

Three-times-married Gingrich is well-known for his infidelities, causing many staunch conservatives to question his moral fibre. He famously called for the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton following his Oval Office dalliance with Monica Lewinsky, at the same time that he himself was having an affair.

Gingrich's explosive temper was also an issue when he served as House speaker. He was blamed for two partial government shutdowns during the battle over the budget, which made him seem reckless and hot-headed. A wide-spread editorial cartoon depicted him as having a rather embarrassing temper tantrum.

Despite a storming performance at Monday night's debate, by unleashing such a tirade last night Gingrich may have inadvertently shot himself in the foot.

 

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French voters face a choice: Thatcherism or fascism

Today's Morning Call. 

Francois Fillon has been handed the task of saving France from a Marine Le Pen presidency and, by extension, the European Union from collapse, after a landslide win over Alain Juppé in the second round of the centre-right Republican party primary, taking 67 per cent of the vote to Juppé's 33 per cent. 

What are his chances? With the left exhausted, divided and unpopular, it's highly likely that it will be Fillon who makes it into the second round of the contest (under the French system, unless one candidate secures more than half in the first round, the top two go to a run off). 

Le Pen is regarded as close-to-certain of winning the first round and is seen as highly likely to be defeated in the second. That the centre-right candidate looks - at least based on the polls - to be the most likely to make it into the top two alongside her puts Fillon in poll position if the polls are right.

As I explained in my profile of him, his path to victory relies on the French Left being willing to hold its nose and vote for Thatcherism - or, at least, as close as France gets to Thatcherism - in order to defeat fascism. It may be that the distinctly Anglo-Saxon whiff of his politics - "Thatcherite Victor vows sharp shock for France" is the Times splash - exerts too strong a smell for the left to ignore.

The triumph of Brexit in the United Kingdom and Donald Trump in the United States have the left and the centre nervous. The far right is sharing best practice and campaign technique across borders, boosting its chances. 

Of all forms of mistake, prophecy is the most avoidable, so I won't make one. However, there are a few factors that may lie in the way of Le Pen going the way of Trump and Brexit. Hostility towards the European project and white  racial reaction are both deeply woven into the culture and politics of the United Kingdom and the United States respectively. The similarities between Vote Leave and Trump are overstated, but both were fighting on home turf with the wind very much at their backs. 

While there's a wider discussion to be had about the French state's aggressive policy of secularism and diversity blindness and its culpability for the rise of Le Pen, as far as the coming contest is concerned, the unity of the centre against the extremes is just as much a part of French political culture as Euroscepticism is here in Britain. So it would be a far bigger scale of upheaval if Le Pen were to win, though it is still possible.

There is one other factor that Fillon may be able to rely on. He, like Le Pen, is very much a supporter of granting Vladimir Putin more breathing space and attempting to reset Russia's relationship with the West. He may face considerably less disruption from that quarter than the Democrats did in the United States. Still, his campaign would be wise to ensure they have two-step verification enabled.

A WING AND A PRAYER

Eleanor Mills bagged the first interview with the new PM in the Sunday Times, and it's widely reported in today's papers. Among the headlines: the challenge of navigating  Brexit keeps Theresa May "awake at night", but her Anglican faith helps her through. She also lifted the lid on Philip May's value round the home. Apparently he's great at accessorising. 

THE NEVERENDING STORY

John Kerr, Britain's most experienced European diplomat and crossbench peer, has said there is a "less than 50 per cent" chance that Britain will negotiate a new relationship with the EU in two years and that a transitional deal will have to be struck first, resulting in a "decade of uncertainty". The Guardian's Patrick Wintour has the story

TROUBLED WATERS OVER OIL

A cross-party coalition of MPs, including Caroline Lucas and David Lammy, are at war with their own pension fund: which is refusing to disclose if its investments include fossil fuels. Madison Marriage has the story in the FT

TRUMPED UP CHARGES?

The Ethics Council to George W Bush and Barack Obama say the Electoral College should refuse to make Donald Trump President, unless he sells his foreign businesses and puts his American ones in a genuine blind trust. Trump has said he plans for his children to run his businesses while he is in the Oval Office and has been involved in a series of stories of him discussing his overseas businesses with foreign politicians. The New York Times has detailed the extentof Trump's overseas interests. 

TODAY'S MORNING CALL...

...is brought to you by the City of London. Their policy and resources chairman Mark Boleat writes on Brexit and the City here.

CASTROFF

Fidel Castro died this weekend. If you're looking for a book on the region and its politics, I enjoyed Alex von Tunzelmann's Red Heat, which you can buy on Amazon or Hive.

BALLS OUT

Ed Balls was eliminated from Strictly Come Dancing last night, after finishing in the bottom two and being eliminated by the judges' vote.  Judge Rinder, the daytime TV star, progressed to the next round at his expense. 

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

Helen reviews Glenda Jackson's King Lear.

MUST READS

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Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.